FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas football program struggled through one of its worst seasons in school history after going 3-9 under coach Bret Bielema.
But one of the program’s most recognizable supporters said Friday he’s confident the Razorbacks have the right coach in place to lead the program back.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was in town to honor former Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles during his retirement celebration weekend, said he really thinks Bielema is the “answer” for the Razorbacks.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Jones said. “People that really know him — people in scouting in the NFL that would know, who visit with him about his players — really respect his philosophy. I like it as to what our competition is, what we match up against. I think he’s a perfect coach for the matchup.”
Jones said he has gotten to know Bielema well since the coach was hired to replace John L. Smith after the 2012 season. Bielema has been to Cowboys Stadium “two or three times,” according to Jones. They also spoke about some of the members of his 2013 team during the NFL Draft process.
Bielema is trying to revive a program that has gone 7-17 in the two seasons since former coach Bobby Petrino was fired. The struggles include a 2-14 mark in Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas has lost 12 straight conference games dating back to a win against Kentucky on Oct. 13, 2012.
But Jones believes Bielema is capable of building Arkansas into a contender, competing with the likes of LSU and Alabama in the SEC West.
“We all want to be able to beat LSU,” Jones said. “We want to be able to beat Alabama and those big teams. And to do that, we’re going to need some big linemen on both sides of the ball.”
National title run
One Arkansas football player will compete for a national championship this week.
Wide receiver Eric Hawkins has been running with the Arkansas track and field team since the conclusion of spring football practice. Hawkins is a member of Arkansas’ 4x100-meter relay team and travels with the team to Eugene, Ore., for the NCAA Outdoor Championships this week.
Sprints coach Doug Case said Hawkins has been a valuable addition, running the first leg for a team that includes Omar McLeod, Jarrion Lawson and Neil Braddy.
“What a contribution he’s made in a short period of time,” Case said. “I see him literally, daily getting better. Moving into more of that ability to maintain his sprint speed for a longer period of time that you really don’t get that on the football field as much as you do on the track. But I mean, for him to come out and be a guy that’s on one of the top relays in the nation and leading that thing off, I think he’s done an outstanding job. … He wants to do it. He enjoys it I can tell.”
Case said the Razorbacks hope it’s the start of a continued relationship between the football and track. He said it can be a recruiting advantage for both programs.
“I feel like we’re moving in that direction,” Case said. “We’ve had a great experience this year with Eric being out there. His conditioning was good when he got here. He wasn’t out of shape, which was excellent for him. I hope that we can continue that.”
Back in Arlington
The Arkansas/Texas A&M series will return to Cowboys Stadium after a two-year absence when the teams play on Sept. 27.
Jones said Friday he was thrilled to see the Razorbacks return.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing has made me any prouder with the Cowboys, or anything — the Super Bowl, the Final Four — than to know the Arkansas Razorbacks are playing football in that stadium,” Jones said. “That’s just a dream come true for me. When I was building it, when I was thinking about building it, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think about those Pigs lining up in that stadium.”
Arkansas is 4-0 in Cowboys Stadium after beating the Aggies three times (2009, 2010 and 2011). The Razorbacks also beat Kansas State in the 2012 Cotton Bowl.
The Arkansas/Texas A&M series will be played in Cowboys Stadium through 2024.