According to a lot of the talking heads these days, Bret Bielema was a solid hire by Jeff Long back in December 2012.
No he wasn’t and Long should have known better.
Bielema’s former boss at Wisconsin hinted at that in an interview he did the day after their parting back in 2012. He talked about only hiring coaches that fit the culture and “what we want to do at Wisconsin.”
It’s not like there wasn’t some recent history that should have given Long some direction.
In the midst of everybody jumping up and down when Bielema was hired, I said it was the worst hire since John Barnhill admittedly goofed and hired Otis Douglas in 1950.
Not that Bielema was a bad coach. Douglas wasn’t a bad coach.
They both were good in their particular areas.
It was a bad hire at the time because Long ignored the main thing he should have been looking for — someone who fit at Arkansas.
Broyles talked about how important that was. Look at his hires. Every single coach he hired, first and foremost, had to be a fit for a state that, well, is as complicated as it is simple in some things:
• Lou Holtz, who Broyles told folks would “take this state by storm” did just that for a few years until everyone had seen the magic tricks and heard the same one-liners a few times.
• Ken Hatfield, a Razorback hero from his playing days that had gone out and proven he could win with lesser talent at times at Air Force, then came to Arkansas and won at a level no coach before or since matched.
• Jack Crowe, an assistant who was an offensive-oriented guy that was Southern to the core, but seriously not ready for the situation he inherited.
• Danny Ford, a national title-winning coach at Clemson, whose folksy, down-home manner won the hearts of Razorback fans more than he won games on the field. He was fired after five seasons despite winning an SEC West title in his third year.
• Houston Nutt, who won games at a solid level, but could never get the one single victory to put the program over the top.
Every one of them had traits Broyles considered necessary for Razorback fans.
Bobby Petrino would likely have lasted at least a few more years if he’d had an athletic director with the guts to not ignore what a lot of other people knew was going on, step in and either straighten it out or find someone that fit.
I’m not even going to bring the interim situation into it. Hiring John L. Smith was a bonehead decision at the time and you got the idea the full-time hiring was going to be a mistake as well.
It has become clear that Long has no idea about the common Razorback fan and has done his best to run off many boosters who don’t meet what he wants which appears to be someone who writes a check and think what he does is great.
One thing Long has proven almost breathtakingly bad at is managing the largest and most visible program at an SEC school.
One would think he had enough savvy to know these facts about Bielema:
• He inherited a program at Wisconsin that was still run from the top by the guy that built it (Alvarez).
• Bielema was 1-5 against Ohio State and 2-3 against Penn State. And you think he’s going to do better in the SEC?
• His Badger teams only reached the Rose Bowl three straight years because the NCAA had issues with both Ohio State and Penn State.
• His philosophy of winning football wasn’t going to work at Arkansas because you can’t get the type players in the numbers necessary to win at a high level.
• His philosophy was already becoming out-dated as the direction of college football was going in a completely different direction.
There’s been some people pointing out that the only big-name hires from Power 5 schools that failed were Rich Rodriguez at Michigan (from West Virginia), Charlie Strong at Texas (from Louisville) and Dan Hawkins at Colorado (from Boise State).
All three were bad fits and the people doing the hiring should have known better before the hirings. In every single case, people who know far more than I said they would be the disaster they turned out to be.
Rodriguez’ situation was the same as Bielema’s at Arkansas where he was trying to do something offensively that simply was never going to work. As Alvarez pointed out in Little Rock last month, up north they have 6-5, 300-pound linemen everywhere, but not a lot of speed. Rodriguez’ system requires speed more than bulk.
Strong going to Texas was a bad fit from the start. He’s a Florida guy who knows that area and how to get players from there. It’s a different mindset there as he’s showing with a Top 25 team in his first year at South Florida.
Hawkins’ was doing well in Boise and should have stayed there. I’m not sure anyone could have succeeded in the chaos that was going on at Colorado then.
Bielema’s record at Arkansas shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising is that he didn’t recognize it early on and that he hasn’t taken advantage of the resources at Arkansas in terms of building more speed.
You have one of the best track programs in the world just over a hundred yards away and they can show you how to get more speed. Nutt did this in his time at Arkansas.
Former quarterback Matt Jones pointed out in a radio interview he was told the current coaching staff never bothered to talk to anyone in the track program, which is in contention for national championships every single year.
As Bielema has said, he doesn’t start counting wins until the season is over which, well, doesn’t even pass the laugh test.
Especially since he’s said on numerous occasions what the record is.
He may pull this season out of the ditch.
The odds are not in his favor.
And Razorback fans will pay the price.
A tab hung on them by Long’s inability to do real research before hiring him.