FAYETTEVILLE - University of Arkansas Interim Athletic Director Julie Cromer Peoples asserted herself not like an interim but the athletic director announcing Friday night she heads the search for a new Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach.
Shortly after the 4-8 overall/1-7 in the SEC Razorbacks lost 48-45 to SEC rival Missouri Friday afternoon at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Cromer Peoples told 5-year Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema that he had been dismissed.
Roughly two hours Friday evening at Barnhill Arena, Cromer Peoples, the Senior Associate Athletic Director named interim director since Athletic Director Jeff Long was fired last week and a search committee formed by UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz interviews candidates to be the permanent athletic director, Cromer Peoples said starting Friday night she starts the search for a new head football coach.
“I’ll be working and running point on a coaching search,” Cromer Peoples said. “I have been fortunate over the last 20 years to build a network of people in the college athletic ranks and in football. And I will lean on that network as well as others I have gotten to know in my time here at Arkansas who particularly are interested in finding a coach that fits with our state and fits within our region. So I will be leading the coaching search and I will call who I need to call to make the best decision for us.”
Cromer Peoples was asked if an actual offer to a head coaching candidate can be made before a permanent athletic director is in place.
“I don't think you need a quote, unquote, permanent AD in order to make an offer,” Cromer Peoples said. “I think you need an AD, and we have one.”
Cromer Peoples said of course she will be in contact with Steinmetz throughout the coaching search but that she’s been put in charge of the coaching search.
“Chancellor Steinmetz runs the university, so obviously he'll be involved,” Cromer Peoples said. “I’ll communicate with him throughout the process. But his focus is on finding an athletic director for us. My focus will be on launching the football search and finding a football coach for us. At this point, we will not name a search committee. I do think that there will be some key, I'd call them advisors, I suppose, that I'll lean on for their insight. Particularly as it relates to our state and what can be successful here at Arkansas. But there won't be a formal search committee for this process.”
Cromer Peoples, in her fourth year at Arkansas, said she was involved in a previous coaching search as an administrator at Indiana when the Hoosiers hired Oklahoma assistant Kevin Wilson as IU’s football coach.
Before taking the media’s questions, Cromer Peoples praised Bielema whose 29-33 overall and 11-29 SEC record obviously never approached his 68-24 record and three Big Ten championships while coaching Wisconsin from 2006-2012 but who off the field and in academics righted a listing ship after Coach Bobby Petrino was fired in scandal in the spring of 2012 followed by a struggling 2012 season under Interim Coach John L. Smith.
“Coach Bielema has represented the University of Arkansas and the Razorback program with class and has demonstrated unwavering commitment to our student-athletes,” Cromer Peoples said. “There is no question that coach Bielema and his staff have made a positive impact on the lives of our student-athletes, including supporting them in their pursuit of graduation and in their personal development as young men.”
Cromer Peoples said there were “some highlights” including two bowl victories in Bielema’s five years but he simply didn’t win enough games and thus dismissed by mutual decision of Steinmetz and herself, she said.
“In the end we have not been able to sustain the success on the field that is expected and is required at the university of Arkansas,” Cromer Peoples said. “We must win games. Therefore we made the determination that it was time to make a change at the head coaching position.”
I firmly believe that all we have to offer including our history and our tradition, our facilities, our passionate fan base and our ability to compete in the nation’s best conference will attract the interest of many top coaches across the country. Make no mistake, our goal and our focus has been and will always be to compete and win in the Southeastern Conference and nationally.”
Cromer Peoples said she told Bielema of his dismissal immediately postgame in a small office near the locker room so he could tell the players before scattered getting the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend for themselves.
Bielema in his postgame press conference said he appreciated being told immediately rather than over the holiday weekend and that, though never previously dismissed as either an assistant or head coach, he exits with no bitterness but an appreciation of Arkansas.
“Moving forward, I’ll do everything and anything I can to help Arkansas,” Bielema said. “I’m a bigger fan of Arkansas now than ever. I’ll work with whoever
they end up naming if they want my help. I’ll be here tenfold to help them and move forward as long as I’m not working some place else.”
Bielema said he will always treasure that his daughter Briella was born last summer in Fayetteville.
Cromer Peoples said for now all of Bielema’s staff remains on duty and that defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads will act as head coach heading discipline and football administration when the players return to class Monday and until a new head coach is hired.
Bielema was hired not with cause but by convenience, Cromer Peoples said, which means he will be entitled to receive a buyout which is believed to be at least $5.9 million.
“Coach Bielema's present employee agreement specifies a personal service contract with the Razorback Foundation,” Cromer Peoples said. “The Razorback Foundation will handle his buyout and the Razorback Foundation will determine if they will release his details when they are done.”