State of the Hogs: More Rewards on the Way

Arnie Bielema has enjoyed the southern hospitality when he comes to Fayetteville to watch his son coach the Arkansas football team.

Arnie Bielema said he was relaxing in his living room in Prophetstown, Ill. Was there a round of golf earlier in the day?

“No, just running some errands,” Bielema said. “I will be back out there soon, though.”

The phone conversation had been planned since Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema, Arnie's son, mentioned that he'd just returned from home where he'd played in a golf foursome.

“Yes, all three boys and myself,” Arnie said. “I've been rewarded many times for starting out all of them on the golf course when they were six or seven. We still go. It's like riding a bike. Once you learn it, it's with you for life.”

It was a delightful phone conversation, a little over 30 minutes. There was football talk, some on golf and a tease for the next visit.

“I'll be in Fayetteville in a few weeks and I'm going to tell you about my fly fishing trip as a youngster,” he said. “You'll have to wait.”

It might be over a round of golf. There are plans for that in September when Arnie and wife Marilyn will spend several weeks in Fayetteville.

“Bret rented me a place at the Weddington Links from Mr. Lindsey,” Arnie said. “We'll be there for all of the home games. It's home away from home and perfect. I'll be there for the first game, then down to Little Rock. I love it. We made all of the home games last year and the intent is to do it again.

“It's really neat to do it this way because it allows us to meet people and it keeps us from just being on the road driving all the time. We go to church and I get out on the golf course. People have really been nice.

“I've learned that the further south you go, the better the hospitality. If Bret gets a job any further south than Arkansas, I might not be able to stand it. I can tell you for sure that people in Arkansas are a little more laid back than here.”

One of the nicest was Frank Broyles.

“I got to meet Coach Broyles last year,” Arnie said. “We talked about how it's one big circle for Bret and Arkansas, going all the way back to Hayden Fry and his time with Coach Broyles at Arkansas.

“You look at the Arkansas ties throughout college football. They are everywhere. I met Barry Switzer last year, and Jimmy Johnson. It was unbelievable. Bret had told me about both and then to spend time with them last year was a real treat.

“Jimmy Johnson was everything I expected. I heard some great stories.”

It's not hard for Arnie to understand the ties that exist from Arkansas around the college football world.

“Really, you go anywhere and there are ties to another place and they just continue to spread,” he said. “It's one big circle. You look at Iowa and the tree from Coach Fry around college football. It's a tight circle, actually, all around the college football world.”

Arnie compares what's going on now at Arkansas as the program returns to prominence with what happened at Iowa when Fry arrived.

“I was a season ticket holder long before my son went to school there,” Arnie said. “Iowa was one of my clients (as a sporting goods salesman) so I bought two season tickets. I sat though some lean years. Then, when Coach Fry arrived, he built a solid base and you could see it coming.

“I see what Bret is doing now a lot the same way. The fans had endured a lot. They are great fans. I don't know any better anywhere, the most loyal I've seen.”

Arnie said he sees a similar approach at Arkansas that Fry took at Iowa.

“It's a family approach,” he said. “Bret hammers on that just like Coach Fry did. He learned it from Coach Fry. It's fun to watch it happen.

“I see the staff operate as a big family unit, and they make sure the players are having fun. It really is an unbelievable staff.

“I saw the way Bret built it. I have been to practice. You saw that they were always the same with the players. Now, they went through some tough situations. They took their lumps and had their dreams dashed with some close losses. I just think that builds more character with what they endured.”

Bret Bielema is considered an old school coach and maybe his style smacks of that. He's going to stick with ground and pound. But Arnie knows his son is an innovator. He was always looking for a better way as they raised hogs on the farm.

Bret is no different as a coach. He's made news of late for a decision to eliminate double days from the August practice schedule. No one knows of another Division I coach trying that approach. Bielema said he's seen a correlation between fewer double days and better play.

“Yes, he's old school by reputation,” Arnie said. “But he's not afraid to change or accept change. His deal now to scrap two-a-days is really unbelievable. But why not? The pros don't do it.

“I know that one of his better players last year, Tevin Mitchel, didn't go through two-a-days and he was less banged up for the season because of it. It makes sense.

“I know everyone in college football is watching to see how this goes. There will be a negative spin if it doesn't. If it works, it won't be too long until everyone does it this way.

“This is innovation. And, of course, he's adapted to the Virtual Reality technology. It came about because of an old friendship.”

The rise of the defense came about because of an old relationship with Robb Smith, the new defensive coordinator.

“I remember when Bret and Robb were roommates at Iowa,” Arnie said. “It's been great to see them back together. They are so good together. They do have fun with each other.

“I think the players are having fun, too. They bought in with Bret. And, it was great to see them all rewarded last season. I think there will be more rewards coming.”

Bret told the story about the golf game on Saturdays growing up on the farm as a reward for hard work during the week. He said, “If we did everything right, we got to play golf with dad and he bought us a pop.”

Arnie said that's only partly true.

“I took them every Saturday regardless,” he said. “Did they work hard and deserve it? Yes, but I was always going to take them to play golf. Every Saturday.”

And, they walked and carried their bag. Arnie doesn't believe in the golf cart.

“I think you play your best golf walking,” he said. “You have time to think. It just sets you up to play better.

“I will say this about walking, it's not as easy in Arkansas. There are some courses that I have a tough time walking, just so hilly. Some of them require a cart. But I try to walk most of the time.”

Arnie Bielema speaks the truth. I agreed with that and figure my round with him in September will be walking.

There was one other truth that was revealed during our wonderful conversation. It was just a general thought Arnie Bielema learned in sales.

“I was told once that if you don't know anything about the subject matter,” he said, “don't open your mouth and prove it.”

That hit home because earlier he said he was “not real sure” to one of my questions. He was sure that there are more rewards coming for the Razorbacks.

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