Someone at SEC Media Days asked Fayetteville native Brooks Ellis about playing in Little Rock, and the Arkansas linebacker actually gave a response that I don’t recall ever actually hearing from a player before, especially a current player. Take a look:
An active Razorback player saying playing in Little Rock isn’t a home game. That’s a point that’s been made plenty of times by fans all over the Internet and radio and everywhere else, but we don’t hear that on the record from people currently involved with the athletic department. Some, including Bret Bielema, have hinted at this feeling, but nobody’s come out and said it. UA even often boasts of having “three home stadiums” along with AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
I don’t think Ellis would have said this publicly if he didn’t know people in the department felt the same way, particularly his coach. Bielema has often gone with the company line about enjoying taking the team to fans throughout the state and understanding the tradition, but at the same time pointing out that traveling to Little Rock and being unable to host recruits on official visits are big negatives. I’ve always believed he hated it. I doubt you’ll ever hear the coaches or players say there’s “bad mojo” about playing at JerryWorld, even though Arkansas has lost both of Bielema and Ellis’ games there, both in almost supernaturally heartbreaking fashion.
So, to me, Ellis’ statement feeds into what is one of my biggest criticisms of Bielema’s tenure at Arkansas. He has not done a good job of getting the team ready to play those games at War Memorial because, I believe, he hasn’t been able to get past his frustration with playing there. The worst games Arkansas played in 2014 and 2015 were at War Memorial, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Even Bielema’s lone win there, the Samford game in 2013, was a lackluster performance in which Arkansas trailed entering the fourth quarter.
We’ve discussed this before. It doesn’t matter if Bielema or the players don’t like playing in Little Rock. The Hogs are contracted to play there through 2018. He gets paid over $4 million per year to get the team ready to play wherever they have to play. He hasn’t done a very good job of that in Little Rock the last two seasons. Arkansas should have beaten Toledo in a mud pit with 5 people watching. It’s not the stadium’s fault. Bielema’s three losses in WMS in his three seasons are more than Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino had in 14 combined seasons.
This isn’t me arguing to keep games in Little Rock. I’m in favor of not renewing the War Memorial contract after the 2018 season. It’s seems clear to me most fans don’t want games played there anymore. It does cost Arkansas money to play. The stadium is no longer up to SEC standards in many aspects. Arkansas can’t host official visitors (though I doubt the coaches would try to bring many official visitors to the Alcorn State game if it would be in Fayetteville, anyway). That’s all there really is to it even though I’m from Little Rock and personally enjoying going to games there.
I’m not criticizing Ellis for giving an honest answer. I’m criticizing Bielema for having that mindset and likely allowing it to extend to the team. There are likely three more games there unless UA can buy out the contract early, so I’d like to hear that the team acknowledges that the bad performances aren’t a result of “bad mojo” or dismissing it as a road game, but that they need to overcome those things to play better and win those games.