Tom Osborne advised Arkansas fans to be patient as Bret Bielema builds his football program. Someone who tested the patience of Nebraska fans despite never losing more than three times in a season, probably does understand all sides of that word.
Osborne admitted during his talk Monday at the Little Rock Touchdown Club that because of his record versus Oklahoma – prompted by a reminder from Keith Jackson that his Sooner teams went 4-0 against him – the Cornhusker fans were never patient.
"It got to where it was a one-game season," Osborne said. "If we lost to Oklahoma, it was a bad year."
They don't remember that as much now because of the way Osborne finished his unmatched 25-year career. The Cornhuskers were 60-5 over his last five seasons, including outright national titles in 1994 and '95, and won a share again in '97, his final season.
Back to Bielema and the Razorbacks, now 2-0 with a game this week against Southern Miss, coming off a 56-13 drubbing at Nebraska. What does Osborne think? He's seen Bielema's teams up-close and personal since the Cornhuskers joined the Big 10.
"He won three straight Big 10 titles," Osborne said. "He's a very good coach. He ran the ball well.
"Nick Saban is a little like Bret. He believes in staying with the run game. I will say the style of the SEC is a little more towards the spread. But he'll fit in well in the SEC.
"It will take him awhile to get his offensive line the way he wants, but he's going to run at you and then he'll have the play-action pass. They had it going at Wisconsin. They were something."
That seems to be the formula, all right. Arkansas offensive coordinator and playcaller Jim Chaney spoke on that Tuesday after practice. I asked him about the process of installation. What percentage of the offense is ready? Is he adding plays as the development moves along?
The answer seems to be yes and no. There is more installation to come in the normal process of looking at opposing defenses. But it's still going to be in the Bielema philosophy.
"It's simple for my chair," Chaney said. "I listen to the head coach and his philosophy, then blend that with the talent.
"My job is to identify what our players can do within that scheme and then make everyone happy."
Obviously, everyone is the wrong word. Bielema is the one Chaney is trying to please.
"Really, this is no different than any other year as far as the process, though," Chaney said. "You identify who your players are and then utilize their talents. Some places, you don't have many players. We do have some players here.
"It's about the tangibles and the intangibles, as far as identifying. But I think we have established that we can coach toughness as one of the intangibles. Anyone can be tough."
Without question, two of the players are center Travis Swanson and fullback Kiero Small.
"They are able to play at a high level and will be playing after this year," Chaney said. "What's really fun is when you have 11 like that and they all get degrees. That makes a coach happy.
"I think our tackles have done well so far. Swanson has done well in the middle, along with Kiero. But we still have to get the guards up to the level of those guys."
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman had similar thoughts earlier in the week. He said guards Brey Cook and Mitch Smothers could make improvement in the way they lead and pull on certain plays. But it's been good so far in the development of the front, perhaps one of the big concerns over the winter as Bielema changed styles with the team.
The other major question on offense was at quarterback, where sophomore Brandon Allen is the new starter. Chaney likes what he's seen in the development there. There have been no mishaps in ball handling and no interceptions through two games. Apparently, the checks have gone right for the most part, too. Chaney noted some of the good plays so far have been against blitzes, a breakthrough for a young quarterback.
The 55-yard run by Alex Collins against Samford was a quarterback check. Allen got that one right, along with standing tough in the face of blitzers on a third-and-7 completion to Hunter Henry in the third quarter, the last pass of the game for the Hogs.
"On the pass to Hunter, there were two guys in Brandon's face," Chaney said. "That was a nice throw."
Allen didn't think it was a big deal. Neither got to him. And in two games, he only remembers getting hit twice.
"That's what a good running game does for the quarterback," Allen said. "They don't hit the quarterback much in play-action passing."
How much passing there is the rest of the way is hard for Chaney to predict. He'll continue to judge how much the offense can handle as far as new installations.
"Some guys, you can give them a lot each Tuesday, no problem," he said. "We are finding that out with this team now. You give some guys 12 new plays on a Tuesday and you can almost hear their minds explode. We just have to see what they can handle. How much can we add and continue to handle everything well. It's just a process."
As Tom Osborne said Monday, it may require fans to stay patient. You can almost hear minds exploding as you try to explain.
How did Osborne stay so calm – always maintaining a positive approach -- in the face of mounting pressure?
"I focused on the process," he said. "I learned something from John Wooden. He never talked about winning. I read his book and he said he always started out teaching his players how to put on their socks the right way – so they wouldn't get blisters. It was about the process with him even as they won all of those games.
"I felt that if you played close to your capabilities even if you just came close, you were successful. We played for two or three national championships and came close and I felt good when we left the field because we'd played close to capabilities. The fans agonized, but I felt like the wins and losses would take care of themselves if we continued to do it the right way."
Among the interesting tidbits from Osborne on Monday, he was the scout, sent by head coach Bob Devaney, before Nebraska and Arkansas played in the national title game after the 1964 game in the Cotton Bowl.
"I went to Lubbock to scout Arkansas' last game," Osborne said. "I got to know Frank (Broyles) pretty well. He called me once about a job opening at Arkansas, I told him I thought I maybe should stay at Nebraska.
"He was an innovator. I think he popularized the monster defense. The monster was the strong safety and they'd play three deep behind him. They slanted the front away from the monster. He started that and a lot of teams copied him."
Osborne was asked about a visit from Lou Holtz during the season. Yes, he said, Lou did that.
"A lot of coaches came to visit us during the offseason, in January or spring," Osborne said. "But Lou came during an open date and spent two days with our staff. One of the things that jumped out at him was how positive we were in just everything.
"I told him that was by design. I told him if you want a player to change his behavior, it was much easier if you caught him doing something right and praised him."
Osborne noted his friendship in Congress with former Arkansas lineman and now U.S. Senator John Boozman and also mentioned his close relationship with Barry Switzer, an Arkansas graduate.
"We played against each other, but we've always been close," he said. "I know he's from here and I will say that he's a good guy. We are involved in a lot of committees and some boards. Despite the competitions -- and they beat us five straight years as Keith mentioned -- I've always liked Barry."
Jackson stayed to shake Osborne's hand afterwards.
"I know some of my best performances were against Nebraska," Jackson said. "One of the things that made them meaningful was Coach Osborne. I always admired and respected what he stood for and the way he did things.
"I always went to shake his hand in pre-game warmups. I would tell him how much I respected him and for his stand on Christ. I guess it was easy for me to do that every year because we always won."
State of the Hogs: Patience
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