While his team was largely forgettable during the 2013 football season, Bret Bielema gave one of the more memorable presentations at SEC Media Days last year. After Gus Malzahn had dismissed Bielema's stated concerns about player safety in the age of the hurry-up offense, the Arkansas head coach went on a blistering rant that might have been the highlight of 2013's annual press confab.
Then came 3-9, and the Bielema that spoke in Hoover this year seemed a bit more humble, particularly toward Auburn. Maybe it was getting clocked by 18 points. Or maybe it was all a misunderstanding, as Bielema suggested when he was asked about some conciliatory comments Malzahn made Monday.
First and foremost, I get what you guys have to do. It's a natural story. I get it. We don't necessarily see eye‑to‑eye on certain things.
But I think the greatest thing I've learned in life is you respect the opposite of what you believe in more than anything. By that I mean, Gus runs an offensive style and philosophy that is completely opposite of what I believe in, but who can argue with his success. That makes me respect him even more. ...
I can't say that we're breaking bread together and going to dinner when we can, but I'm not throwing bread at him and rocks and everything else. It's just what it is. Greatly respected.
In Bielema's telling, he's been getting misunderstood quite a bit lately. Comments that some people construed as a shot at Dorial Green-Beckham's transfer to Oklahoma were nothing of the sort, according to the Arkansas coach, and were made in an unrelated interview.
You know what, I think if I could take a moment just to educate that question and just others. The quote that got blown up. I didn't even know the day that I gave an interview, the story that another player had transferred to a different school that we used to recruit. Someone asked me the question about, we took Sebastian Tretola, a junior college transfer‑‑ we actually took Cameron Jefferson, who is a kid from UNLV, that is going to transfer to us as a senior because of certain NCAA rules that allows a team that didn't hit an APR number to transfer.
If you actually read Bielema's earlier comments, he seems to be on solid ground here. It was always a stretch to try to apply what the Arkansas coach said to something that happened in another conference, particularly when Bielema didn't actually bring up the situation. Bielema proved at SEC Media Days last year that he's not afraid to say exactly what's on his mind and leave no doubt about to what he's referring.
But then -- well, Bret couldn't help himself. A reporter brought up Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel's statement that he thought player-safety concerns were a fiction, and Bielema was off.
Not to carry from last year, but I'm probably more of a reality‑based movie guy more than fiction, I guess. I think I deal more in what I know, what I see, what I believe.
Have I softened in my view of fast‑paced offenses? The only thing I'm going to say to that, if you ask me in that tense, you're asking me have I softened my view on player safety. The answer would be no. If I recruit somebody, bring them into my family, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure they're the most well‑equipped, educated to make player safety a premium in our program.
I really like the fact that last year we made a stance, a big stance in college football about targeting. I sat on the player committee two years ago. We didn't make such a big wave as we did this year when we talked about the 10‑second rule. We made a huge statement in the player safety meeting to emphasize targeting. Look at the effect it had. It was very, very positive.
Every week I would show our players clips of players that were hit with targeting fouls and why they happened. It would lead to certain players being ejected from the game.
I firmly believe right now the reason Arkansas never had a call against them is because of the education we gave them as coaches.
So I firmly believe that, yes, our responsibility as coaches is player safety. However that comes about, whether it be a 10‑second rule in the future, whether it be a substitution mandatory rule that a committee comes in place and sets in college football, I think the game is going to be a safer one because of it.
As far as playing no‑huddle offenses, it is absolutely probably one of the most enjoyable things I can have as a coach. We played Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Lost a heartbreaker at the end. I believe it was a field goal or two‑point difference. Whatever it was, it was a back‑and‑forth game. There's nothing more enjoyable than to see a no‑huddle offense sitting on the sideline and can't stand it.
But to do that you have to play really good defense and you have to play well on offense. For my formula to work and complete wins, you have to be able to be good offensively, defensively and on special teams. All three have to work together.
A lot of times no‑huddle offenses can play really good offense and bad defense and still win. That's just not how I'm going to work. I have seen a couple good fiction movies, though, so I know good fiction when I see it. Had to give you guys one to run (smiling).
That's actually a little shorter than last year's monologue -- it clocks in at "just" 475 words. And it might be the most favorable thing anyone has ever said about the targeting rule. Ever.
So maybe Bielema's a bit humbler this year, but he's not backing down. And the reporters who went around asking about whether the Arkansas-Missouri rivalry felt a little "forced" might have their answer.