FAYETTEVILLE - Of course Bret Bielema relished discussing his paternal new beginning but he knew that wouldn’t dodge him from having to discuss last year’s sad football end.
So he met both issues head on.
The Arkansas Razorbacks fifth-year coach was ready to discuss both as the first coach addressing Monday’s opening of SEC Football Media Days televised by the SEC Network in Hoover, Ala.
Bielema, 47, and wife Jen became first-time parents when Jen gave birth to daughter Briella Nichole Bielema Saturday in Arkansas. So whether facing the print media in Hoover or on Hoover’s Radio Row or interviewed by the SEC Network, Bielema was asked a fusillade of fatherhood questions.
“I’m 48 hours into this baby,” Bielema said. “I can’t say I’m well versed.”
Not that any rookie father is.
“Everybody that has been a new father from past experience will tell you that you are never going to be ready for it,” Bielema told the SEC Network. “And they are exactly right.”
Bielema said so far he’s done more gawking than tending.
“I can never stop looking at her,” Bielema said. “I have been calling her Two because I have two pretty girls in my life now.”
And at least one tough one.
“My wife is a soldier,” Bielema said. “She wouldn’t take any epidural. She went through 26 hours, just an amazing woman.”
Both by the SEC Network and by the print media Bielema was asked about new perspectives on life since his daughter’s birth.
He apparently had one birthed from the question implying that if Arkansas could break its 0-5 SEC West losing streak against Texas A&M, Sept. 23 at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium might it be “borderline erotic,” Bielema’s summation of ending his second Aransas season in 2014 trouncing the Texas Longhorns, 31-7 in the Texas Bowl in Houston.
“I know you guys are all looking for quotes,” Bielema said. “I don't think I can go much further than that one. That was in a small-group session and that was before I had a child, so I'll just leave it at there.”
No doubt part of him wishes he could leave last season back there, too. After his 2014 and 2015 Razorbacks improved 7-6, 8-5, including 5-3 in the 2015 SEC after founding 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC for his 2013 debut, Bielema’s 2016 Hogs closed a 7-6 overall/3-5 in the SEC campaign losing 24-7 and 24-0 halftime leads and the ballgames 28-24 and 35-24 in the SEC at Missouri and to Virginia Tech of the ACC in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte, N.C.
Since the season’s end, Bielema elevated defensive backfield coach Paul Rhoads, still coaching the secondary, to defensive coordinator, hired John Scott to coach the defensive line and switched to a 3-4 defense.
Why the change?
“As the season we ended we didn’t do things the way we want to,” Bielema said. “Never in my coaching career has a season ever ended in my 11 years as a head coach on a downward spiral or a downward note. I knew we needed to address some things that happened in the Missouri game and in the bowl game.”
Bielema said the Razorbacks “embrace” atoning for their 2016 season-ending embarrassments and have been reinforced on the first-half positives building the leads they blew.
“As coaches we had to look at why did it happen?” Bielema said. “We are going to concentrate on more on what we are going to do to win games in the second half than what we are going to do to lose them.”
Bielema said the 3-4 defense automatically makes the Razorbacks more adept running to stop the run which they mostly couldn’t do out of the 4-3 last season.
“There are 11 athletes on the field and now we have eight guys on their feet,” Bielema said instead of four in down lineman stances. “So we just became more athletic.”
He didn’t specifically name SEC champion/national runner-up Alabama but didn’t need to as the SEC school with enough superb D-linemen depth to scheme abundantly on the D-line.
“There are only a couple of teams that have that and they are the teams that are elite,” Bielema said. “I swear there are a couple of schools that have a little machine in their basement that when two leave they build two new ones and bring them out. Because they are just the same way every year.”
Bielema brought three seniors, quarterback Austin Allen of Fayetteville, center Frank Ragnow of Chanhassen, Minn. and defensive back Kevin Richardson of Jacksonville as Arkansas’ player representatives to Hoover.
Bielema praised all three on the field and off and noted Allen, a fifth-year senior in eligibility, actually graduated in three and a half years and is halfway into achieving a masters degree.