HOOVER, Ala. — As SEC Country wrote earlier this week, there’s a Steve Spurrier-sized hole that’s been almost impossible to ignore at the 2016 SEC Media Days.
Day 1 proved largely uneventful, and Day 2 — beyond Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen fumbling his way through questions about Jeffery Simmons — followed a similar pattern.
But then, like a super-sized superhero, Bret Bielema came jogging to the rescue.
On the same day that Nick Saban tap-danced around disciplining Cam Robinson and other issues of note, Bielema was direct and downright funny. The Arkansas coach talked about subjects both heavy and light, as sincerely as only he can, and in doing so solidified himself as the conference’s most compelling voice.
Here’s the best of what Bielema had to say on Wednesday:
In the Eye of the Beholder
Bielema, a man’s man by any measure, showed no reluctance to drop a ‘sexy’ or two while addressing the now-cancelled game between Arkansas and Michigan.
“The Michigan-Notre Dame thing sounds sexy to everybody else, but I think Michigan and Arkansas sounds sexy. I was very excited about Big Ten versus SEC. I made a comment in the spring I’d love to see an SEC challenge at the front end. My commish gave me a josh back, said that’s called a bowl game.”
Bringin’ Sexy Back
Later on, Bielema went back to that same well with a quote that would’ve made even the saddest man smile.
“At Arkansas we’re not built very sexy, we’re just kind of a work in progress. We need a lot of time in the bathroom to get ready and come out and look great. But when we do, we’ll stop time. And at some point we’ll get to where we want to be. And when we get there, it just means a little bit more.”
You Lack Discipline
Arkansas’ head man also took a thinly-veiled shot at Mississippi State and other SEC programs that have handed out lenient punishments to star players. Simmons, a 5-star signee caught on camera assaulting a woman, received just a one-game suspension. Auburn chose not to suspend any of its four sophomores after all were arrested for marijuana possession. And Saban implied that Alabama’s Robinson and Laurence “Hootie” Jones would not miss playing time after their charges were dropped.
“You don’t have to worry whether or not — if I’m going suspend anybody for the first game. It doesn’t come up in our program. Not to say it won’t. At some time it may rear its ugly head. In four years I never had to make a decision about the opening game if I’m going to start somebody or not. It is just something I believe in. If you do enough good things off the field and you represent what you want both on and off it, things are going to eventually go your way.”
“You recruit your own problems,” he said at another point in the interview.
Coin a Phrase
Bielema, although he seemed a little bitter about losing offensive line coach Sam Pittman to Georgia, took solace in the Bulldogs not being able to poach Razorbacks offensive coordinator Dan Enos, whose contract included a non-compete clause. That addition prevented Enos from taking the same position at another SEC school.
However, the real gem was Bielema describing how he felt about it. Les Miles would be proud, Bret.
“First, (Kirby Smart) wanted to talk to my offensive coordinator and try to take Dan Enos, and I said, I appreciate it, but there’s a thing called the SEC clause, you can’t have him. Kind of stuck my tongue out, wiggled my nose and felt good about it.”
The Big Picture
More important than any of those sound bites, however, is how openly Bielema approached the more serious topics on his own docket.
From his opening statement alone were a couple of portions that stood out:
“Before I got back to my office, I had a call from the Commissioner. Commissioner Slive was on the phone, who basically got after me as hard as any man has ever gotten after me, other than my father, in my life about what I just done and why I did it and why we don’t do that in the SEC. We’re about building a brand and label that’s second to none.”
“My first year we went 0-8 in the SEC, probably the most embarrassing point in my coaching career to realize I couldn’t win an SEC football game. I didn’t doubt if I could or not, I just wondered why I didn’t and how it didn’t happen.”
These weren’t the quotes that caught everyone’s eye, but they do show that — unlike some of his SEC colleagues — Bielema can discuss his program like a real human being, and not a pre-recorded robot.
And for that, well, we thank you for at least making this week a little more interesting.