Bielema hits the right notes 

Bret Bielema's goodwill tour through the state of Arkansas has been a customarily fleet and spectacularly engaging one, and even though Pearls doesn't want to harp on the distinctions between the new lead Hog and his predecessors, it's an impossible one to simply ignore.

There's a certain measure of platitudes and throwaway cliches to every coach's delivery. Bielema's hitting locales throughout the state, the Capitol included, and dispensing what on the surface seems to be standard-issue coachspeak, the prototypical "we're gonna get this train back on the tracks" pablum that we generally bristle upon hearing.

Perspective changes over time, of course. Houston Nutt practically stole the job back in December 1997 by taking a then-novel approach to salesmanship, and it took anywhere from a few minutes to a few years for the fan base to grow weary of the huckstering. There wasn't any such veneer to Bobby Petrino: he gave us no misapprehensions that he would be a media darling, and so for four years, when he showed those occasional flashes of wit or genuine substance it was pretty jarring. If coaching PR can be paralleled to a hairdo, Nutt's approach was a wild and anachronistic mullet, and Petrino's was so closely cropped to the skull as to be painful.

A few years ago, a Razorback message board did a pictorial comparison that was even more telling. On National Signing Day, in maybe Nutt's second or third year in Oxford, he stood before a crowd of reporters with some sort of half-assed concoction of balloons and dry-erase boards trying to upsell one of those classes where he signed basically five classes worth of completely nondescript players. That same day, Petrino was employing professional-quality placards with recruits' names neatly emblazoned on them. The dichotomy of detail was astounding, laughable, and yet also demonstrative of the fact that maybe Arkansas's pendulum swung too far.

All snark aside, the zeitgeist of Bielema is something comfortably in between. There's still a place for Nutt's methodology in today's stuffed-shirt coaching world, and Bielema captures a little bit of that flavor with that swagger that we've seen at the introduction in December and then on Twitter. He's pretty cocky, and bordering on boastful. Nutt's downfall was built upon a new online epoch of rearview dissection: He said a lot in those early days, and the Internet didn't afford him the luxury of a pardon. Whereas Nutt talked boldly but seemed disbelieving of his own promises, Bielema's got the inverse approach locked down: He's talking about championships in earnest, and he frankly seems unconcerned with whether you believe him or not.

Petrino ironically would mind his tongue when it was being used for the purpose of publicity, even if he was salty as hell on the sideline. He didn't completely adopt the Holtz Doctrine, but his ruthless perfectionism made him far less inclined to blather at length about his grandiose objectives from year to year. There's a finite degree of that angle to Bielema's discourse as well: He's often reflected on his upbringing in a folksy but genuine fashion, relating to various Razorback Club chapters that he was reared on a farm. It tempers his bravado — some might say not quite enough — and bolsters his work ethic. For all the inane criticisms that may have been heaped on Bielema during his accomplished run in Madison, nobody ever dared say that the guy's few failures were attributable to laziness.

The period after signing day and prior to spring practice has perennially been an awkward lull and the only time it seems to be interrupted is when a new coach is being welcomed, as is the case here in 2013. Historically, we get whipped up into an excitable froth anytime there's a changing of the guard, and Bielema's seizing the opportunity in grand fashion. It's equal parts barnstorming and expectation-setting, which is gaining further notice because Mike Anderson's basketball squad isn't quite able to sate us, and it simply works.

What it produces in the fall is hard to gauge given the roster's general overhaul. Arkansas could be one of the SEC's pleasant surprises or a marginalized bottom-dweller, but Bielema is pitching the forthcoming season as the first step of a program's reclamation, and doing it in a way that is neither brazen nor boring.

Speaking of...

  • Up and down Razorback programs

    December 11, 2014
    As has become custom in the overlap of seasons, this bag of Pearls is a mixed one. We'll first address postseason for the gridiron Hogs, a favorable Texas Bowl slotting with onetime rival Texas on Dec. 29 that has more intrigue than any game between 6-6 also-rans would normally merit. /more/
  • Another fourth quarter meltdown for the Hogs

    December 4, 2014
    Having risen like the proverbial phoenix with those grand shutouts, the football Hogs just couldn't have a true regular-season finale without officiating controversies and lightning-rod personnel issues. /more/
  • Word from the UA Athletic Department on the Bielema rumor mill

    December 3, 2014
    The University of Arkansas Athletic Department responds to questions about Bret Bielema and talk of contract changes for football coaches. If contract changes are in the works, the department isn't ready to say so. /more/
  • Bielema mentioned as Nebraska coach candidate; jockosphere runs wild — briefly

    December 3, 2014
    A provocateur insists that I mention that Razorback coach Bret Bielema's name has emerged as being a target of the search for a new coach at Nebraska. /more/
  • Here come the expectations

    November 27, 2014
    The Bielema Bandwagon pit crew has done some hellacious work getting the wheels road-worthy again. Now it may take the installation of a governor under the hood to keep everyone rational after two historic, emotionally gratifying games have pushed expectations toward the stratosphere for the rest of the season and years beyond. /more/
  • Victory

    November 20, 2014
    Forgive the beleaguered, moonlighting Hog columnist if he scratches out this week's Pearls About Swine in much the same way Bret Bielema rejoiced Saturday night: a smidge teary-eyed and a bit unshaven, and with a robust, impromptu smooch for the wife. /more/
  • LSU represents opportunity for Arkansas

    November 13, 2014
    Make as many derisive "Arkansas didn't lose this week!" jokes as you wish, but the Hogs actually gained something from the bye week. /more/
  • Razorbacks best losers ever

    November 6, 2014
    Arkansas needed to beat Mississippi State. The Hogs absolutely had to conduct a massive book burning at Davis-Wade Stadium on Saturday night, specifically torching the fairy tale that Dak Prescott & Co. had been assiduously scripting from week to week. Sixteen-game conference losing streak dating back to Obama's first term versus sudden ordained Rock of Gibraltar in a swirling sea of inexplicable laydowns and whiffs by others. /more/
  • Now to No. 1

    October 30, 2014
    Three debilitating losses in a four-week span made Arkansas a little sour for homecoming Saturday. UAB paid the iron price for all that misery. /more/
  • Full system breakdown

    October 23, 2014
    Arkansas did two positive things it had not done all year in an otherwise disgusting loss against Georgia inside Quigley Nouveau Stadium. /more/
  • More »

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