LITTLE ROCK — Driving when the radio talk show host cranked up the Bret Bielema cut, the Arkansas coach’s criteria for his quarterback was good stuff.
Unable to keep up with Bielema’s rapid-fire delivery, the transcript of his wrap-up of the first week of spring practice was sent to the printer and reading it unearthed some nuggets that offer insight into the man charged with reviving the Razorback football program.
His Midwest down-home is in there. So, too, revelations about his coaching style. And, his remarkable knowledge of players on the roster.
He opened his news conference by thanking the media for attending and followed up by apologizing for the off-limits policy during the first week of his initial spring practice. “I wasn’t trying to punish anybody by closing practice,” he said, explaining why he did what he did.
Asked about the excitement level of fans, he mentioned the turnout in Manila, Mountain Home, and Little Rock before getting more personal. “We just bought a home in Fayetteville and meeting the people throughout that process, from Realtors to the people who are going to turn on your water, your electricity, to the people you buy carpet from …,” he said. I wonder how many people making $3.2 million per year are involved in such every-day doings.
His confession about not watching a “stitch of film” was surprising until he offered a sensible explanation: “I didn’t want to have any preconceived notions about a player that I didn’t know.”
The start-from-scratch approach ties in with him admitting to becoming more vocal with each practice. Trying to impress a new coaching staff, he said, players are going to be nervous, excited, and anxious. “… I didn’t want to jump all over a kid on the first day if that really wasn’t what he was,” Bielema said.
More than one page of agate type long, his opening statement included the names of 41 players. Yes, he had some reference material in front of him, but he rarely used it, if at all. I couldn’t name 41 players on the roster without the UA media guide.
His propensity to expound on a topic will test the 10-minute window-per-coach on the Southeastern Conference media teleconference and quoting him correctly means transcribing tape or knowing shorthand.
During the Q and A in Fayetteville last week, Bielema added more than a half-dozen names to the original group. More impressively, he had something informative to say about virtually everyone he mentioned.
For those interested in his approach to discipline, the answer is in his response to a question about scrimmaging during Saturday practices.
“One of the first things I’ve emphasized … is if you have a pre-snap penalty in any way, shape, or form, you are removed from the contest … and you have to do a certain amount of physical repercussions and you have to sit out an entire play before you are put back in,” he said. “It’s just a way to ingrain our type of play.”
During Bielema’s last year at Wisconsin, the Badgers were No. 5 in the country among teams with the fewest penalties per game. Wisconsin led the nation in fewest penalties per game in 2010 and tied for 20th in 2011.
Asked 18 questions, Bielema never shortchanged the reporter doing the asking. His minimum was three sentences devoted to never having a quarterback rotation.
A personal favorite was buried in his opening statement, talking about not encumbering the players. ” … we don’t want to slow them down with verbiage and we don’t want to slow them down by making them think too much or talk too much,” he said.
In other words, uncomplicated sic ‘em.
At this point, he is best described as cooperative and forthcoming. His openness will be tested when Arkansas completes a stretch against Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in October.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.