FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is not accustomed to failure.
He has previously suffered setbacks that lasted a week, month or season. But not this.
The Razorbacks are 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the SEC. This start comes on the heels of an embarrassing end to the 2016 season, when the Hogs blew big leads in losses to Missouri and Virginia Tech.
These results have the coach in a spot he’s never been before. Bielema is approaching a systematic failure that ultimately could cost him his job. He never faced such circumstances while going 68-24 in seven seasons at Wisconsin. Or previously in 12 seasons as an assistant at Iowa, Kansas State and with the Badgers. He’d been on a steady rise in the profession until Black Friday last November.
“We were going to be at the highest win total [since I’ve been here] a year ago and lost two games at the end of the year that were very frustrating and haven’t been able to get on track yet,” Bielema said.
Comparing what Bielema has done at Arkansas to what he did at Wisconsin is unfair. The situations aren’t similar, a fact Bielema is quick to point out.
“You can take numbers to build up any case you want, but I took over a winning program [at Wisconsin] and took it to an even higher level to go to three straight [conference] championships,” Bielema said. “I came here to a [4-8] program and went 3-9. We’ve been on a steady ship since trying to build this thing up.”
The ship was steady at one point, but things have gone south in a hurry. When that happens, a record of 27-29 overall and 10-24 in the SEC begin to stand out.
Bielema has remained an optimist and believes the program can’t be accurately judged until the book is closed on the 2017 season.
“We’ve battled a lot with our injuries and new players, new faces this year that we haven’t gotten over the hump,” Bielema said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll get it to where it needs to be. I don’t really worry about totals until the end of the year.”
Bielema has his back against the wall — a daunting reality to face with No. 1 Alabama and No. 10 Auburn next up on the schedule. Arkansas is staring at a likely 0-4 start to SEC play and at least five losses yet again.
That is, unless the Razorbacks can pull off a monumental upset in the next two weeks. And that might be what it takes to prevent the Bielema era from coming to a close.