This past May, I was walking down Beale Street in Memphis with a good friend of mine who is well-connected to the Arkansas athletic department.
We were discussing the upcoming season and who I thought would be an awesome hire for the Razorback football program once the 2012 season had completed. After gushing on about Charlie Strong – mainly from my days of working with Strong at Florida – I threw out the following name: Bret Bielema.
This morning, I got a phone call from the same person telling me the hire was ready to be made and that they were ready to go forward with an offer that No. 1 on the list was ready to accept. He asked me who I thought it’d be, and I rattled off so many different names because I honestly didn’t think Bielema would be a remote possibility.
As you have learned today, Bielema is the new coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, and I believe this is a home run hire for University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long and his associates. Bielema has made a tremendous living and name for himself at Wisconsin for the past eight years by playing Southeastern Conference-style football in the Big 10 and recently won yet another Big 10 title this past weekend by annihilating Nebraska.
Bielema reminds me a lot of Bruce Pearl, and as long as he doesn’t lie to the NCAA any time soon, he will be able to build on and maintain the success levels that Bobby Petrino brought to Fayetteville from 2008-2011. His fiery attitude and ability to completely buy into a program and sell that program will win over any coveted recruit he enters a living room to speak to.
A lot of folks will tell you that Arkansas is a tough school to recruit to, and it takes someone like Petrino that knows how to do the absolute most with a small amount of talent at his disposal when compared to other SEC rosters.
Fayetteville, Ark., will be an easier draw to potential signees for Bielema than Madison, Wisc., however – especially when you couple the draw of playing on the big stage of the SEC West week-in and week-out every fall.
Getting over the hump of beating Alabama and LSU will still be the tremendous task that it has been the last several years for the Hogs, but with this hire, there is no reason to see 2012 and the John L. Smith experiment as anything more than a blip in the radar when you look back on the longevity of the UA football brand.
Long hit the ball out of the park in late 2007 when he whisked Petrino away from the Falcons. He followed it up with another round-tripper this time in Bielema.