HOOVER, Ala. — Bret Bielema’s voice began to crack. The impact of Bob Elliott, a former mentor and friend, was clear. The loss was hard, emotional.
“Tremendous person,” the Arkansas coach said Monday. “A great influence in my life.”
Elliott had an impact on many during a 38-year college football coaching career, and Bielema was one of multiple faces the former longtime assistant touched before he passed away Saturday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 64.
On Monday, before the pomp and pageantry of SEC Media Days began at the Wynfrey Hotel, Bielema stepped inside a small room and revisited his special relationship with Elliott. Elliott was Iowa’s secondary coach and defensive coordinator when Bielema was a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes from 1994-95. Then Bielema earned a promotion and became the Hawkeyes’ linebackers coach, a position he held from 1996-01 before moving on to Kansas State to serve as a co-defensive coordinator with Elliott from 2002-03.
As part of the time Bielema spoke about Elliott on Monday, he relayed a story that highlighted Elliott’s perseverance. Bielema admired Elliott’s strength.
“When I took over as a graduate assistant, he was on staff as an assistant as well,” Bielema said. “He became the defensive coordinator, and one of the things that he did for me and my career, he talked Coach [Hayden] Fry into promoting me from a graduate assistant to full-time linebackers coach. I worked for Bobby closely in that relationship. I remember to this day we would always go jogging back in the day. We always had a noon tradition where we would take off running. We were going into fall camp in our third year, and I went to get him and he said, ‘I’m going to pass today. I’m not feeling well.’
“A week later, he shared with me that he had been diagnosed with the first wave of health conditions which was a blood disorder at that time. He battled through a lot. Bobby went into a chemotherapy treatment that was very hard. Didn’t know if he could ever come back. He battled back from that, became a candidate to become the defensive coordinator at Kansas State.”
Bielema also said Elliott played a part in Arkansas’ recent announcement of its home-and-home series with Notre Dame in 2020 and 2025.
“We just signed a crossover contract with Notre Dame,” Bielema said. “Those originally started when Bobby and I started talking.”
Elliott may be gone. But with Bielema, a mentor’s impact will live on, as strong as it ever was.
“Bobby was just one of those kind of infectious guys,” Bielema said.