HOOVER, Ala. - In his second appearance at SEC Football Media Days, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema wasn't as brash as year one, didn't take the bait offered to him by the assembled media horde and didn't make any verbal missteps.
But Bielema was still full of confidence about where he is going to take the Razorback football program after his first season resulted in a campaign that finished 3-9 overall and 0-8 in SEC action.
“The proof is going to be in the pudding in every aspect of our program,” Bielema said. “If you sit down and interviewed my AD (Jeff Long), I think he would tell you in every aspect other than wins...you can't do anything but be happy with what we've done. We've increased GPA, accountability, the APR. We were very close to becoming ineligible for bowl activity because of our APR when I took over.
“All those things are skyrocketing,” Bielema added. “Our community service. Our kids aren't getting into trouble with off the field issues. We're doing positive things that lead me to believe they're learning and understanding what we need them to do.
“When that thing comes full circle, we're going to start to win,” Bielema continued. “When we win, it's going to be able to maintain a winning style other than this thing that we have been living through.”
Bielema, who told the assembled media to vote his team last in the media poll last year and that he would win anyway, admitted that his first year in the SEC was surprising to him.
“Winning versus losing,” Bielema said. “It's quite simple. I've been able to have a tremendous amount of success, won three straight (Big 10) championships.That's why I came here. I didn't come here to lose.
“I didn't expect to go 3-9,” Bielema added. “On the same account, I didn't expect to win it my first year. What I have done is sustain what I believe helps you win. Understand that the only way to change the results of a 3-9 season is to change what you are doing.
“We did a wholesale change,” Bielema continued. “We are still a certain type of offense, defense. We're going to put an emphasis on special teams. We're just going to do it a lot better. We've done a lot of little things that are going to affect the big picture.
“I get excited because the things we've done have shown they can win in this league,” Bielema said. “Year two, although I don't know the record yet, my full-heart belief is it's going to be better than year one. That's going to be determined on a weekly basis, but I do know it's going to be better.”
Bielema's second season will start with a conference game as Arkansas travels to Auburn on Aug. 30 to meet the defending SEC champion Tigers.
“I think first and foremost to play Auburn up front, to play a team that played in the national championship game, can be nothing but a positive,” Bielema said. “It's a motivating factor for us year round from the time it was announced to where we are today.
“You usually practice one through 10 with pretty high intensity, then 10 through 20 usually falls off a bit,” Bielema added. “But if I show them Auburn in the national championship game, it will probably get their attention in a hurry. A lot of common ground between us and Auburn. A lot that's motivating between players and coaches, all that involves.”
Bielema did say he expects Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall to play despite some legal issues the signal caller had last week.
“I think knowing what I know as a head coach, Nick will be there,” Bielema said. “I think we want to play against the best and I'm sure he'll be there.”
During last year's media days, there was a verbal dust-up between Bielema and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, a former Arkansas high school coach and Razorback assistant for one year.
It involved pace of play and health concerns and initiated a rivalry – real or not – between the two.
Malzahn said Monday at media days that they have communicated professionally and Bielema was asked about relationship on Wednesday.
“First and foremost, I get what you guys have to do,” Bielema said. “It's a natural story. I get it. We don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on certain things. But I think the greatest thing I have learned in life is that you respect the opposite of what you believe in more than anything. By that I mean Gus runs a philosophy that is completely opposite of what I believe in, but who can argue with his success? That makes me respect him even more.
“As far as communicating, we've talked on the phone a couple of different times about different issues,” Bielema said. “None of those have been player-safety related. I can assure you of that.
“We do have conversations within the room,” Bielema added. “SEC coaches are very respectful, very true. I think he doesn't hold anything back. I don't hold anything back. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his staff and what they did.”
Auburn was 0-8 in conference in 2012 before going from worst-to-first in the league.
“I think it is a tool to use to motivate my crew right now, to be a team that a year ago wasn't thought to be able to accomplish much,” Bielema said. “To be where they are at the end of the year speaks volumes about the staff and those players. Nothing but a tremendous amount of respect.
“I can't say we are breaking bread together and going to dinner together when we can, but I'm not throwing bread at him and rocks and everything else," Bielema said. "It's just what it is. Greatly respected.”
Missouri head coah Gary Pinkel said earlier in the day that any thoughts of health-related issues regarding hurry-up offenses were simply “fiction.”
Bielema was asked about that statement.
“Not to carry over from last year, but I'm probably more of a reality-based movie guy than fiction I guess,” Bielema said. “I think I deal more in what I know, what I see, what I believe. Have I softened my view on fast-paced offenses? The only thing I am going to say is that, if you ask me in that tense, the answer would be no.
“If I recruit somebody, bring them into my family, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure they are most well-equipped, educated to make player safety a premium in our program,” Bielema added.
Arkansas will open practice on August 4.
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