Arkansas coach Bret Bielema shared his feelings about a certain SEC foe at a speaking event with fans and donors back in August: “It probably doesn’t need to be said how much I hate Auburn.”
Quotes like these are not all that surprising given the context of the evening. Fans that show up for speeches like the one Bielema gave want to laugh and they want to cheer. A smart coach will give them a reason to do so.
However, the problem for Bielema: At times he’s all too willing to give fun quotes. That penchant for provocative words could make him unpopular with some of his coaching colleagues.
For instance, remember Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury’s tirade after his team beat Arkansas earlier this season?
Kingsbury told reporters: “He [Bielema] just got his ass kicked.”
This kind of boasting is highly unusual. The coaching profession is notorious with men who simply refuse to criticize their colleagues publicly. Coaches also almost never gloat to reporters after a win, and they don’t rub losses in the faces of those other coaches like Kingsbury did.
Kingsbury seems to dislike Bielema so much that he does not care about the typical professional courtesy that coaches usually extend each other. After all, moments before Kingsbury’s explosive press conference, he and Bielema reportedly left the field without shaking hands.
The nature of the feud between Kingsbury and Bielema? In the past Bielema has been critical of Kingsbury’s offensive philosophy. Bielema is braggadociously from the “old school.” He likes running the football and controlling the clock. The only time he employs the “hurry up” is when he is rushing to the dinner table.
Kingsbury on the other hand is very much the opposite. He is as “new school” as a flat bill hat. He is young, handsome, and committed to the kind of no-huddle offense that Bielema thinks is bad for the game.
In other words, Kingsbury is a little like Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn also wants to play fast. This is presumably part of the reason Bielema was willing to admit that he hates Auburn before. Yet the better question might be: How does Malzahn feel about Bielema?
If Malzahn harbors as much resentment toward Bielema as Kingsbury does he hasn’t done much to show it. However, an enemy may be just what Auburn needs at the moment, even if Malzahn has to pretend to view Bielema that way.
After all, the season got off to a rough start for Auburn. Two early losses to SEC West opponents all but eliminated the Tigers from the race for the conference championship. But after a win at Kentucky last Thursday, there is reason to believe Auburn could put its season back together.
The next step for Auburn in its quest to rebuild its season is a trip to Arkansas this Saturday. For an Auburn team that has been forced to reevaluate its goals, Bielema would appear to be the perfect villain. Malzahn’s pre-game speech should already be written for him.
It’s not difficult to imagine that a chance to take on a coach that openly expressed his disdain for their program would be an easy motivator for the Auburn players. Malzahn would be smart to push that message.
If that tactic was used by Auburn to success, Malzahn’s postgame press conference could likely become an event not to be missed. Everyone would tune in to see if another college football coach bragged about applying a boot to Bret Bielema’s posterior.