FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema earned widespread praise earlier this week for dropping everything to fly home with Frank Ragnow following his father’s death.
Bielema and his wife, Jen, flew Saturday night to Minnesota with Ragnow and spent time with the family before returning home early Sunday morning.
SEC Country reached out to several other Arkansas football parents to get their reaction to what Bielema did for Ragnow. Here are those responses, in their own words.
Mickey Collins, father of CB Jared Collins
“Coach Bielema is concerned about the kids. He’s concerned about their families, far beyond football. I don’t think there are many coaches who would’ve done that. He really cares about our kids.
“When I first met him, I could tell right off that he was gonna make sure they went to class and did right on and off the field. He seemed to care about the things that were gonna make them more successful later on in life.
“(Flying home with Ragnow) is really reassuring. A lot of them talk the talk, as they say, but there’s not many of them who walk the walk. A lot of them might say they’d do something like that, but when it comes down to it they wouldn’t. He’s one of them who sticks to what he says. If he tells you he’s gonna take care of your son, he’s gonna take care of him.”
Sylvia Cornelius, mother of WR Jared Cornelius
“That’s the type of leader that you need. Those boys need to know they have someone who’s on their side, who cares about them outside of football. That’s a very, very, very positive thing that he did. With that type of reaction, I think the players will play harder. They’ll listen to him more.
“After Jared broke his arm last year, the support that I got from the entire staff was overwhelming. I’m one of those people who believes that you’re only as good as your leader. You can tell that attitude trickles down to his staff. They came to the hospital the same night. I received phone calls daily from the staff checking to see how everything was.
“As soon as he got out of the hospital, they made sure that I brought him directly over to them, as if to make sure I knew that they were gonna take care of him from there. I’m an overprotective mother. Even though he’s grown, I’m overprotective of my child. I had taken the entire week off from work to take care of him, but I left on Wednesday because I felt as if he was in good hands.
“Coach Bielema picks up his phone. I remember the night that Jared decided he was going to go to Arkansas, I called about 10:30 at night and he picked up probably on the first or the second ring. That really surprised me. He is always accessible. Parents need to know that. If I call with an issue or a concern, it’s as easy as talking to the head coach.
“There’s nobody in place to take those phone calls. He takes his own calls. Me as a parent, it means the world to me that I can get to the lead person, the head man, when I have an issue or a problem.
“Frank and Jared are really good friends. They were roommates at one time. When Jared called me, my first question for him was, ‘How did he get home?’ When Jared told me that Coach Bielema went with him, I said, ‘Thank God that he didn’t have to be by himself.’
“It was a relief for me to know that if something ever happened like that with Jared, I know he would have full support from the coach and the staff.”
Kelly Ellis, father of LB Brooks Ellis
“It sounded just like him. He’s straight forward. He’s a regular guy who loves his players. That came as no surprise to me.
“We have always felt good about Coach Bielema. Being around him since the beginning, he’s someone who truly loves his players. He can get very emotional in situations like what Frank went through. He’s gonna do all he can to help. It makes us feel very sound in Brooks’ decision to play for a man like that.
“He’ll tell you what he thinks. He’s gonna make you be honest with yourself and with him. He’ll be behind you 1,000 percent in your growth as a young man. It’s not just about football with him. He cares about the kids more than just on the field, for sure, and they know it. He’s definitely an unusual, uncommon guy, for sure.
“I love him to death and I’m very proud to have him as our coach.”
Mary Haynes, mother of RB Devwah Whaley
“I thought it was just awesome. It really shows his compassion. He’s a compassionate coach and individual, period.
“I knew he was like that. We really had a great visit with him when he came to the home. He does not put on, even when we went on unofficial visits and sat and talked with him. He was the same person every time.
“What you see is what you get. He’s 100 percent real. We’ve been in his company quite a few times when Devwah was being recruited and he was really, really down to earth. The whole coaching staff was.
“I’m really excited that Devwah is a Razorback. We thank God for that opportunity.”
Enewetok Ramsey, mother of DE Randy Ramsey
“He’s committed to his players. A lot of coaches don’t have that relationship with their players. When you’ve got the head coach who is that concerned and is there for you, I would think it would make the player play the best for his coach at all time, give it their all and give it their best.
“He’s showing the players that he’s human and he cares about what his players are going through.
“When you have a coach who is that concerned about your family and what is going with you … those are just emotions that are hard for me to express. I’m grateful for him. Some coaches just have jobs to do and they’re about their jobs. That speaks volumes.”
Randy Rogers, father of OL Zach Rogers
“I’ve been around him a long time now. Zach’s been playing there two and a half years. We’ve been around Coach B since he got there. Do I always agree with everything he does? No, but that’s not my job to. He probably wouldn’t agree with everything I do at my job, either. I let him do my job.
“He always told us, he can’t guarantee us playing time. He can’t even guarantee you’re gonna get a degree, but he’s gonna guarantee that he’ll take care of your kid. That meant a lot to us.
“Zach is my last one. I’m an empty nester now. He’s my baby. I don’t care how old he is; that’s my baby. It made me feel good knowing he was gonna go there.
“I watched the press conference Monday and it teared me up. It really did.
“I’m telling you, I know a lot of kids down here (in Texas) that are interested in Arkansas. I tell them, if you ever wanna go play for a coach, you’re not gonna get anybody who treats you as an individual better than him. He’s gonna treat everybody the same.
“He’s not gonna tell you your son’s gonna go in there and play. You need to forget about football and look at it as, would you want a father figure for your son when you’re not around? That’s what I look at. Somebody who’s gonna be disciplined but be fair.
“I text Bret almost every week and he always responds. … You don’t find many out there like Bret.”
Kim Williams, mother of RB Rawleigh Williams III
“I thought, ‘Here’s a person who genuinely cares about his kids and who sees them as much more than just football players, but as people with emotions and fears.’
“I really thought, particularly with the loss of his father, to have another male with you, and a man that you respect and admire that you’ve spent so much time with, that had to bring a great deal of comfort to him and to his mother.
“I wasn’t surprised at all. Coach B was really clear with us that during the course of a child’s experience, a lot of things can happen. People can fall ill. He made it clear that he wanted us to contact him whenever that was the case. Out of all the people that we visited with and the different places that we went, he was the only person to ever say that.
“It just really solidifies our existing belief both about him and Jen. We just had great sense of realness, warmth and genuine care being in their presence.
“This just shows everyone else what we already came to know and expect from Coach B.”