Affable Bielema plays media day straight
FAYETTEVILLE — In the world of optimists, who see a glass half full, and pessimists, who see a glass half empty, Bret Bielema is a full-blown optimist.
The Arkansas Razorbacks glass is always overflowing, and free refills are always available.
Bielema was himself Saturday as he opened the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville football media day in a cramped area inside the Fred W. Smith Football Center.
Understand that his optimistic enthusiasm is a draw for recruits. Most of the players will mention the family atmosphere as one of the reasons they chose to play for the Razorbacks.
It also builds expectations from a loyal fan base, many of whom are ready to see some of the Bielema coaching magic from his Wisconsin days, when he went 68-24 overall and 37-19 in the Big Ten while winning three conference championships.
On Saturday, Bielema didn’t spread any sunshine or blow any smoke.
He spoke positively about the attitude and work habits of his players, but he made no predictions, offered no excuses.
Bielema has a good working relationship with most of the media, or at least those who grind and work every day, because work ethic is something he values.
When he took the podium Saturday, many of those in the media started piling their recorders in front of him. There were so many, he reached out to take several of the recorders.
“Here, I’ll take care of them.”
As he took three from one young man, he said, “I’ll turn them off.”
A light chuckle went through the area.
He’s a people person with charm and wit. His players love his open-door policy and that he drops whatever he’s doing when one comes to see him. That includes former players such as Travis Swanson, who came to see him recently.
His players know his feelings for them are genuine.
After an opening statement that mentioned a few
guys who are banged up, Bielema started taking questions.
By the time he had finished, one might have thought the Hogs needed an ambulance or two at camp every day.
A lot more players have been hurt — including one most likely lost for the season with a broken foot that required surgery — or were being observed — one going through concussion protocols — than he may have first realized, and this is not a very experienced team that’s deep in players.
He said he thinks most of the injured players will be back in a few days or before the first game, but he knows that’s out of his control and he would never ask an injured player to play. He knows the difference between pain and injury, and he errs on the side of caution.
Since most fans are curious about improvements from last season’s porous defense, most of the questions were about that side of the ball.
He said hard work is being done in preparation of playing the 3-4 defense.
When he talked about the running game, he didn’t estimate how much the team was going to miss Rawleigh Williams, which it will, but he mentioned how impressive Devwah Whaley can be when he jump-starts to full speed.
He raved about center Frank Ragnow, and he should, and how quarterback Austin Allen is competing more against other SEC quarterbacks than anyone on campus.
Since Bobby Petrino was here, football media day had been on a Sunday, but now the seventh day of the week will be the mandatory day off, except around the first game of the season, which is a Thursday.
Bielema was more informative than entertaining Saturday. He gave an honest and optimistic account of his players and bragged a little on his staff.
He is definitely in football mode.