As season preview content trickles out across the internet in the coming months, you’ll surely see (likely on this blog, too) lists of college football coaches whose jobs aren’t exactly on the most stable ground.
Arkansas’ Bret Bielema will likely be on a few of those lists (Kevin Sumlin, too), but athletic director Jeff Long says he shouldn’t be.
Despite the fact that Bielema has won just 10 SEC games during his four seasons at Arkansas, Long “emphatically” told SEC Country that Bielema is not on the hot seat.
“Bret is the leader of our program,” Long said. “The leader is more than just winning games — and I know some fans don’t wanna hear that. Trust me, it doesn’t mean we aren’t competing with every fiber of our being to win in the toughest conference and the toughest division of that conference. But when you look at what Bret’s doing, we’re building a program that’s built on an outstanding foundation.”
[More college football from Yahoo Sports: SEC spring practice summaries]
The fact that Long is answering a question like this in June shows that Bielema’s tenure has been up-and-down. His record looks like this: 25 wins and 26 losses with a 10-22 mark in SEC play. Half of Bielema’s conference wins came in 2015, the best season of his tenure which yielded an 8-5 (5-3 SEC) record.
Expectations were up entering 2016, but the Razorbacks faltered after a 3-0 start, finishing just 7-6 with three SEC wins. The 2016 campaign ended miserably with back-to-back losses that featured blown double-digit halftime leads. In the regular season finale, Arkansas led lowly Missouri by 17 at halftime before losing 28-24. The Hogs followed that stinker up with a 35-24 Belk Bowl loss to Virginia Tech after leading 24-0 at the break. Not good.
Bielema more or less cleaned house when he came to Fayetteville from Wisconsin back in 2013. Compared to where things were in the ashes of Bobby Petrino’s tumultuous exit a few years before, the program is undoubtedly in a better place than it was when Bielema arrived. Still, Petrino won 21 games combined in 2010 and 2011 before that whole motorcycle thing. Arkansas fans would like to return to that level (scandal not included, of course), so Long’s comments probably don’t fall in line with what most fans want to hear.
[More college football from Yahoo Sports: Dr. Saturday’s still-too-early Top 25]
But the Petrino ordeal still seems to linger in the back of Long’s head. Without naming Petrino, he said this when asked about his biggest regret during his tenure at Arkansas on SportsTalk with Bo Mattingly:
“There’s probably one I regret. Probably that I compromised what I believed in because I thought a certain kind of coach needed to be in this conference to compete,” Long said. “It’s a regret, really, of myself and not living true to my values and what I believe in.”
Jeff Long has been the Ark AD for nearly a decade. We asked him to reflect back on his best and worst moment. #SECMeetings
Biggest regret: pic.twitter.com/5L6k6cDQ7k
— Bo Mattingly (@SportsTalkwBo) June 1, 2017
It’s an interesting debate. Is Long OK with hanging in the middle of the pack in the SEC if it means a clean program that achieves academically? It certainly seems like it — and that’s to Bielema’s benefit.
For more Arkansas news, HawgSports.com.
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