HOOVER, Ala. — Bret Bielema couldn't help but chuckle.
He knew the question was coming. After Gus Malzahn expressed the respect he had for Bielema and the "professional" relationship they now share — coming a year after the two disagreed on numerous topics — Arkansas' coach was asked what conversations the two had to begin bridging the gap.
Of course, that answer came after Bielema pointed out understood why he was being asked about it in the first place: It's "a natural story."
Regardless, he went on to express his admiration for Malzahn and the hurry-up, no-huddle offense Auburn's coach employs — even if Bielema doesn't always see eye-to-eye with his colleague.
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"We do have conversations within the room, SEC coaches that are very respectful, very true. I think he doesn't hold anything back. I don't hold anything back," Bielema said during his meeting with reporters at SEC media days on Wednesday. "I have a tremendous respect for him and his staff, what they did."
And while they may not be particularly close, Bielema said that doesn't matter as long as they treat each other with civility.
"I can't say that we're breaking bread together and going to dinner when we can, but I'm not throwing bread at him or rocks and everything else," he said. "It just is what it is."
Bielema expects to see Nick Marshall in opener
Playing Auburn to open the season doesn't bother Bielema in the slightest. In fact, he's embracing it.
"To play Auburn up front, to play a team that played in the national championship game, can be nothing but a positive," Arkansas' coach said. "It's a motivating factor for us year‑round, from the time it was announced to where we are today."
And he brushed away the possibility the Razorbacks won't have to defend Nick Marshall. Though Auburn's starting quarterback was cited for marijuana possession last week, no punishment has been announced by Malzahn yet. But forget planning for Jeremy Johnson, the Tigers' backup signal-caller.
Bielema is counting on Marshall suiting up Aug. 30.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Nick and what he did as a quarterback, grew every game (last year)," he said. " ... I think knowing what I know as a head coach, Nick will be there. We want to play against the best and I'm sure he'll be there."