HOOVER, Ala. — Bret Bielema strolled up three steps and onto the main SEC Media Days stage Wednesday morning, took his place behind the podium and smiled at the hundreds of reporters before him.
“Thank you, Commish,” Bielema began. “It’s been a tremendous ride to get here and come back for our fourth year. I know today has been you guys’ third straight day of coaches coming up here and talking, so you’ve probably heard a song and dance from a lot of different guys.”
Meh. Not quite.
After 11 other men stood behind the same podium in the same Wynfrey Hotel ballroom and pretty much put everyone to sleep, the fourth-year Arkansas coach shocked the event into consciousness like a blaring alarm clock and a gallon of Red Bull.
He used the word “sexy” three times within five minutes. He joked about punching Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. He threw shade at other SEC programs’ offseason legal problems.
Bielema even speculated about why his wife, Jen, always attends this wild, crowded and often silly event.
“She loves to come, I think partly because it’s connected to a mall, but that’s a whole other conversation,” Bielema quipped.
But Jen Bielema wasn’t shopping during her husband’s appearance on the main stage; instead, she sat in a hotel suite two floors up and watched on TV.
“I thought he was really good today,” she said in an interview with SEC Country. “This is just him. This is him at home, even.
“Today was not rehearsed. He definitely is not the index card kind of speaker.”
The first SEC Media Days in years without the ever-quotable Steve Spurrier mostly was a snooze fest until Bielema’s arrival Wednesday morning. He began his press conference with a 1,700-word statement that recalled an angry phone call he received three years ago from Mike Slive; discussed the embarrassment of losing every SEC game in 2013; referred to defensive end Deatrich Wise as “beautiful;” and included a playful jab at athletic director Jeff Long’s scheduling.
“A.D. had a nice idea to throw TCU into the mix before we take on the SEC West,” Bielema said. “One hell of an idea.”
And that’s all before, when responding to a question about Michigan’s recent decision to cancel an upcoming two-game series with Arkansas in order to resume its rivalry with Notre Dame, Bielema said, “I’m sorry, the Michigan-Notre Dame thing sounds sexy to everybody else, but I think Michigan and Arkansas sounds sexy.”
Then just a couple minutes later, when discussing his coaching staff’s emphasis on developing talent, he said, “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.”
All the while, Jen Bielema watched and smiled, reminded of the same attitude that greets her with an emphatic, “Hey! What’s going on?” that instantly lifts her mood every time he comes home.
“It’s like he’s the happiest guy in the world,” she said. “To have that kind of positive energy in our house, regardless of wins, is really important. Especially in this crazy football world we live in.”
Of course, Bret’s tendency to speak fast and off-the-cuff has caused some cringeworthy moments.
Just after the Hogs’ thrilling 53-52, overtime victory at Ole Miss last year, he was answering a question during the postgame news conference.
“I’m just looking forward to hopping on the wife — hopping on the plane! Hopping on the plane with my wife. I can’t believe I just said that.”
Neither could Jen.
She was in the room at the time, texting with some family and friends when she overheard the Freudian slip.
“We still laugh about that,” she said. “He’s never said anything too out of the ordinary beyond that one funny comment.
“When that happened, I was like, ‘What are you saying? Don’t ever say that again!’
“But hey, If anyone can’t see humor and fun behind him, then I feel sorry for them.”