FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema made it clear last week the Razorbacks would not stray from their core beliefs as they move on from 2013.
Bielema maintained the message throughout his stay on ESPN’s campus Tuesday.
“I came here to win an SEC championship and that hasn’t wavered and it will never waver,” Bielema said during a segment that aired on SportsCenter. “I know in my fifth year at Wisconsin we won our first championship of three in a row. I’m following the same model with a little adaptation for the SEC.”
Bielema was one of seven SEC coaches to spend the day moving from interview to interview at ESPN, joining Alabama’s Nick Saban, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Florida’s Will Muschamp, Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. The other seven coaches appeared Monday.
The Razorbacks went 3-9 overall, 0-8 in the SEC last season, struggling in the transition from an offense that featured the passing game under former coach Bobby Petrino to one that leaned on its offensive line and run game under Bielema.
It’s no secret Arkansas had issues on both sides of the ball. There are plenty of questions that remain as well for the Razorbacks, who were picked to finish last in the SEC West by the media last week. But Bielema believes improvement on his staff and Arkansas’ roster will be evident as the rebuilding continues this fall.
“When we have the success that we plan on having, and that I’ve had in the past, it will be rewarding,” Bielema said of his blueprint for the program on the set of ESPN’s College Football Live. “But until we get the right players in place, the people that we need to execute, it’s just not a great system for us right now. But it’s getting there.”
Bielema has pointed out close calls several times as signs the Razorbacks began to make progress. Late losses to Mississippi State and LSU were highlighted by critical mistakes in tight games. He said those must be eliminated.
“The LSU game, we’re in a stage ready to win and the most critical play of the game we can’t carry a fourth quarter call through on execution,” Bielema said on College Football Live. “That’s what we’ve got to get better at.”
Arkansas will get its first chance in the opener at Auburn, which completed a one-year turnaround to win the 2013 SEC championship under Gus Malzahn.
The Razorbacks close the year at Missouri, which missed a bowl game in 2012 and followed by winning the SEC East championship.
Bielema said Arkansas has used those two programs as inspiration throughout the offseason. But Bielema, who joined Mullen on the College Football Live set for one segment, said last season was a sign it won’t be easy in an unforgiving conference.
“I didn’t expect to go 0-for in the conference, that’s for sure,” Bielema said. “As I came into just our program alone there were certain things that were what I thought and there were certain surprises. And the same thing throughout the course of the schedule. There were certain things that jumped out to you right away.
“Week-in and week-out there’s no, ‘Hey, you get through these next two weeks and you’ve got a couple that you can get through pretty easy.’ It’s a constant flow.”
Bielema remains optimistic Arkansas is on the right path.
“We’re Year 2 into our program and I think we’re going to be better,” Bielema said on SportsCenter. “We’ve added almost 30 players. We’ve subtracted about 15 guys that didn’t do things the way we asked. I think the result is going to be really good.”
Bielema didn’t leave Bristol without taking a subtle jab at Alabama when discussing the year-round nature of the job Tuesday.
“For the first time in NCAA history they gave us a two-week dead period,” Bielema said as part of a roundtable discussion with Sumlin and Jones that was televised on ESPNU. “I don’t know about you guys, but it really wasn’t dead. Alabama got a waiver. They got to have a camp. But everybody else had to abide by the rules and for 14 days we couldn’t have anybody on campus.”
Bielema was referencing the two-week recruiting dead period — which prohibits in-person visits or evaluations — that stretched from June 30 to July 13. The NCAA granted a waiver for the Crimson Tide to start a four-day school for high school players on the final day of the dead period, according to Al.com.
“Flying home from #espn car wash & had a complete day. Ready to play ball, have some fun along the way. Not trying to make friends! #WoooPig,” Bielema posted on his Twitter page late Tuesday afternoon.
It was no surprise pace of play was one topic of discussion when Bielema sat down with Sumlin and Jones. But one portion of Bielema’s response during the roundtable segment caught Sumlin a little off guard.
“It’s to what you believe in,” said Bielema, who has been vocal in his beliefs no-huddle offenses create player safety issues. “I think to go against the opposing types of styles is awesome. I have an incredible respect for the coaches that believe in something that’s kind of totally different than what you believe in.”
Said Sumlin: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree. I think it’s great for the game. … The different style play is great for the game, it’s great for the fans. I think if everybody played the same style I don’t know how exciting that would be.”
The Razorbacks will hold their football kickoff luncheon on Aug. 22 at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center in Springdale.
The event — which is being held for the sixth straight year — will feature Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and athletic director Jeff Long.
Doors open at 11:15 a.m. and the luncheon will begin at noon. Tickets can be ordered at ArkansasRazorbacks.com or through the ticket center at 1-800-982-4647