When the Arkansas Razorbacks announced that they had hired Bret Bielema away from the Wisconsin Badgers, nearly everyone in Fayetteville celebrated the hire and looked forward to a bright future. Athletic Director Jeff Long had just signed a coach that had taken his team to three straight Rose Bowls, which gave Razorback fans cause to call the Hogs.
However, year one of the Bielema Era proved to be a disaster. After winning three straight games to open the season, Arkansas lost its last nine, including all eight Southeastern Conference games. The team was competitive at times, but the wins didn’t come, which led to a frustrating feeling at the end of a 3-9 season.
There were bright spots during the largely dismal season. Running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards. The season ended with a seven-point overtime loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs and a 31-27 loss to the LSU Tigers, so the Hogs were certainly competitive in those games.
As Bielema continues to build the program, there was a sense of optimism about the upcoming 2014 season. But the offseason has not been good to Bielema so far.
Arkansas signed the nation’s 29th-best recruiting class in February, which sounds really great, until looking further into the numbers. The Razorbacks’ class was just the 11th-best in the SEC, and only the sixth-best in the Western Division (ahead of Mississippi State). Bielema’s class included only three players who were rated as four-star prospects by Rivals.com. Not exactly the type of recruiting haul that Arkansas needed.
Then, more bad news came. Bielema, along with Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, both publically pledged their support for an NCAA rule that would slow down the high-speed, no-huddle offenses that have become the norm in college football. Both Bielema and Saban claimed that player safety was the issue because tired defensive players were more likely to get injured than fresh players, according to the coaches.
But Bielema took it a step further. When asked what proof he had of these injury claims, he said “death certificates”, referring to Teddy Agu, a player for the California Golden Bears who died last season.
This comment did not sit well with nearly anyone, and Bielema later apologized. However, the comment showed that Bielema will say anything at any time, which he has proven time and again.
He took shots at Saban’s Big Ten Conference record last season (Saban was 23-16-1 as head coach of the Michigan State Spartans from 1995-99, while Bielema was 37-19 with Wisconsin). He also accused the Auburn Tigers of manipulating game film. And then, with his offseason comments, he once again alienated a group of people.
Bielema’s act is already starting to wear thin in Fayetteville, along with the rest of the SEC. The one thing he can do to quiet his critics is win, but that appears to be a tall task for this team at this time. Otherwise, Bielema should work on keeping his comments in check, which doesn’t seem likely at this point. But if one of those two things, or both, don’t happen soon, Bielema’s stay in the South could be a short one.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.