Arkansas football Coach Bret Bielema not only has a proven formula for winning football games, but he knows how to entertain a crowd too.
On Monday night, exactly one year to the day of former Coach Bobby Petrino's infamous motorcycle accident, which exposed an affair that led to his dismissal, Bielema met with the Greers Ferry Lake Area Razorback Club.
For $20 per ticket, a club record 700 fans convened at the Heber Springs Community Center to listen to the new head of the program. And he certainly didn't disappoint. Moments after taking the podium, Bielema joked about not owning a Harley Davidson motorcycle. “I don't own a Harley, but if you see my wife on the back of a bike please let me know,” said Bielema as the packed auditorium erupted with laughter.
Prior to taking the job in Fayetteville on Dec. 4, Bielema led Wisconsin to three Big 10 championships while compiling an impressive record of 64-28 in his seven-year tenure at Wisconsin.
Personality is not the only stark contrast between Petrino and Bielema. Petrino prefers the passing game and Bielema prefers to wear down the opposition with a power running game, which opens up play-action passing and deep routes.
Bielema said statewide fan support made a big first impression upon his arrival to the Natural State. “It doesn't matter, north, south, east, west or central … Everybody is a Razorback in the state of Arkansas and that makes my job extremely easy.”
With spring practice underway, Bielema is molding his new team into a completely different system. “Without a doubt offensively it was a different philosophy than what we are carrying forward, so we just want to teach the football players to play down-hill, power football, put their hands on people and move them around.
“That's a little bit of a change, but they have [accepted] it with their arms wide open and it has been a nice transition. They have been very proactive in the way they learn. They really want to learn and I couldn't be happier with where they are.”
Bielema said it's important to make solid relations with high school coaches in the state in order to build a solid foundation. “We want to throw a fence around the state. Anybody that can play SEC championship football we need to have them in our family. As far as the way we communicate with coaches I just feel like honesty is the best policy. We tell them upfront what we are looking for and what we want.
“We are trying to be a little more proactive with our research and recruitment of players within the state. It all starts up front for us. We need to find out who can play in our state and offer them scholarships and get them in our program,” added Bielema.
Page 2 of 2 - One of Bielema's most interesting stories revolved around the recruitment of five-star running back Alex Collins of Plantation, Florida – near Miami.
Collins' mother refused to sign his national-letter-of-intent on signing day, urging her son to stay close to home and attend the University of Miami. “He really wanted to sign with us, but his mom didn't want him to. So I will probably send her a Mother's Day card, two or three probably,” added Bielema as the crowd burst with laughter.
Collins likely would have ended up at Wisconsin had Bielema not left for Arkansas. “One thing I like to do is take a walk with recruits because they like you to see where they came from, just like I like people to see where I came from, even though it's just some hogs on a farm, it's where I came from.
“I had a good idea Alex would come here when we took a walk in his neighborhood. We walked about 10 blocks and he pointed to [several] houses and different places and talked about who lives there and over here, but once we got near the end he said 'You know what coach I am ready to go somewhere to make a name for myself.'
During his 45 minutes in front of the podium, Bielema discussed former Heber Springs star Braylon Mitchell, a redshirt junior who is receiving first-team repetitions at strong side linebacker.
“We just moved Braylon from outside [linebacker] to Sam (strong). He is a young man that has not played as much as he wants to but he is currently running with our ones. I am very impressed with his attitude and desire to be a good football player.”
Bielema said he came to Arkansas on a quest to win a conference championship. “My goal is to win an SEC championship and that is why I came here.”
The Greers Ferry Lake Razorback Club is scheduled to host another banquet at the First Baptist Church in Clinton on Aug. 27 with basketball Coach Mike Anderson serving as guest speaker.