Thank goodness the SEC has Arkansas coach Bret Bielema in the fold. Otherwise, who else would be the conference’s go-to guy for salty, blustery comments?
On Wednesday, aka National Signing Day, Bielema garnered attention for this leading comment about SEC recruiting: “Florida is kind of the new Ole Miss,” the coach said during a TV interview. “They’re doing some things in recruiting that just kind of shocks you a little bit.”
At face value, it sounds like Bielema was taking a shot at both schools; but then again, how does one interpret the precise meaning of something so vague? (For what it’s worth, the coach attempted to clarify his comments later in the day, saying he was complimenting both programs. Meh.)
If Bielema was taking a solo shot at Florida …
Citing the annual rankings from 247Sports.com, the Gators have enjoyed seven top-10 recruiting classes over the last 10 years.
If it was a singular shaming of Florida coach Jim McElwain …
The Gators coach has signed 46 scholarship players over two recruiting seasons, with an average national ranking of 17th overall. This production is neither transcendent nor underwhelming, by Florida standards.
If it was a knock on Ole Miss’s recent recruiting practices …
Citing 247Sports.com’s rankings from the last five recruiting seasons, Rebels coach Hugh Freeze boasts a pair of top-10 national classes (2013, 2016). It’s something to celebrate in Oxford, considering Ole Miss’s so-so track record with National Signing Day over the last 30 years.
Now, if Bielema had transposed his original line by saying, Ole Miss is kind of the new Florida … it would have been easier to dissect. The masses might have reasoned that Freeze has been prodigiously stockpiling NFL-caliber talent, similar to former Florida coaches Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer (three combined national championships in Gainesville).
And maybe, just maybe, College Football Nation would have accepted that assessment, with nary a social-media blowup.
Instead, I’m stuck here trying to decipher whether Bielema is bad at doling out positive praise — or simply a wizard with backhanded compliments.
Whatever the case, Bielema isn’t some media neophyte in the land of big-boy football. He guided Wisconsin to four 10-win campaigns and two Big Ten titles over seven seasons (2006-12). He has also enjoyed a few grand accomplishments in three years with Arkansas:
**Back-to-back wins over LSU (2014-15) … both by 17 points.
**Two victories over Ole Miss — one 30-point thrashing (2014) … and an improbable overtime thriller, thanks to Hunter Henry’s fourth-and-25-miracle lateral, precluding the Rebels from claiming the SEC West title in 2015.
**Bowl triumphs in the last two seasons, with an average victory margin of 23 points.
Of equal importance, Bielema had the unwitting foresight to lose every SEC clash in Year 1 at Arkansas (0-8) … before making substantial strides with the Razorbacks in 2014 and ’15 — unlike former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, who unwisely captured a national championship in his second season (2010) before going 0-8 in SEC play two years later.
(Chizik was fired immediately after the winless conference run in 2012.)
Because of that timely twist, we’ll probably never hear Florida’s McElwain or Ole Miss’s Freeze lament on TV, using a passive-aggressive tone, “Bret Bielema is kind of like the new Gene Chizik.”
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.