Clearly, after Bret Bielema took the Arkansas job, he couldn’t make sense of what some Fans were trying to tell him. What was common in their experience was totally foreign to him. In the near 20/20 vision of hindsight, someone should have taken Bret Bielema out for a day away from everything for a little talk to give him a broad overview of the Arkansas football program. The best time to have planted a tree was 20 years ago, right?
Since Arkansas has passed the point of fighting for bowl eligibility and starts the task of working on next year, the next best time to lay it out there is now, in part, because it’s difficult to appreciate whether he gets some issues, and in part, because he can start to correct it. Some Razorbacks’ fans’ levels of irritation are likely unprecedented for an Arkansas program with a first-year head coach, particularly with a head coach who brings better credentials (in some respects) than any new head coach over the last forty years, save Danny Ford.
Coach Bielema needs to get it now. There’s no reason to believe that this is anything more than a matter of communication and not one of ability for him and his staff.
Coach Bielema decided to take the approach of ignoring the past effectively to wipe the slate clean. After all, some players respond better under a different command, and too, frequently players are also-rans in one system and stars in another. The idea is to keep the past from polluting the future. The problem is that we’re products of our past. When taking a position at a large institution, the better practice is to have an understanding of the details and the overall picture of the program. If nothing else, it’s better to have the information then choose whether to bring it forward into the future.
It’s not hard to imagine what fans tried to tell Coach Bielema before the season. Mostly humble, people wouldn’t presume to come out and tell him, “the defensive backs are bad about failing to wrap up and tackle.” “We think the team had a tendency to pack it in when it got rough last year.” In some manner, Bielema admitted that Fans tried to tell him earlier this year in this October 14, 2013, interview:
Q: Alabama beat them 52 to nothing last year, coming off of a 45 point loss, what do you tell them to think they have a chance.
A: I tell them, “Don’t be a Debbie Downer. Just because history has happened in the past, that doesn’t mean that it needs to repeat itself. It’s an easy, simple way of thinking. If you want to get out of this doldrum, if you want to move forward as a person, you take pride in what just happened…realize when you get beat that way that there’s…obviously you’re embarrassed…a lot of things that you could have done better and you definitely want to undo it. I think one of the things that we’ve go to try to escape is just overall. It’s kinda blown me away that there’s such a focal point or a blow up of a bad situation. It’s the same team that’s done some pretty positive things. When the goings getting a little bit tough and our guys revert back to that and it’s just something that you have to get out of your system. It’s and unfortunately it’s nothing that you can do in practice that the ‘woe is me’ that feeling sorry for yourself. It’s nowhere in a championship level team. It’s not found in anybody that’s had success. You know, we had an interception and the next four trips are three and outs. There’s only one guy that threw the pick. There’s only one guy that the receiver jumped in front of. How it effects the other nine guys so negatively is beyond me. It’s something we talk about. Last week that was our number one point of emphasis was adversity. When adversity strikes, you don’t try to fight it alone, you try to fight it together, and I think that’s the part that we’ve got to rally around that we’ve all got to step up starting with me, my head coach and all my assistants. That’s the number one thing plaguing our program right now.
Q: Have you had a team that’s struggled with this as much as this one is right now?
A: Well at times… the one thing that I kinda shared with the guys on Sunday that was apparent to me was that, you know, everywhere I went from January to the time we arrived, I went to different events and everybody was very positive and all that stuff and then it would seem like four or five guys at every event, women, men, who’d say that Coach we know what you’re getting into. We feel sorry for you. I’m like pissed because I’m like…that’s nothing I’ve seen. I didn’t look at film from the past. I didn’t know what I saw or didn’t see. I formed an opinion off of what I saw everyday…and that’s what I got upset with and kind of shared with the guys on Sunday was that was something that I’ve never seen before. I don’t know how or why it came about but it did and can’t be repeated, and you have to take it as a personal mission to do that, so… I was a young assistant when I took over …when I was on the coaching staff with Coach Ferentz when he came into Iowa and we were 1-10 the first year and 3-8 the next year and things began to turn, and I by no means want to subscribe to that thinking. We definitely got to get out of it, especially at certain positions..
We can’t help but wonder whether the players who may have packed it in during games last year or who performed consistently poorly during games last year might have sat out for good portions of the first half of the season. ULL, Samford, and Southern Miss didn’t provide the stress to show the problems making the game with Rutgers one where the coaches would decide that the Hogs have some things to work on. By that point, four games were down, and the team was into the murderer’s row part of the schedule. Change wasn’t desirable to players with little or no experience.
But that’s water under the bridge.
What can be done for the future is that someone needs to pull Bielema aside and give him a short history lesson because there’s no indication that he gets it right now.
Being at the South Carolina game, I heard the boos from the stands. They were there whether reported much or not.
Boos came in game seven of a tenure when the coach was 3-3 to that point? Hog Fans must be unrealistically demanding.
What would Bielema think? He’s not hearing deficient. He would think that it’s solely about the poor play on the field. In a manner of speaking, it is, but the boos came from having seen this before, having played this game before, and having not been able to pass the ball before despite some of the best talent the University of Arkansas has ever seen.
What’s more important for Brett Bielema and the stability of the Arkansas program is that he can’t ignore history here! Not one, but two, Arkansas-born and Arkansas-educated coaches who played similar ball were unceremoniously ridden out on rails despite success.
Both Ken Hatfield and Houston Nutt tried and succeeded to an extent to play smashmouth football. When their teams lined up against high-powered passing attacks, the results were merciless. On September 26, 1987, the University of Miami whipped the Hogs 51-7. With Arkansas alum Jimmy Johnson on the other side, it was hard to watch.
The article is short from the A.P. as picked up by the New York Times.
Steve Walsh guided Miami to five touchdowns in 12 minutes as the Hurricanes rolled to a 51-7 victory over Arkansas today.
Walsh completed 10 of 14 passes for 135 yards as the Hurricanes accumulated 353 yards en route to a 38-0 halftime lead.
He completed 20 of 28 passes for 215 yards against a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally each of the past three years and allowed only 25 points in the Razorbacks’ 2-0 start.
Arkansas could not handle the mobile Miami defense and managed only 38 yards in the first half.
The Arkansas coach, Ken Hatfield, had said earlier that Miami’s defense was on a par with that of Oklahoma, which dominated Arkansas by 42-8 in the Orange Bowl last Jan. 1.
It was the Razorbacks’ worst loss in Little Rock since they started playing there 80 years ago and their worst loss in the state since a 63-7 loss to Tulsa in 1919.
Most certainly it wasn’t Hatfield’s last season. He had two 10-2 seasons in 1988 and 1989 to close out his tenure with a close loss to Miami 18-16, and four bowl losses in his final four seasons to Oklahoma, Georgia, UCLA, and Tennessee. Arkansas Bowl Game History, Hog Database
He took a job offer away from his alma mater to go to Clemson sight unseen, but the situation was much, much more pointed. Again from New York Times, January 22, 1990:
Ken Hatfield of Arkansas accepted the head coaching job at Clemson today, and a threatened player boycott was averted after he met with the team.
Hatfield, 46 years old, who coached the Razorbacks for six years and led them to the Cotton Bowl the last two seasons, will replace Danny Ford.
Ford, 41, resigned Thursday, less than two weeks after the National Collegiate Athletic Association accused Clemson of recruiting violations.
Hatfield had a 55-17-1 record at Arkansas, guiding the Razorbacks to a bowl game in each of his years as coach. His bowl record at Arkansas was 1-5.
Won 27 at Air Force (sic)
The choice of Hatfield, who had a 27-31-1 record as head coach at Air Force in 1979-83, seemed on the verge of provoking dissension at Clemson. But after Hatfield met today with the players, a threatened boycott for the 1990 season was called off. On Saturday, players said that if Ford was not reinstated or if an assistant was not promoted, they would sit out next season.
”We decided as a team, in dedication to all of our assistant coaches and Coach Ford, the best thing for us and our future would be to reconsider playing for the upcoming football season,” Stacy Fields, a tight end, said. ”We’re not 100 percent satisfied, but we felt a little better knowing that everyone out there knows we did our best to get what we wanted.
”However, we have a new head coach, and he’s not within the staff that was here before.”
Dexter Davis, a defensive back, said some players had already made up their minds with the hiring of Hatfield.
”Some people are ready to transfer,” Davis said. ”We’re not happy. That’s the bottom line.” #10-Minute Discussion Hatfield met with the team for about 10 minutes before the news conference at which his hiring was announced. He would not comment about what was discussed.
Kenzil Jackson, a linebacker, said the players met this morning with the university’s athletic director, Bobby Robinson, and its president, Max Lennon.
”They told us there’s nothing we can do,” Jackson said. ”It’s almost like they don’t care what we say.”
Ford’s resignation came on the heels of a second N.C.A.A. investigation during his 11-year tenure.
The first investigation, in 1982, resulted in Clemson being given two years’ probation. This time, the Tigers are being asked to explain 14 alleged rules violations, including payments to players of up to $150.
Clemson was in the midst of a player mutiny and under NCAA investigation, and Hatfield takes the job sight-unseen. (It’s a story for another day that Broyles though that the same Danny Ford would be a great coach for Arkansas a few years later.)
It’s not anywhere in the articles, but the thing that made fans so aggravated with Hatfield is that the team perpetually ran the ball up the middle. When Arkansas played larger opponents outside of the conference in bowl games or faced explosive offenses, the games were embarrassing. Arkansas beat some good teams and beat the teams the Hogs were supposed to beat, but it was clear that we weren’t going to another level.
Fast forward 15 years….Houston Nutt had one of the more renowned backfield combinations in the history of college football. Forget Darren McFadden and Peyton Hillis for a moment, Felix Jones AVERAGED A NET OF 8.7 yards per carry for the ENTIRE 2007 season which was Nutt’s last.
The year before, Nutt lead the Razorbacks to the SEC Championship game where Arkansas lost to eventual BCS Champion Florida. However, against good teams, the lack of ability to throw the ball was evident. The season ended with three losses to LSU, Florida, and Wisconsin. But too, fans still smarted from the 70-17 and 50-14 thrashings by USC from the 2005 and 2006 seasons. They were some of the worse losses in the modern era until the past two seasons where big losses have tallied too frequently.
This season, Arkansas ranks 115 out of 123 teams in passing offense while having two of the best backs in college football in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins.
Enough is enough.
Coach Bielema, does your program have anything to do with those programs? No.
Do you deserve to move forward and make your own history? Yes.
You’re not Hatfield or Nutt, are you? No.
Just understand this. Whether it’s fair or not, Arkansas Fans have seen this style of success before and weren’t happy with it because it didn’t work in big games against great opponents.
The boos are just as much about booing the replays of years gone by, but what difference does it really make to you whether they boo because of days gone by AND because of what’s happening on the field? The fans are booing.
Do us all a favor.
Unlike the game films, acknowledge the past.
Assure us that we’re not going in the directions of the past, and most of all….
Do everything in your power to correct the ability to be able to throw the football effectively. We want you to win!
**I have no editor so as I come back and re-read what I’ve written, I will make edits as I think are needed. Thanks, Sharp **