FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema won’t take his team on the road until Sept. 21, when the Razorbacks play at Rutgers.
Bielema already has begun preparation for the trip, though, as well as Arkansas’ first Southeastern Conference road game at Florida two weeks later.
Bielema and a small contingent from the Arkansas football department went on a scouting trip to Gainesville, Fla., and New Jersey early last week. The traveling party, which also included director of football operations Mark Taurisani, trainer Matt Summers and equipment manager Chuck Hall, took a look at team hotels, stadium facilities and other details that will be important to the season’s first two road trips.
It’s not the first time Bielema has done the advance scouting. He also did it during his first season at Wisconsin and Bielema said it was valuable for several reasons, beginning with the distance from the team hotel to the stadium in Gainesville.
“One of things that’s an adjustment for the SEC that I’m not accustomed to is you stay further away from your hotels in general,” Bielema said. “There’s some stadiums that don’t work that way. So I kind of wanted to get a feel for that. How long the drive was. The logistics. Every state kind of has different rules as far as your escort. So you get a feel for that. Find out any troubles teams have had in the past.
“That one was great because I had never been to Florida. I got to run in and see the Swamp and saw the access that we have. Actually, it’s a pretty nice setup.”
The group flew from Gainesville to New York to map out plans for the Rutgers trip.
It’s the first time the Razorbacks will play at the school, which is located in Piscataway, N.J., and Bielema had been told there were some nuances. Specifically, Bielema said the path from the visiting locker room to the playing field is “unique.”
“I was really glad we hit that one,” Bielema said. “We actually stayed in that hotel that night where we’ll be staying, saw all the dining facilities, meeting rooms. Then drove into the stadium and really actually changed how we’ll set up the locker room on gameday just because I was there. Chuck Hall, my equipment manager, and Matt Summers, my trainer, it really gave them a chance to see where they’re going to be.”
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said scouting trips aren’t exactly unusual except for one thing: head coaches typically don’t go along. He said the fact Bielema was involved was more proof Arkansas’ new coach has a detailed plan to lead the program to success after enduring a 4-8 season in 2012.
“I think it’s wise,” Long said. “All of that is just detailed planning. Sometimes people don’t think — well they should think of Bret Bielema that way, because he’s a very detailed guy. Sometimes I don’t think he gets portrayed that way, but he is.”
Bielema and the staff did have some time for a little fun, too, taking in a New York Yankees-Los Angeles Dodgers game during the trip. Pictures posted to Bielema’s Twitter page showed the coach even sporting a Yankees shirt for the game.
Bielema said he heard plenty from non-Yankees fans about the shirt.
“I’m not a Yankees fan,” Bielema said Friday. “Everybody got mad at Twitter. I was just experiencing the world as a Yankee.”
Move in date set
Arkansas is close to moving into its football operations center, according to Bielema.
He said Friday the coaching staff plans to “take ownership” of the new facility on July 5 and players will see the building in the middle of the month. The tentative plan is for the building to be ready to go for fall practice when it begins in August.
“I think that’s going to get everybody’s juices flowing,” Bielema said.
Long — who originally planned for an April 1 completion date — said construction has been “on schedule” with the facility. He also believes the early July move-in date for the football staff — which has taken a couple of weeks off for vacation — will work out “extremely well.”
“It gives our football coaches a chance to get away and then when they come back, we’ll have a lot of the things moved in and prepared for them,” Long said.
Herbert making difference
Arkansas is roughly halfway through strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert’s offseason program. Bielema and the rest of Arkansas coaches aren’t allowed to work with players in the offseason, but he notices the difference.
One player he pointed out in particular was offensive tackle Grady Ollison.
“When I see the kids, when I see them come through the offices, just different guys,” Bielema said. “Grady, I think, is two pounds away from 300. I saw him from across the field the other day and you can see him taking plays. You see our freshmen come in and see them kind of buy into it and talk about how physical the workouts have been. … I won’t see the results until Aug. 4, but I know the guys are very excited.”
Freshmen on campus
The bulk of Arkansas’ incoming class is already on campus, taking courses and going through Arkansas’ offseason program. Bielema said all but five newcomers have arrived and expects the rest to make it by July 1.
“There’s really only one guy that’s in question,” Bielema said without naming the signee. “That really won’t be determined until probably the next 48 hours.”