LITTLE ROCK — Inherent with the title Razorback football coach are public appearances. For Bret Bielema, they are far more opportunity than obligation and he has embraced them to the max.
His willingness to accept invites means he understands the need to press the flesh with a fan base distraught and disappointed about the 2012 season. Those in attendance find a man who is straightforward, spontaneous, open, and patient. Mingling with Bielema, they pick up on his genuine down home. And, that word spreads.
A couple of snippets from his recent half-day on the golf course with strangers says he is comfortable sharing personal info and at ease talking about a smorgasbord of topics:
—Filled in on the most popular participation sport in Arkansas, Bielema and said, sure, he’d like to take a crack at duck hunting. Growing up, his dad didn’t do much hunting, he said.
—His fondness for reggae is well known, but he told his playing partners about attending a Kenny Chesney concert in Dallas and hanging out for a while with Chesney in the country superstar’s tour bus.
—Deep sea fishing is one of his favorite things, Bielema said, adding that he and his wife hope to wet a hook next week in Destin, Fla. There’s no marlin or red snapper in the water near Fayetteville, but Bielema shared that he will pursue the catch available in Beaver Lake not far from his new home.
His spontaneity and patience were also on display. “He’s not sitting there thinking up the answer,” said one of his playing partners. “He was very good about looking you straight in the eye and giving you a straight answer.”
Asked about quarterbacks Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell and other personnel questions he handled previously, he did not shortchange his answers.
Bielema’s golf game was addressed with diplomacy although there was a group picture after the coach was closest to the hole with his tee shot on No. 4.
The recent Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame golf tournament was his 50th appearance and his sixth trip to Little Rock. Impressive, too, is that he has kept the many commitments while deeply involved in operating a football program at a Southeastern Conference school.
A particularly busy February day began with a flight south for Razorback Day at the Capitol. Back in Fayetteville, he headed to the indoor practice facility where he spent 30-45 minutes checking out a team workout. Then, it was back to the airport for a quick flight to Morrilton for one of more than a dozen Razorback Club gatherings. His return flight landed about 9:30 p.m.
Bielema turned down at least 30 more invites, but his no simply means he was already booked on that date or that there was a conflict with his work schedule. People wanted him for fundraisers, conventions, graduations, awards ceremonies, company outings, and the like.
So far, he has been in 16 Arkansas towns and I wish I could make Hot Springs, Mountain Home, Manila, West Memphis, Morrilton, Forrest City, Rogers, Texarkana, and Pine Bluff roll off the tongue like “Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville” and “Glen Rock, Black Rock, Little Rock” did in Johnny Cash’s rendition of “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
Perusing his schedule, I was struck by the variety of groups he had addressed. Football-related clinics, SEC and NCAA obligations, and Razorback Club meetings were expected. But, he also has done charity events, met with donors at a baseball game in Phoenix, attended a Donald W. Reynolds Foundation presentation in Las Vegas, and hob-nobbed with UA lettermen in Fayetteville.
At a May address to the Arkansas Trucking Association, he spoke about leadership. Two months earlier, he sat down with some students from the UA Business College who interviewed him about building a team.
Somehow, he also found time to take his wife on a brief vacation in the Bahamas.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.