Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach Brett Bielema spoke with the SEC media on Monday at SEC Media Days 2017 in Hoover, Alabama. Look inside for his comments.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our first coach with the
University of Arkansas, Bret Bielema, going into his
fifth year career coaching record of 93 wins and 50
losses, has taken Arkansas to three consecutive bowl
games, top 20 ranking each of the two seasons. Three
days ago became a dad, most importantly.
I arrived home Saturday. I had texted congratulations
to Bret. All of a sudden my phone said he was
FaceTiming me. That's never happened. I never
FaceTimed with a head football coach in the SEC. The
decision should you answer or not; I decided to answer
He said, Why are you calling me? I said, Why are you
calling me? I thought he was going to share this
moment with his wife and his daughter with the
conference commissioner. He said, I was just leaving
Chipotle. I didn't mean to call you. It was a mistake.
COACH BIELEMA: That's an introduction like no other,
all right, from the commissioner. It was kind of funny,
because I had received a lot of different phone calls,
texts, during the course of the day from some of my
SEC brothers and some my head coaches and
different people from the SEC office, and I did get the
text from the commissioner. I said, wow, that's kind of
nice. I didn't respond to everybody. Don't take it
personally if I hadn't responded to you yet. I had about
I did text him. That's pretty cool, I was thinking to
myself. My wife wanted a double veggie bowl from
Chipotle -- trying to get an endorsement right there -- I
was walking down, and I recognized the FaceTime,
pulled it out and I see Greg Sankey's name. I said:
This is pretty cool, the commissioner is FaceTiming
me. That's pretty neat. He said, Why were you calling
me? I said, I apologize, I must have butt-dialed you.
That was a unique experience.
But excited to get here, excited to get the three guys
here that are representing us today, are very, very
special, unique to me, now going into my fifth year as
head coach. These guys are guys that I recruited or
decided to make a scholarship offer to. One was a
former walk-on, Frank Ragnow, is by far one of the
most talented players I ever coached, on and off the
field. Tremendous person. Excited to see him come
back and return for his senior season.
Austin Allen, standing in front of you, going to have a
SEC graduate patch -- pin on his lapel. We're very
proud of. He graduated already. He started masters
classes. Will get about two-thirds of the way through
his masters before he is ever finished playing college
football for us. Very, very talented player that's going
into year two as our starter.
Kevin Richardson is a former walk-on. Again, just
really embodies everything I believe in. He's a little
undersized, underrecruited, underdeveloped coming
out of high school. We presented an opportunity for
him to walk on. Really in the first two weeks I knew we
had something. Probably one of the most intelligent
football IQ players I've ever been around. Plays all five
DB positions. And is a great leader off the field.
Really blessed to have those guys with us. I feel really
good about where we're at. Obviously, the end of last
season was a unique situation for me. In fact, even
when we went 3-9, which I've never had a losing
season in my career, other than the first year at
Arkansas, I felt at the end of the year we were getting
better at moving in the right direction. And last year,
our last two games were not highlights, especially the
way they both ended.
I knew we had to take a new look at things. We took
an internal look at us coaching-wise. What we were
asking them to do, how we were asking them to do it.
Took an even stronger look at our personnel, which
made us drive the decision to change to a three-four,
bottom line what we were going to do moving forward
Our kids have been great. They've owned and
embraced what we didn't do well at the end of the year.
Focused on what we can do well. We're going to focus
on winning games in the second half, not losing them,
putting our best personnel on the field, no matter how
that comes about, and then really trying to play and
understand what it means to be at Arkansas and have
that come through.
Have had a lot of former players, players that were
before my time as well as players that have been there
with us, that had success come in and talk to the guys
about what it means to be a Razorback. That's a huge,
Very excited where we're at and where we're going.
We start camp a little bit earlier than everybody else
because we play a Thursday night game in Little Rock,
which should be a really neat experience for us, gives
an extra day of preparation as we go into an
opportunity to play TCU, another crossover game in
our league. It should be a lot of fun.
We had a bye week before we go play A&M in Jerry's
World at Cowboy Stadium, and the rest of our schedule
lays out in a pretty good fashion. Last year we had two
or three teams that had bye weeks before they play us.
Nobody has a bye week before they play us this year. I
think that's a nice stroke for us with regards to
With that, I open up for questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. If you have a
question, please raise your hand. Give your name and
Q. Obviously you just had a bit of a tough end to
last season. I was wondering whether the Missouri
loss in particular ended it all for the guys in the
offseason, and do you think games like that,
obviously not the outcome you want, but does it
help stoke that rivalry a little bit?
COACH BIELEMA: I think the Missouri rivalry, both
Barry and I said, even going back to Coach Pinkel,
anything we can do to flame that fire is a good thing for
anybody. I even had conversations with our high
school All-Star Game being a crossover game to play
high school team from Missouri.
So that's kind of building on its own. It's hard to create
a bunch of history overnight, but that's happening. If
losing in the second half helped stoked that fire, God
bless them. All for it. But we didn't do it for that reason
But I think that the way that not only Missouri game but
the second half of Virginia Tech. We played really well
in those first halves, we played extremely well, and
didn't play well in the second half. To examine that,
why it happened, we had to look internally first as
coaches and carry it over a little bit with discussion with
our players. I think they had great input and ideas as
And just kind of move forward from there. I'm excited.
I think the SEC and TV people, to honor us with that
Friday afternoon spot with Missouri, I think it's pretty
cool at 1:00 again, and hopefully continue to build that
Q. Coach, Jared Cornelius had big game last year
for the Crimson Tide. I think he had five catches
for 146 yards. Who are some guys after them that
are really starting to grow in your mind?
COACH BIELEMA: Jared is a tremendously talented
player. I think we did a postseason study that showed
he was one of the most productive slot receivers in all
of college football last year with the number of
receptions he had and the number of snaps he took, a
very, very confident young man. I think he'll have his
best year going into the senior year.
At wide receiver, we signed two junior college players I
feel really have adopted the game well that we brought
in, have made a nice impact on us, as well as a couple
younger players in our program -- Deon Stewart,
La'Michael Pettway, some guys that I think can step up
into a role that's pretty significant, and they've been
working really hard. I know Ben Herbert in the weight
room felt pretty good about what they're doing, and
we're excited to get them out there.
Q. Coach, two years ago here you described a win
over Texas as being borderline erotic. I was
wondering, if you are able to beat A&M with the
way things have gone in your series with them,
how do you think you'd describe that?
COACH BIELEMA: I know you guys are all looking for
quotes. I don't think I can go much further than that
one. That was in a small-group session and that was
before I had a child, so I'll just leave it at there.
But I think, A, the respect for the program, and I think
A&M, what they did when they came into the league,
the way Kevin was able to do certain things and
obviously to play that game in Cowboys Stadium, it's
actually the year Jerry Jones is going in the National
Football League Hall of Fame, that is tremendously
cool for us to be there with them in that fashion.
We've been so close, had a couple overtime games,
things that we felt were going in the right way to have a
change to get a victory over A&M. I think our first SEC
game would be a step in the right direction.
One of the things we do in our program, whether it's
right, wrong, or indifferent, we take it one game at a
time. And I know we're in the kickoff meetings, we've
got to talk about all of those games, but we have to
worry about FAMU, we're going to get on TCU, and
then A&M opportunity comes, and we'll be ready to
Q. Coach, last year you mentioned that you would
be in favor of a rule that would allow undrafted
underclassmen to come back to school.
Wondering if you've been able to gather any
momentum on that at all? As a part two to the
question, how do you feel about this new
agreement between the NFL and AFCA that started
this past spring where some underclassmen get to
go through drills with scouts so scouts can get
some more information?
COACH BIELEMA: Again, I think it's a step in the right
direction, positive. I give Commissioner Sankey a lot of
credit. I think one of the things that's evolved since I've
come in this league is just that each year there's a
whole new set of issues that come up, and to be
proactive to all of them is a step in the right direction.
I know as a group of coaches, we came to the
commission last year and to the SEC and asked for us
to change some legislation maybe or put forth some
legislation that allows our guys to have a better
showing for the NFL that's more real, you know. So, for
instance, I allowed several guys that I felt were juniors
that if they play the way they can be, they might be NFL
eligible at the end of next year. I let them take heights,
weights, measurements, academic profiles, some
limited testing that allows them to get a better feel. Is
he truly 6'2" or is he really six-one and a half or six-foot
and a half.
I think it's a step in the right direction. It's a baby step.
We had more discussions this past spring about what
we could do to progressively make this better, if they do
declare themselves and move back that declaration
date. I know Nick and several other coaches in our
league had proposed moving that date back a little bit
to allow our guys to have a better understanding. I
think there's times where we have a bowl game, maybe
in January, and a kid is feeling pressure or hears from
outside sources that he needs to make a decision
sooner than later; that he makes a decision maybe
before the bowl game takes place. Which tells me, A,
he's not focused on priorities and, B, he's getting
information from people that shouldn't be gathering and
giving information, and that leads to an uninformed
I have a case in point where I had a young man two
years ago, left early in the draft, didn't get drafted, and
he has the ability to possibly start in the NFL now in
year two. For him to be an undrafted free agent, the
money that he lost is never geeing to be regained. I
knew he had that ability, but we're all in a hurry. We're
in a microwave world. Everybody wants everything
done in 20 seconds.
Sometimes it needs cooked for two hours. We got to
figure that out and try to help our kids.
Q. How has the continuity on the offensive line
improved throughout the spring, and how have you
continued to build on that with Frank?
COACH BIELEMA: Great point. One of the things we
do even in our spring game, we go ones against the
world. I think in offensive line play, you have five guys
that are attached in everything that they do. You see
the lineman, they all go eat together. They go watch a
movie together. They do everything together. We
breed that in our program. For that left tackle, he's
playing next to left guard, but he needs to understand
what the center is yelling and doing, what the right
guard is going to do on a kickoff play. There's a
continuity that has to develop.
We have six guys that started SEC football games for
us now on the offensive line. That's so much of an
improvement from a year ago. Coach Anderson had
another year with this group. We had a better addition.
One of the major issues with us last year in protection
and taking care of our quarterback and being able to
run a football is we did not have enough of SEC quality
offensive linemen in our program. I myself had not
done what I needed to do to give us the numbers early
on in those classes to get us there. Or some guys left
a little early because they played well.
I feel really, really good about where that group is. I
like the fact that they've taken some shots and they've
survived, and I really think they're in a mode to really
prove some things this fall.
Q. Bret, can you give us an update on the status of
Montaric Brown and Melvin Johnson? I noticed
Melvin wasn't in the media guide.
COACH BIELEMA: Absolutely. When we recruit
players, we try to sign guys or put guys in a position
that we feel that they're going to project to make it and
qualify by the standards that the NCAA has. Melvin is
a little bit unique in the fact that he was a guy that was
at a junior college that we were trying to progress
where he could end up in a projection to get here a
little bit earlier than maybe he anticipated. So he will
not make it by qualification standards, but he has a
possibility of possibly joining us in December,
depending on what he does and where he's at.
Buster is currently doing everything he has to do to get
where he needs to be, to get here by the time fall
camp. He is so close that if that doesn't happen here
in the next couple weeks, I do foresee him being able
to join us by the time school starts and at the worst
maybe a January enrollment. But he'll be with us
sooner than later.
Q. Kind of an unusual situation last season with
Austin replacing his brother as a quarterback. Can
you speak to how he handled that and the progress
you've seen since then going into this spring?
COACH BIELEMA: Well, Austin's a smart dude, man.
He's -- one of the things that I grabbed when B.A.
became the starter and Austin was coming in, I said,
hey, here's three things you can do. You can sit and
watch your brother play, that's kind of cool. You can
also learn through your brother's failures, which isn't
going to be a lot of fun, but still watch it happen. And
the third this thing is you can enjoy the success and
understand why it happened.
I think he did that. He was there on every trial and
tribulation. He survived it. He lived it. He also saw
how he had to handle. To be a starting quarterback in
the SEC is not an easy task on the field or off the field.
You got a lot of things coming at you.
For him to survive and learn and to go through it a year
ago gets me very excited. I think he's got a big chip on
his shoulder. He's a guy that got some decoration and
some awards. But because you play at Arkansas,
maybe because he didn't have five stars coming in or
four stars or however many stars he had and maybe
he's not tremendously pushed by us, you know, on a
sectionist factor, all this, all that. We at Arkansas try to
prove what we are by numbers, by doing things we
actually can put own down on paper and believe them.
Not a lot of hype or a lot of hubba-hubba. It's just what
have you done.
Austin has done some pretty good things. There's
some things he has to do better. We had
conversations about that. I wouldn't do anything but
truly sit back and watch a guy that's going to be able to
go to some heights that people never thought he would
be able to do. In the end he'll probably be the one
Q. Bret, it's kind of a loaded question, but you guys
always talk about your father figures to 100-plus
kids every year. Now that you are an actual father,
do you see that perspective affected at all, or how
does it affect your perspective of anything being a
COACH BIELEMA: I'm 48 hours into this baby. I can't
say I'm well versed. I think it changes your
perspective. I knew it always would. If my girl ends up
playing football, we probably got a lot of problems. I'll
encourage her to do whatever, but playing football ain't
one of them.
But I do think -- someone asked a question earlier in
the local media, that simply, you know, if someone's got
a high school-age son, is it worth them to allow them to
play football, and I have a resounding yes. It -- I think
there are definitely some times where maybe some
people that aren't regulated the way they should be
regulated on teaching, you know, the fundamentals of
the game safely, we've got to make sure that's always
-- in fact, I got to tell you, I've watched -- a couple times
I've gone to a high school practice or had the
opportunity to watch kids participate. I'm like, oh, that
just doesn't look right. That's why I'm on the rules
committee. The rules committee does not pay you a
dime. It takes up a lot of my time and it eats up a week
-- three or four days of my free time that I don't like but I
do it because I want to change the game in the right
I think with the direction of the rules committee, Steve
Shaw with the SEC and several other voices in the
room, several years back we really went after the
targeting rule. I know the commissioners all wanted to
see our game become safer. You can ask every one of
my players, and I bet you ask every player that comes
here. We have changed the perspective of how kids
play football. There's no doubt in my mind that there is
still going to be some targeting, there's still going to be
some launching and all of that. It's going to come with
the game. And the fact that it's a game that happens
so fast and played with a violent manner, that we have
kids repeatedly on film that you see maybe five years
ago would not make the same decision they're making
now. They look to keep their eyes up. They look to not
take blindside shots. They look to do things the way
we're asking them to do because of the way we
So I think that's really cool. I think we constantly have
to be on the forefront of protecting our players. I just
lost a player that -- and there's no doubt in my mind he
was an NFL player. He's a tremendous human being.
I think as coaches we lose sight. We learn so much
from our players. What I learned from Rawleigh
Williams, you can't put in words. The things I
witnessed when I was on the field just sitting with him
and his family to the time when I went and saw him in
the hospital to when I was reading a quote from him a
day after he decided to leave the game where he said,
you know, I always thought I had a great plan, but I got
reminded once again that He has a better plan,
referencing his faith. And it was a moment where I had
to take a step back and realize where he was going
and what he was talking about.
That is a moment as a head coach that is so precious,
it's better than any game, anything you could ever
learn, is when you know you truly have your players'
safety at their heart, in your heart. That's a big deal.
Q. What's the timetable for Dre Greenlaw and for
And part two, do you feel like you're going
to be a better run defense this coming year, and
why would that be?
COACH BIELEMA: Can I ask you a question? Where
did you get that shirt? I like it, I like it.
I think, first, Dre Greenlaw, he looks great. He's come
back. What we witnessed with Dre, he -- for two years,
he hasn't been able to complete the season, once with
a foot injury, and the year before as well. So, we
constantly are monitoring and looking at what we can
do for him to make sure. But he should be 100 percent
go by fall camp.
And the other part was the three-four defense, right?
Q. Is that a run defense --
COACH BIELEMA: Last year -- two things that Coach
Fry taught me a long time ago about running the
football is if you want to win games, you got to run the
football and stop the run. And last year offensively at
times we weren't able to run the football effectively
because of good defenses, and defense there were
times where the game got away from us and stopping
So there's two huge points of emphasis, they kind of
fed off one another, so in the spring I could really
emphasize on that and work off it. I think the three-four
allows us. Just by pure math you got 11 guys on the
field. Eight guys now will be on their two feet. You got
eight guys on two feet being able to change and run.
You naturally become more athletic with the three-four
scheme with athletes on the field.
There will be a lot of same schemes, a lot of the same
coverages, but coming at it with the ability to bring
different pressure. More importantly, I think in today's
world, too, the three-four aligns quicker and a little bit
more simplistic to multiple offenses in a shorter amount
of time, and that should help us.
Q. Brett, with so many quarterbacks back in the
SEC this year, including yours, do you subscribe to
the idea, or by the idea that this could be kind of
the year of the quarterback in this conference?
COACH BIELEMA: You know, I'm a big believer of the
year in the quarterback every year. Obviously we can
only control who's back, who isn't back, who's new and
who's not. All of my years in doing this, even before I
became a coach, when I was a player, I think I always
look back and I reflect on the teams that we had that
were successful with teams that had great
quarterbacks or quarterbacks that could lead, and then
as a coach that's been reinforced a hundred times
I have so much respect in this league because really
within all of our league, especially in the west, every
scheme is unique and different. A&M is running a
tempo spread offense but their offense is totally
different than Auburn. Auburn is different than
Mississippi State. Mississippi State is different than
Ole Miss. Alabama is a little different now. We'll see
where they go. LSU is a little bit pro style. Matt and I
worked together. I saw a little bit of the his
background. That's what is unique in the SEC West.
The quarterback play is very, very important, but also
very unique to each team. Some put emphasis on
what that quarterback can do not only at the line of
scrimmage but what he can do pre snap and how he
handles pressure both mentally and physically.
It's always going to be a league of the quarterback.
That's why those guys get a lot of money at the next
level. At our level, they get more attention. Mine aren't
getting any money, I don't know about anybody else's.
That part is important, I think, but very important is that
quarterback position is essential to success, and that's
not going to change no matter who is there and who
Q. Could you take us through how David Williams
ended up at Arkansas and what you do you foresee
as his role in that position?
COACH BIELEMA: Great question. Back when I was
as Wisco, I had a 50-year transfer quarterback by the
name of Russell Wilson come into my hands. He was
in that position. Really I went after him because, A, he
was a grad transfer, and B, we had extreme bad luck at
quarterback. I had three -- really, my three most
experienced quarterbacks were questionable to be in
fall camp. Two of them ended up not playing that year.
One of them was coming off his second -- or actually
his third ACL repair. It was just an extreme situation of
need, and Russell came up on the screen.
This one kind of developed in somewhat the same way.
I actually had known David. He actually had come to
visit me when I was at Wisconsin. When I made the
transition to Arkansas, I was on -- recruiting or thinking
about recruiting David, but he went in a different
direction and committed to South Carolina in the SEC.
I made note of that. I knew where he's at. And then,
you know, come full circle with Rawleigh's situation,
and then Juan Day is another player that probably
would have been our fourth string tailback. I knew this
was coming. He had been through two ACLs. So I lost
two of my top four backs. I know we are going to be
fine. Devwah Whaley is really good. I recruited two
freshmen. I have had this a lot in my career where we
lose a running back that's really good and everybody is
always worried. We had another guy coming through.
I knew I wanted somebody with little bit more maturity
in the room.
That presented an opportunity to talk to
David. I reached out to the SEC office, asked the
questions I needed to ask to have him transfer in, got
great information from the SEC office. Really then just
started the appeal process, went through that.
I give a lot of credit to Will in South Carolina. They
were very cooperative, didn't try to put a block on him
or what not. I think this young man was recruited by
Coach Spurrier, brought in, and things didn't go his
way. He graduated on time and deserved an
opportunity. Again, I give the Commissioner a lot of
credit for forward thinking. There's some things coming
into our game that never happened before. This rule,
I'm sure people are going to like it or don't like it.
As coaches, I'm a little bit torn. I seem to be very
successful. I actually -- on the flip side of it, I had a
running back who was the third string running back for
me. He was behind Montee Ball and James White. I
knew he was a good player. He transferred to Pitt. He
ended up starting for Pitt and had a chance to play in
the NFL. I facilitated the whole thing. I knew he was
going to get buried in our depth chart.
It's something -- I think we have to have a radar up
about what's going on in our league. You don't want
kids to have the ability to freely do these things or
transfer without some restrictions, but again I give a lot
of credit to the SEC in allowing this to happen because
he truly is a kid that's done everything right. He never
had issues academically or off the field. We had a
prior relationship and to bring him into a position of
need, and his grad degree is going to be something
that he's interested in which was a little unique to us as
well that allows him to get into some real estate and
different things. It's really a marriage made in heaven
and a great addition to campus.
Q. Coach, going back to the conversation about
SEC quarterbacks, your team beat Mississippi
State last year, but their quarterback Nick
Fitzgerald accumulated a lot of yards both on the
ground and in the air. I am curious, what made him
so hard to limit, and there's a lot of talk about him
becoming a better passer. I am curious what your
thoughts of him as a passer as well?
COACH BIELEMA: Two things, first, a tremendously
talented young man. He has size, speed and agility,
throws the ball very well. Second thing, Dan Mullen, I
think Dan Mullen has proven obviously what he can do
at the quarterback position in his development and the
system that he has looking at Dak Prescott and what
he's able to do at the highest level, so I got a lot of
respect and admiration for that.
We started to see firsthand how he kind of grew, and I
knew he got even better after we played him. So it is
going to be a tremendous task in front of us, but seems
to be a guy that has got all of the things that you need
to have position, especially in that type of offense.
Unfortunately for us, it will be another tough task for us.
MODERATOR: Coach, thank you for your time.