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July 17, 2013
KEVIN TRAINOR: We're now joined by the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, Bret Bielema.
COACH BIELEMA: Thank you. It's absolutely great to be here. It's kind of been a whirlwind. I've had a couple Media Days in my past, but nothing to the extent of today. Very much looking forward to it, for a couple different reasons. First, to give thanks to everybody who made this opportunity to come about. My administration back in Arkansas, Jeff Long, all that he has done to make my transition as smooth as possible.
More importantly to our players. I got three of them with me here today that are everything that I could ask for as a first‑year head coach. They have been unwavering, unyielding in a way that they've just accepted everything that I've asked them to do. Had a little bit of fun along the way.
It's ironic all three players, none of the three are from Arkansas, but they all three represent everything that I ask. It's really been something special.
I think it's been going as good as we could. Had a great winter conditioning. Had a great spring. Stayed pretty much injury‑free. Finished up the spring semester with the highest GPA we've had in a number of years, very few issues off the field, which is always very comforting as a head coach.
The summer is in process. I can't really be with our players. But my strength coach Ben Herbert, who I brought with me, has been a valuable asset to our program.
When I took the job, I told Jeff Long, I need to be able to hire two people that have nothing to do with coaching football, and that was my head strength coach and my director of operations. They've been home runs for us.
I want to say thanks. I've had people reach out to me over the last two days. My hometown that I came from had a fire that took down a number of buildings in my town. When you only got 2,000 people, there's not a lot of buildings. It wiped out quite a few. I appreciate all the people reaching out to me over the last couple days. It means a lot to me. Can't wait to help support my hometown in any way possible.
With that, open it up to some really easy questions (smiling).
KEVIN TRAINOR: We'll go ahead and take questions.
Q. Can you talk about coming from the Big Ten, really feeling like you have to establish physical play, the line of scrimmage, especially in the SEC, the running game, something that Arkansas has lacked for a while, to get that attitude.
COACH BIELEMA: I think our players did a lot of research on me before I got there. They realized we were going to be a team that's built from the bottom up. I'm not a guy that starts in the back end and works forward. I'm going to start with the offensive line and defensive line, two staples I believe are important for winning games that I want our team to play.
Doesn't matter if we're in the SEC, Big Ten, PAC‑12, whatever it is. It's something I emphasize from day one. I'm so excited. For us at Arkansas, one of our better players, Travis Swanson, is a center. I've always been taught back from Hayden Fry, if you can build a team from the inside out on both sides of the football, you have a chance to be good.
Travis Swanson is the best center in my opinion in college football. I've had two centers that have jumped out early in the draft, both in their junior years the last two years. I had one go first round to the Cowboys, one second round to the Falcons. I think Travis is any good as either one of those players, if not better.
He has the ability to pull and do some things in the gap scheme as well as power football, extremely intelligent.
Right behind him I have a fullback who has been a big blessing because he was a guy that was supposed to be done a year ago, he is not very tall, but he will whack you in the shins, the knees, hips, wherever he can get you. I really think that those two guys spread the word to everybody else.
Our first spring practice where we're in full pads we had a middle drill that I think everybody felt like it was Groundhog Day, that never knew when it was going to end. Kept wracking hat against hat. Playing the game we needed to play it.
On the flipside of that, defensively we have four of our defensive linemen that are seniors. Chris Smith is with us, very talented, gifted. Opposite on the other side of the line is Trey Flowers, another gifted player.
Up front play is going to dictate the way we play the game and fortunately I think we're going to be all right.
Q. You've said in the past that hurry‑up offenses make some players more prone to injury, yet you coach in a state where the spread and no‑huddle offenses are run. How hard has that made it to identify potential talent?
COACH BIELEMA: Well, when I took over the program, the one thing I didn't do is I didn't watch a lot of film of our players currently. First impressions last a lifetime. I believe that with all my heart.
I didn't want to have a preconceived notion of what a kid could or couldn't do. I just wanted them to go through winter conditioning, show me what they have, let them talk to our coaches, let them understand what they can bring to the table, get into spring ball, see where we're at.
Yeah, we wanted to play a little bit of normal American football. We wanted to line up with a tight end and a couple wideouts, a tailback and a fullback, see what we can do.
If we have to put five wideouts on the field, that makes us have the best chance of winning, that's what I'll do. I don't think that is.
We'll stick to the formula that we've kind have been accustomed to from myself. Jim Chaney has kind of seen everything. He's been an offensive coordinator in a variety of different systems.
The thing I like, our players have bought into it big‑time. Our wide receivers read too much about what was being said. They thought we were going to run the football as much as we could, throw it every so often. We're going to be a balanced football team. My goal is if we average over 200, 210 yards running the football and throwing the football, we're going to win a lot of football games. That's been the formula of our success in the past.
Q. What major differences have you noticed between the Big Ten and SEC?
COACH BIELEMA: Major differences? If you're talking odysseys in recruiting, the national exposure you have in recruiting. We got a quarterback out of Egg Harbor, New Jersey, that we tried to recruit at the previous institution I was at. He reached out to us once I switched because he wanted to play in the SEC. I said, Well, I got a heck of an opportunity for you.
He switched, decommitted from other school, became a part of what we did. That was all because of the SEC on our shirt.
I said that repeatedly to our coaches in the recruiting process in December and January. Until we win an SEC title, we got to rely on the exposure that our conference has gotten through others. Talk about the SEC, what it means to play in the stadiums we're going to play in, be part of a conference that's the best in college football.
That's been the eye‑opener for me. It was apparent from day one. That's very, very clear. I have not been through an SEC schedule. I can tell you I've watched, especially our early SEC opponents, a lot of film since spring.
One thing that jumps out is the defensive line talent, the speed, the size, the ability that they bring I think is a little bit more up than the previous league I was in. A lot of really good players.
See, the problem you guys got me in, the good things I say about the SEC, everybody else gets pissed and vice versa. I'm in a quandary here. It's just reality.
The other thing that has happened as I watch film, on both sides of the football, there are guys that are very gifted in ways that are very unique to them. Might be a wide receiver that can catch something beyond anybody else. Might be a guy that can swim a guard on a pass pro that is better than anybody else in the league.
There's players that have unique abilities that make it very difficult to defend certain players in certain situations. That's going to be a very, very big task of what we do.
Q. Coach Malzahn said he thought any notion that the hurry‑up, no‑huddle offense was dangerous, he thought that was a joke. How would you respond to that? Why specifically do you think the hurry‑up offense is dangerous for player safety?
COACH BIELEMA: He thought it was a joke?
Q. That's what he said.
COACH BIELEMA: I'm not a comedian. Everything I say is things I truly believe in. When I go into a young man's home, when you go to recruit a kid that's 17 years old, move him halfway across the country, you can look a mom and dad in the eye, and you say, I'm going to look out for the personal well‑being of your son in everything that I do. It's going to be a game day, a practice, a conditioning session, I am trusting you to give me your son to come play for me.
If I have a son that I have brought to this campus and I don't look after his personal well‑being, I have lied to that parent.
All I know is this: there are times when an offensive player and a defensive player are on the field for an extended amount of time without a break. You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15. If that exposes him to a risk of injury, then that's my fault. I can't do anything about it because the rules do not allow me to substitute a player in whether I'm on offense or defense.
The problem that people have is you look at it just from an offensive or defensive point of view. I'm looking at it from a head coach's point of view, that the personal well‑being and safety of my players is paramount.
I've had a situation that I've had to call a parent because their son may not make it through because of either an injury, not make it through life, but the next day, whether he can play football or not. To me that's real. That's the job I have to protect.
I sat in a Rules Committee meeting. We changed the rules significantly in the world of kicking. Everybody remember when we did that? We moved the ball from the 35 to 30, all that back and forth. We changed the rules you can't jump anymore. Why did we do that? We did it for player safety.
We've dramatically decreased the number of concussions and traumatic injuries on kickoffs because of that rule change. If we can have the same effect and change the amount of injuries to an offensive and defensive player and play the game still, would that not be a good resolution?
It's not a joke to me. It's something that I really feel strongly about. It's not rhetoric.
I'm not a scientist. You do not want me to walk in with a computer and try to figure things out. But I had a guy email me two weeks ago because he read the articles. He was all about there is statistical evidence that shows that as players become more tired, they become more vulnerable to injury. That's all I'm talking about.
If you want to play hurry‑up offense, play it. I'll play you, I don't care. But it doesn't mean that I cannot try to protect my players offensively and defensively.
I have just as many offensive players as I have defensive players. That's the facts.
I do think I'm funny at times, though. I will say that (smiling).
Q. Coach Malzahn also said his concern is defensive players faking injuries to slow the offenses down. Do you agree with that?
COACH BIELEMA: You know what, in addition to not being a comedian, I'm not an actor. I can't tell you how to tell a kid how to fake an injury.
I understand. I think there are people that have openly admitted, said that. I think you probably have in those situations a coach dealing with a situation that he doesn't know how to handle and a player asking the same thing.
I tell a player all the time, If you're injured, go down, stay down. If you can tell me the severity of an injury by how much the guy is crying or wincing, more power to you. I'm not trying to be a doctor.
There's certain things that the Rules Committee addressed to make sure people weren't doing that, take time off the clock, have certain penalties. It's certainly something that people have to stay abreast of.
Q. Every coach wants to have a positive turnover margin. Your teams have delivered on that front. What's the secret? Arkansas had a poor one last year.
COACH BIELEMA: I think two things. I've tried to tell our players, for most of you in this room, this comment is going to really disturb you. But there are more games on every Saturday that are lost than are won. All I mean by that is everybody understands there's a certain number of games played, a team wins or loses, the number is equal. To me there are so many teams that give the game away that have the ability to win.
They give the ball away in unforeseen situations. They're lax in their ball security, they're lax in the way they execute their first‑down passing sequence. They're lax in the ability that they have in tackling the football.
I know this, if you have the ball, you give it away unwillingly, in a way they didn't have to work for, you've now given them an advantage.
To make our players understand that, if you come to one of our practices and a player puts the ball on the ground, he doesn't have to look or ask, he just takes off running. Make him understand as long as you put the ball on the ground, you will not be part of our offense.
On the flipside of it, our defense understands that little brown ball is everything. We'll attack it in a fanatical way that allows us to get it in any way possible.
The other one for me is pre‑snap penalties. First‑and‑10 is hard enough, first‑and‑15 is gets real bad, first‑and‑20 is awful. Don't put yourself in a position to play behind the chains. Put yourself in a position to move the chains down the field, advance the ball, get first downs, get in the red zone, get touchdowns, not field goals, and good things will happen.
Q. In light of some recent events, would you ever report Wisconsin for recruiting violations?
COACH BIELEMA: No. You know what, I think in the world of college football, everybody is so competitive about recruiting, there's things that I had to learn as an assistant coach. You see things. I've never seen anything bad. I can stand here and tell you I've been in the world of college football for 20 years. I've never seen or heard anything that makes me lose sleep at night about what coaches might do.
What I get frustrated with that I think the NCAA is doing a nice job is the secondary violations that kind of used to be common practice. Now they're cracking down on it, doing certain things, because it does gain you an advantage.
If you're in a period where you can't talk to a kid, all of a sudden another coach is talking to a kid, then that becomes real. It becomes an advantage for that other team.
What I would commonly do, there was a nice story written about this in my previous institution, is if I had a problem with the way another school was doing things, I would call the head coach and express my concern to them. So what I would do commonly is if I had a problem with a certain university, I would call the head coach, tell them the story I have, give them a chance for them to tell me their side of it, their belief, move forward from there.
If I didn't get the answer that I wanted, I may go to my AD. But there's a step process we usually follow. I can't say that happens for everybody, but that's definitely not one I would take.
Q. You said you've been to a few Media Days, but not like this. What do you mean by that?
COACH BIELEMA: Just this engaging crowd, besides a couple guys sleeping in the front row (smiling). Elbowed him, still not up. Heavier sleeper (laughter).
The thing that jumped out to me, I saw a stat yesterday that said there were more credentials passed out for this event than there were for the national championship game. For me to come here today, you share the stage with three to four coaches, you have three players coming with you, the game that we play in right now, the game that I coach in is at an all new high.
The world of college football is on an exposure level because of the markets, the TV, the fan support that is truly incredible, fun to be a part of. To know every day I get a chance to do my job and to come here and to sell our brand...
The thing I was excited about more than anything is I'm looking forward to August 4th, getting ready to roll my players, looking forward to the end of August, opening up with Louisiana Lafayette, looking forward to the SEC first game come to Arkansas and have it be Texas A&M, everything that that brings.
I was excited because I let all our recruits know what we were going to be doing today. It's social media, Twitter, some fun, some not so fun. Every day brings its own unique set of challenges.
I knew the SEC, no disappointment here today, would be at the highest level possible.
Q. Have you had all your stuff moved into the football center? What is it like being in there?
COACH BIELEMA: All of our stuff? We came in December and I didn't unpack. I just kind of looked like a homeless guy, moving box out of box, trying to figure out where I had something.
But as of Monday, we're going to move into our new facility. It's going to be one that I think is off the charts. We're actually going to have a team meeting in there Friday where our players are going to see the locker room for the first time and kind of get a feel for exactly what this new facility is all about.
I'm not saying we're going to be the top in the country, but we're definitely in the upper division now both in the locker room, the training room, equipment room, players lounge. We have a players lounge with 20 chairs for like a private movie. I feel like slapping our guys. They have it way too good.
They have a training room that is basically about five or six times of the size of the one we have currently. They're going to go from what they've been doing and having success to one of the best facilities in the country. Now we just have to put a product on the field that matches it.
Q. You have guys on your team that have had three coaches in three years. How do you sell a message and have them believe it?
COACH BIELEMA: You know what, that's a great question.
I knew going into our first team meeting December 5th, they've gone through a lot. I told them when I walked into that room, I'm not going to comment, I'm not going to talk about, you're not going to hear me preach about what's gone on before me. All I'm going to do is worry about the road in front of us.
Everybody sat in that room with a different story. Yeah, they had all just gone 4‑8. They might have been the starting right corner, backup defensive tackle, second string left guard on punt. Everybody went through it. Let's put our arms around it, embrace it for what it is, move forward.
Everybody said scars are a bad thing. To me scars are a good thing. Scars are a daily reminder of things you've persevered. If you can accept what's happened in the past, if we move forward together, take every day for what it is, you're going to have this be a growing experience rather than a dying experience.
Our kids have been awesome. They've had three head coaches in three years. Hopefully at the end of this year they like me the best. That is what it is.
I told them I wasn't going to put them in sweater vests for the first game. I have some bonus points there. They used to have wear sweater vests for the pregame.
I think our guys really have a lot of fun in our practices. In a previous interview, somebody asked me earlier today, Who was the biggest influence on your coaching career? I said without a doubt, Hayden Fry. They said, Why was that? It was because Hayden always said, Have fun.
If it was Tuesday, it was 105 degrees, the seventh double day in a row, or Thursday afternoon, we're getting ready for a big game, we're in the run for a conference championship, he never lost sight of having fun.
The first time any of us ever played the game, it wasn't because you were playing in front of 80,000, it wasn't because you were playing in the SEC Championship game, a BCS game, it was because somebody put a ball on the ground and said, Let's have fun.
That's the kind of approach we began to take with our kids and I think they've really bought into it.
Q. Last year you were able to get Alex Collins out of the state of Florida. How have you been able to go into the state of Florida and recruit? Is that a primary spot for you moving forward?
COACH BIELEMA: That's a great question.
When I began to put together my plan as I took the Arkansas job, talked about recruiting, the number one priority is always going to be the state of Arkansas. Then I began to look at where can we go and recruit and have success. One of the areas I've been in previously as an assistant coach was Florida. As an assistant at Iowa, I saw teams in the Big Ten began to have a lot of success. A lot of them were South Florida players.
I went down as an assistant in 1994, saw a lot of good players. Saw a lot of good players with a lot of problems, too. You don't necessarily want them. You have to be concise in what you're looking for. You have to go into a certain type of program, certain type of player, certain type of coach.
Because of my time there I met a guy by the name of Randy Shannon, I met a guy by the name of Charlie Partridge, two guys that are my recruiters down there. Alex Collins uniquely, I signed a player from his head coach about seven or eight years ago, two or three of his players. Doug Gatewood. Began to find out about Alex. Built that relationship.
I think that's the one thing I've leaned on. Charlie Partridge is from South Florida. He was the lead recruiter with Alex. He actually visited Wisconsin, said didn't like the weather, so I went to Arkansas.
The part that has been fun for us is just getting a feel for the type of kids we want. We're going to play a certain type of football that you need to like football, you need to enjoy playing physical football, you need to play in a way that makes you play the game the right way, not committing penalties, don't put yourself in the hole. That's brought us to a certain type of kid in Florida.
I would suspect that we'll try to sign one player to five players, somewhere in between, every year that fit our program in the best way possible.
Arkansas hadn't truly recruited Florida. There was only one player when I took over from Florida. It's not something that has been in their market.
The other big area that we've taken on, when I moved to Arkansas, obviously the state again is the first priority, but we want to make a huge push in Texas. Obviously the only SEC school in Texas is Texas A&M. There's a lot of good players. If certain schools in the state aren't doing that great, it opens up a certain avenue for us to get into.
We have a certain alumni that built a stadium in the middle of Dallas that is very big. He won a national championship when he was a player at Arkansas. Jerry Jones has made the commitment he wants to make everything he can about Arkansas great.
We've moved into Texas, east Texas. We've had six, sometimes seven, eight coaches in Texas at any given time. If we can help make the transition from Texas to Arkansas a little bit smoother, we'll do that.
Q. Based on pre‑season magazines, I'm suspecting my colleagues will reflect tomorrow, you're not going to be picked very highly in the SEC West. Your thoughts on where people think about you?
COACH BIELEMA: The lower the better. I think our kids are carrying a tremendous chip on their shoulder. The same group that's going to vote us a certain place tomorrow is the same group that a year ago today had us in the top five. We lost some really good players.
I tell you what, we have some players that you haven't even heard of that are coming at you. I went through the same thing my first year when I took over from a great coach in Barry Alvarez. We beat Auburn in the bowl game the year before. Lost a couple really good players. Everybody had us ranked 60th to 70th in the country, bottom half of the Big Ten.
We went out and went 12‑1. I'm not saying we're going to go out and go 12‑1. This team has all the ingredients as a head coach that can make teams win. I haven't been through an SEC schedule, through the stadiums, I haven't been through an away game schedule quite like the one we face.
I do know this: we have a team that's very hungry, a group of coaches that are very gifted, we have a staff that is very talented and a lot of years to back that up.
But I do excel in situations where people think very, very little of us. For those of you that want to, vote us lower. I mean that with all my heart. Then just sit back and watch.
KEVIN TRAINOR: Coach Bielema, thank you for your time.
COACH BIELEMA: Appreciate it. Go Hogs.
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