FAYETTEVILLE - As they prepare for the Arkansas Razorbacks’ Friday season-finale hosting the Missouri Tigers in a 1:30 p.m. CBS televised SEC game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Dan Enos and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads are well aware speculation abounds this could be more than an Arkansas season finale for them.
With Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long fired last week, and the Razorbacks, a no bowl 4-7 overall and 1-6 in the SEC West going into Friday’s finale against a 6-5, 3-4 in the SEC Missouri team on a 5-game winning streak, the Arkansas coaches know well the statewide and even national conversations that their Razorbacks time could well about up.
Bielema, completing his fifth year coaching the Razorbacks after six successful seasons at Wisconsin including three Big Ten championships, said he intends putting all his concentration on preparing for and coaching Friday’s game and then hit the recruiting trail.
“My personal story is, the choices I made to come here,” Bielema said. “The choices I've made since I've been here. What I know we've been able to accomplish and where I know we can go. Because recruiting is right around the corner. I'm scheduled to be in a home as early Sunday, and that's what my intention is to do. And if things change that's obviously something I've got to deal with, but that's been my task. We had a great recruiting weekend this past weekend. My goal is to put our best performance on Friday, hopefully try to get ourselves a victory, Saturday regroup during the morning, hop on a plane and get recruiting on Saturday night and Sunday morning.”
Enos said he insulates himself in his work preparing for Friday’s game but laments his family can’t share that insulation.
“It’s harder on the families than us,’ Enos said. “We get isolated and we’re in here working and coaching and doing our deal. I think it’s really, really difficult on the kids and the wives because they’re out in the community, kids hear things at school and things like that. It’s really a tough part of the business, it really is.”
He says for him it goes with the territory but the territory beyond his is tougher to take.
“I know people say, ‘Well you decided to be a coach, you knew what you were getting in to,” Enos said. “And yeah, that’s true, but my wife and kids don’t deserve that and neither do all the other coaches. That’s what is hard. Obviously when you’re 4-7, we know people aren’t going to be running around trying to have a parade for us or build statues of us in front of the stadium. We get all that. But it’s tough to watch your family go through stuff. I just continually use it as learning moments for my children, as life’s not always easy, life’s not always fair. There’s going to be adversity in life and you have to fight through it. As my dad used to always say, ‘You have to keep your hands up, keep your chin down and just keep punching.”
With their children grown and having enjoyed great initial success but ultimately fired after seven years head coaching Iowa State before coming to Arkansas in 2016, Rhoads and his wife, Vickie, have weathered enough coaching ups and downs to handle this one.
“I'm very fortunate to have a tremendous coach's wife who's been through it as well,” Rhoads said. “She gets it. She understands it. She's able to block it out just as well as I am. I have two grown sons who lived it playing for me, when their old man got fired. So we come by it honestly and appreciate the fact it goes along with the profession, and you can't change who you are or what you're doing.”
Among the several Razorbacks injured during last Saturday’s 28-21 SEC loss to 16th-ranked Mississippi State at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, it appears junior wide receiver Jonathan Nance and freshman kick-returner/reserve receiver De’Vion Warren are in the most jeopardy of not playing against Missouri.
Nance was not expected to work in Monday’s closed practice having injured both an ankle and a knee before having to be pulled out of the Mississippi State game.
“We're kind of approaching it as he may be a guy who's questionable for Saturday,” Bielema said.
Warren is undergoing concussion protocol from his injury last Saturday. Bielema said Warren is progressing well but must pass all protocol before he can be cleared to play.
Junior left offensive guard Hjalte Froholdt and junior center Zach Rogers were both injured during the Mississippi State game, but Bielema said he anticipates both will play against Missouri.