FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is proud of what the Razorbacks have accomplished on and off the field throughout the long offseason.
Now he’s eager to put the finished product on display in the season opener.
“Next Saturday we’ve got the whole world to show what we’re about,” Bielema said.
Bielema addressed his team, along with a large crowd of Arkansas supporters, during the program’s annual football kickoff luncheon at the NWA Convention Center on Friday. The Razorbacks wrapped up their third week of preseason camp at the luncheon, then held a mock game in Razorback Stadium on Friday night.
Bielema believes improvement will be evident when the Razorback open the season at Auburn next Saturday.
He said the 3-9 performance in 2013 has been motivation on both sides of the ball.
“You’re going to see a defense that is a lot more aggressive,” Bielema said. “I don’t mean aggressive by the number of blitzes called, I’m talking about the way they play. They’re communicating very well before the snap, the formations they play, they know what they are supposed to do and they are playing very, very angry.
“One thing we should be able to do is we should be very angry about what happened a year ago. Our kids show it on a daily basis.”
It isn’t just on the field. Bielema applauded his team’s work in the classroom and in the community the past few months.
Bielema said no one on the roster has a grade point average below 2.0. He also pointed to the fact Arkansas had no players arrested in the offseason and believes it’s a sign the Razorbacks have bought into his plan for the program.
“I have no idea the amount of wins and losses that will equate to,” Bielema said regarding the off-the-field success. “But I know at the end of the day, I can hold my chin high and they can as well about the way they conduct business. We’re building something and I hope to get to that plateau sooner than later.”
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long recognized it in his address to the crowd, too.
Long considered himself “very fortunate” to work with Bielema on a daily basis. He described Bielema as a “football coach that understands it’s about more than just winning games.” Long hired Bielema in Dec. 2012 to replace John L. Smith, who led the program through one season after Bobby Petrino’s dismissal in April 2012.
“You’ve made being around the football program fun again,” said Long, who grew emotional and had to choke back tears. “So thank you for that.”
Long said success on the field remains Arkansas’ goal, though.
The Razorbacks haven’t experienced much since Petrino’s departure. The former coach went 21-5 over a two-year stretch before being fired shortly after his motorcycle accident. Arkansas has gone 7-17 since, including 2-14 in SEC games.
Arkansas will carry a 12-game SEC losing streak into the opener at Auburn.
“Trust me, we all know we’re going to win and we’re going to win big,” Long told the crowd. “The coaches understand that. But they also understand we’re here to help these young people develop into the best people they can be.”
Bielema has seen significant growth since the end of the 2013 season.
He said it won’t be long for others to recognize it on the field as well.
“The No. 1 reason why we’ll be better this year as a football team than a year ago is because of this room,” Bielema said at the luncheon. “The 105 guys you saw walk through the back of the room. Every one of them, physically and mentally, is better than they were a year ago. Case by case. There’s not one guy that’s regressed.”