Jen Bielema wanted a double veggie bowl at Chipotle.
She had just given birth to a daughter, Brielle Nichole Bielema, and sent her husband, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, to the burrito establishment for a meal. In the midst of his trip, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey sent one of the nearly 500 congratulatory text messages he received about the birth of his daughter.
Bielema saw the text, thought it was a nice note and put his phone away. But not too long after seeing the message, Bielema accidentally butt-dialed the commissioner via FaceTime. Confusion ensued once the two parties eventually connected over the phone.
Bielema, with his wit and candor, delivered the story during the introductory portion of his podium time at Monday’s slate of SEC Media Days. That is part of the Bielema persona. He has never been one to take himself too seriously during media functions. He regularly drops jokes that draw laughs from reporters.
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After a Texas Bowl win over Texas in 2014, Bielema described it as “borderline erotic.” Two and a half years later on Monday, that quote was referenced in a question.
“I know you all are looking for quotes but I don’t think I can go much further than that one,” Bielema said. “That was in a small group setting and before the birth of my daughter.”
Bielema’s players are drawn to their coach’s charisma as well.
As center Frank Ragnow said, Bielema tells it like it is to his team. Given his public demeanor, in which he isn’t afraid to say what is on his mind, Ragnow said the Bielema who appears in the public arena is the same one behind the scenes.
“One thing that’s cool about him is he’s the same no matter what,” Ragnow said. “He’s real, authentic. At the same time, he knows when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. He’s really good at instilling in that us.”
Quarterback Austin Allen said Bielema has meant a great deal to him throughout his time at Arkansas. Allen, who succeeded older brother Brandon Allen as Arkansas’ starting quarterback, noted how genuine Bielema is with everyone on the roster.
“The one thing about him is how much he cares for our players, how much he cares for everyone else,” Allen said. “He’s the same guy every day. He never changes it up. I couldn’t say enough good things about him.”
Bielema certainly has a fiery side at practice and during games. And Bielema, entering his fifth year at Arkansas, will want to see more improvement heading into this season. Since leaving Wisconsin after the 2012 season to take the Arkansas job, the Razorbacks have failed to log more than eight wins in a season.
Last year ended with a 7-6 record, culminating in a 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech that Arkansas led 24-0 at halftime. And that game came after a regular-season finale loss to Missouri that saw the Razorbacks blow a 17-point lead in a 28-24 defeat.
During his first four years, Bielema is 25-26 overall and 10-22 in SEC games. But he also took over a program in poor shape following John L. Smith’s lone season as head coach, which occurred after Bobby Petrino’s embarrassing exit.
At SEC spring meetings, Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long said Bielema is not on the hot seat.
While Bielema said fatherhood has already changed his outlook on certain things, it is unlikely much will change with how he approaches his job – both in a personal and professional sense. That quality is something that continues to endear him to those who know him.
Take this final anecdote for instance: While Bielema didn’t drop a quote remotely close to the infamous “borderline erotic” one, he did dryly entertain Monday’s Media Days audience when taking a question from an Arkansas reporter.
The reporter came wearing a summertime baby blue short-sleeve button-down over a pair of jeans. Bielema took notice in approval.
“Where did you get that shirt?” Bielema asked before the question, drawing a number of laughs.
“Belk,” the reporter responded before a grin.
“I like it,” Bielema said with a smile.