Weak results undo Bielema's brand of power


It always seemed odd that Bret Bielema would leave Wisconsin for Arkansas.

He was 68-24 overall and 37-19 in Big Ten play.

He was from the Midwest, and apparently he was the golden boy in Wisconsin.

Then, before his team -- who destroyed Nebraska 70-31 in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game (Ohio State and Penn State finished ahead of the Badgers but were ineligible) -- could play in its third consecutive Rose Bowl, he was headed to the hills, talking about the challenge of playing and beating Alabama.

It was a great attitude, but a rumor gently swept by and faded that Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez -- the former head coach and clearly Bielema's mentor -- was a meddler.

A few weeks ago at the Little Rock Touchdown Club, Alvarez said a lot -- and it was veiled and took about three listenings on the club's website to get it all -- that during the season he would meet with Bielema three or four times a week about on-field issues.

And that Bielema lived nearby, and they would have dinner and more discussions.

When you factor in that Bielema's replacement, Gary Andersen, stayed just two seasons and bolted for a very tough job at Oregon State, it would seem Bielema had wearied of Alvarez's hands-on approach and wanted to captain his own ship.

It's similar to what happened between Ken Hatfield and Frank Broyles almost 30 years ago at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

So Bielema and his wife packed their bags, learned to call the Hogs and set out to beat Alabama.

Only that hasn't happened. In fact, Bielema is 10-24 in SEC play and 0-4 against the Tide. Alvarez is apparently still involved in Badgers football. Since Bielema left, they are 27-7 in Big Ten play.

Bielema is unofficially on the hot seat, and fans are disappointed because they like their head coach on a personal level, but they also want to win. Bobby Petrino gave the Razorbacks Nation a taste of the high life when he led them to the Sugar Bowl.

After a shocking 48-22 loss Saturday to South Carolina, which kicked a field goal with four seconds left to beat Louisiana Tech to cap a 13-point fourth-quarter comeback earlier this season, the Razorbacks program was called a dumpster fire.

That might give the Razorbacks some extra motivation this weekend when they take on Alabama, but you can't beat teams like the Crimson Tide on emotion.

So how did Bielema and the Razorbacks get to this point?

This is just one observation.

When Bielema came to Arkansas, he knew one way to win -- high-percentage power football.

He talked about having the biggest and best offensive line in the country, and that they would travel first class on the team charter, and they would open holes anyone could run through.

And for a while they did. Maybe it is a coincidence, but when Sam Pittman left for Georgia it seems everything changed on offense, from recruiting to actually protecting the quarterback or giving running backs holes.

Bielema and his staff last year finally went looking for what most teams already considered critical -- speed. There's more than he's had, but it isn't enough.

Perhaps not keeping former assistant coach Tim Horton has played a role, too. Horton didn't lose in-state players and at least five are contributing heavily at other schools in Power 5 conferences.

Bielema knows he is being criticized and knows why, but he is not being confrontational about it.

Bielema doesn't need Alvarez to know the score: You get paid big bucks to win games, including the big ones.

Sports on 10/11/2017

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