If Bret Bielema and Jeff Long will bother to listen, Barry Alvarez told everyone Monday what the problems are at Arkansas.
Very, very subtly.
Alvarez was in Little Rock on Monday talking to the lunch bunch at the Little Rock Touchdown Club and the timing was good, considering the state of affairs with Arkansas football these days.
He simply pointed out that what Bielema wants to do at Arkansas is what they did at Wisconsin. If you are able to listen to it carefully, then take in the big picture he also pointed out that might not be the best approach.
“If I were coaching in the southwest or the southeast where I had access to a lot of skill players I’d probably run some things different than I do at Wisconsin,” he said.
Well, that’s something a lot of us thought back on that December day in 2012 when Bielema was hired as the Arkansas coach and spent most of that first press conference telling us how he did it at Wisconsin.
I thought at the time that wasn’t going to work at Arkansas.
Five years into this and it’s not. Bielema’s teams haven’t been particularly physical, especially the last two years. They are actually more of a passing team than a running team.
Bielema obviously didn’t follow Alavarez’ advice of tailoring what you want to do based on the players you can recruit.
“When I took the job I looked at the state of Wisconsin and you have some of the biggest people in the world there,” Alvarez said. “You look at our nationalities and they’re German, they’re Scandanavian, they are big people. You have a camp and you have guys that are 6-6, you have more 300 pounders than you can shake a stick at. Now, not a lot of speed there, not a lot of speed in our state.
“For me to say you’re going to spread it out and throw it around, you’re not very smart. Now we’re going to get some, one here, one there. But you don’t have an over abundance (of speed).
“We devised our plan around the type of guys we could recruit. We’re gonna be good in the offensive line, we’re going to run the ball, we’re going to be physical, we’re not going to beat ourself.”
That is a subtle message for anyone paying attention. In Wisconsin, there were linemen like Bielema prefers growing on trees.
Not in Arkansas.
It’s becoming crystal clear Bielema’s style isn’t going to work at Arkansas without some major modifications.
“When you’re in the Southeastern Conference you have access to a lot of great athletes,” Alvarez said. “When I was at Notre Dame I could get into anyone’s living room. You have to do a good job of evaluating.”
Which is not something Bielema has been particularly great at. Oh, there have been some really good players come through. It’s not like we’re saying he’s batting all zeroes.
But he’s not getting near enough. Not to win in the SEC. Not to compete for championships, which is something Arkansas has only been remotely in the conversation about once —2015 — since Bielema came here. That chance of a title was so remote as to be virtually impossible and actually is embarrassing to mention, but I’m trying to be a little positive here.
“First of all, you have to know what you want to do,” Alvarez said. “I think I know what Bret wants to do. Bret’s gonna be very similar to what we’ve done. I see his lines, big lines, physical teams, but you have to evaluate what’s coming out.”
He did say if you could get that style working it would be something other teams would have a difficult time preparing for, but it all comes down to evaluating talent, then coaching that talent up to play at a championship level.
For going on five years now, Bielema has not shown an ability to do that at more than a very, very mediocre level.
And, we’ve heard the tired line about how nobody wants to win more than the coaches and players.
But that’s the difference between champions and mediocrity.
Champions HAVE to win. Nick Saban HAS to win. Urban Meyer, too. Dabo Swinney HAS to win. Chris Peterson, too.
You get the idea winning is something Bielema and Long want to do, but they aren’t going to go into a fainting spell if they don’t.
And Long basically mortgaged the football program’s future after the Texas Bowl in 2014 by giving Bielema a ridiculous buyout on a contract for a 6-6 regular season.
As we said at the time, that’s what happens when you have someone not from Arkansas or the SEC trying to make a decision and bringing in somebody that knows less about those two areas.
“You better be smarter than the agent,” Alvarez said Monday.
He didn’t mention anyone in particular and tried to generalize it, but everyone in the room was thinking about Long and that $15 million-plus buyout on Bielema’s contract.
“You’ve got the last word, he doesn’t,” Alvarez said of dealing with agents. “We have never guaranteed the entire contract.”
Of course, it’s not just Long’s responsibility. The Board of Trustees had the final say and they obviously weren’t paying attention or just didn’t care.
“That’s the obligation of the administration,” Alavarez said. “It’s good business. I see schools that are paying tens of millions of dollars to guys that aren’t coaching.
“We had a school in our league that was paying two football coaches, two basketball coaches $10 million and they’re not around. It’s five years down the road and they’re still not around and you’re still paying them. That’s bad business.
“It’s bad enough you hired somebody that didn’t fit, that didn’t win, but to not protect your school with liquidated damages that’s just bad business.”
And that is something Razorback fans are saying every day.
Although not as nicely.