SEC media days: Despite disastrous 2013 campaign, Bret Bielema clings to core beliefs

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 16, 2014 

HOOVER, Ala. — The question was short.

Bret Bielema’s response was shorter.

Asked what the “biggest culture shock” he endured in his transition from the Big Ten to the Southeastern Conference last year, Bielema fired back immediately. And concisely.

“Winning versus losing,” Arkansas' coach said at SEC media days on Wednesday. “It's quite simple.”

Admittedly, Bielema said, he had lived a charmed existence prior to last year. In seven seasons at Wisconsin from 2006-12, he never had a losing record. He won 10 or more games four times. And he led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl in the last three years of his tenure — though he didn’t coach the final one, as he had already moved on to Arkansas.

That’s where the sterling track record of success came to a screeching halt. The Razorbacks won their first three games last year. Then they cratered, losing nine straight contests to close out the season, setting an unwanted school-record for consecutive losses.

A season like last year prompts some coaches to make wholesale changes. Some even question all of their fundamental coaching philosophies. Not Bielema.

He now clings even more deeply to his core beliefs.

“You have to be true to who you are, what you've been. Don't flinch,” Bielema said. “There's a lot of times (when) teams go through some adversity … they're going to change, get a new idea, new this, new that. I believe you have to do what you do better.”

He’ll make small tweaks, sure. But he said the Razorbacks won’t be running a hurry-up, no huddle-offense. And they won’t come in a cover-zero defense.

Put simply, Bielema says it comes down to doing a better job of coaching.

"There's a lot of times you do things that prevent you from winning more so than the team that (beats you),” he said. “I'm not taking anything away from what the other team does or anything like that. But as a coach, you have to be mindful of what did you do to prevent it. If you don't have any answers, you have a problem.”

So how does Arkansas turn things around this fall?

Cliche as it comes across, Alan Turner said it’s a matter of eliminating easily avoidable errors.

“I know there are a few games that we could have won at the end but didn’t go our way because we had a mental breakdown somewhere else that led to a big play,” the senior safety said. “Then the result didn’t end the way we wanted to. I feel like us as players embrace that, and during this offseason we’re just trying to correct (things) and keep moving forward. We know if we can do that, the results will change.”

It’s that attitude that has Bielema hopeful for the future. And not some far flung future down the road. He's thinking in the now. He knows it sounds crazy to think Arkansas could win the league this year. Then again, people thought the same thing about Auburn entering last year, and all the Tigers did was win the SEC and come within 13 seconds of a BCS title.

Still, Bielema didn’t want to get too specific about his team’s potential this year.

If the Razorbacks do what they’re supposed to do, everything else will fall into place.

“Year two, although we don't know the record yet, my full heart belief is it's going to be better than year one,” he said. “That (progress is) going to be determined on a weekly basis, but I do know it's going to be better.”

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