Bielema: I'm Settling In

Bret Bielema

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema wowed fans at his first Razorback Club dinner, a trip to Mountain Home for the Baxter County.

Bret Bielema doesn't yet own a Fayetteville home, but wife Jen has found seven that fit in her dreams. And the new Arkansas football coach will attend his first conditioning workout with his team Tuesday morning.

That was among the tidbits from Bielema at his first Razorback Club dinner, Monday night at Mountain Home with the Baxter County Razorback Club.

"I've had a great time and I've heard a lot of pig sooie calls everywhere I've been," Bielema said. "I went into a restaurant in Hot Springs last weekend and it was great because 250 people began to call the Hogs. That's the way it's been everywhere I've been."

Bielema said it was his first Razorback Club dinner, not counting two signing day events in Fayetteville and Little Rock. Razorback Foundation executive Marvin Caston said Bielema was excited all day about the trip, although a fast-moving squall line made the plane trip iffy at one point during the day.

"Coach wasn't going to miss it," Caston said. "The pilots were watching the weather and thought it was going to be OK. It was a pretty nasty storm, though, and we had to watch it. At one point, Coach Bielema said, 'Let's just jump in the car and drive it.' He was excited about tonight. The weather cleared and the flight was good."

Bielema told the Baxter County group that his wife's house hunting is in high gear.

"I'm being told that I can afford one," he said. "It has been a lot of fun for my wife. She's now officialy found her seventh dream home in Fayetteville. I know they are paying me well, but I assured her that we are only buying one since we still have two in Wisconsin to sell. It's now fun to be really settling in and making ourselves home."

Bielema has been fine with temporary quarters in his first few weeks in his new job. That's easy to understand after he told a small media gathering before the Baxter County event at radio station KTLO that he's only been in Fayetteville for 12 days.

"I was filling out my expense reports for the first two months and that's all I've been there," he said. "It's been a lot of fun, but it's been a whirlwind. I haven't been in Arkansas much."

One of the highlights that he mentioned to the crowd of around 500 happened in meetings in Indianapolis, Ind., last week when the SEC head coaches got together in what Bielema called his first sit down with his rivals.

It was just a few hours after new UA offensive line coach Sam Pittman walked away from an offer for a similar position at Alabama under Nick Saban. Bielema said it makes Pittman even a little more special in his eyes.

"I particularly like this coach because a certain team that has won some national championships tried to take him from us," Bielema said. "It was the first time Mr. Saban had been turned down. It was a nice feeling to walk into my first meeting in the SEC with all of the head coaches. I walked into the room with my chest stuck WAY out."

There weren't any specifics about player development, other than Bielema thinks the squad is "more sleek" and "with bumps in the right places in their body" after six weeks with Ben Herbert, the strength and conditioning coach who followed him from Wisconsin.

"I'm excited because tomorrow is actually the first day that we'll get to work hands on with our players," Bielema said. "We'll have a conditioning workout. I'm still learning our players."

Bielema said he's watched tape, studied the roster and knows most of the players by numbers. But, he's still learning the names that go with the faces and the numbers. In fact, at a Tuesday morning workout, his first with the squad, he wants players to wear their jerseys so he can start to make connections.

"Two kids came in my office today and we had great conversations," he said. "They walked out and I still didn't know who they were. I had a general idea. I had it down to four, but I didn't want to tell them I didn't know.

"It's been a whirlwind and it's starting to settle down. We'll go into a three-week conditioning period where we will work out with them on Tuesdays and Thursdays for about an hour and a half. We'll meet with them for about an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

"After three weeks are up, we'll jump into our first week of spring ball. We'll practice every Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday for a five-week stretch. We'll get to know each other real, real well and find out their strengths and weaknesses."

Bielema drew applause when he hit on the meat of the Arkansas schedule next season, a murderer's row of SEC powers.

"We welcome ourselves to the SEC with Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in four consecutive weeks," he said. "Welcome to Arkansas, coach. I'm excited about that. Here's what I say, they've got to play us, too."

Later, Bielema spoke about the attitude the Hogs will likely carry into those games.

"You remember the movie Rocky, everyone cheered for Rocky," he said. "Everyone cheers for the underdog, right? Whether we like it or not, we are the underdogs. People don't think a lot about what we are or what we are going to be or do. I'll take those odds every time, because we are going to take a swing as hard as anybody. When that day comes, it'll be very rewarding and triumphant.

"I'll urge you to stay aboard, stay buckled up, tape your ankles and enjoy the ride. It's going to be a very, very fun ride, I assure you of that."

In the question and answer segment with the crowd, it didn't take long before someone asked about the interesting end to recruiting, the signing of Florida running back Alex Collins. Bielema admitted that they knew the mother of the Plantation South back wasn't on board.

"I've known Alex for two years," Bielema said. "Coach (Charlie) Partridge has known him equally long. We both know his high school coach, Doug Gatewood, and about him. We've signed five or six great players from there.

"We had Alex come up to Wisconsin in spring ball for his official visit. We talked to Doug right the day after we left for Arkansas and he said Alex was pretty devastated. He thought he was going to be able to go to Wisconsin and chase his dreams.

"I gave him a couple of weeks to come around a little bit. I knew I didn't want to jump right into it. When we did visit him, we did know it was going to be a very up-hill battle with mom. She wanted him to stay close to home and knew we'd have to battle through that.

"As we got closer and closer to signing day, I thought Coach Partridge and my staff did a tremendous job of kind of anticipating certain road blocks that might come up. I want to make sure everyone knows that what shocked everyone else didn't shock us. We were very well prepared. We already had four sets of scholarship papers waiting in the high school itself. We knew two were going to get snatched. A head coach can call a little audible here and there, too. I didn't even need a replay, so it was good.

"It wasn't really stressful because we had his scholarship papers in place by the end of the day, but he wanted to do it the next day the right way. The kid is mature beyond his years.

"He's just really gifted. He has played only football two years. He broke out his junior year as the player of the year. I think he's going to be a guy to really do good things."

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