Arkansas fired their Athletic Director Jeff Long this morning, per Bruce Feldman. He may be remembered best as the man who fired Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, and who then hired Bret Bielema after Bielema wrote him a nice letter about how he handled said firing. Sometimes networking isn’t hard or complex at all.
There were other reasons Bielema was hired, of course. Bielema came to Arkansas with a 68-24 record and a no-frills approach to playing power football in a state without a huge recruiting pool. This seemed to sort of fit Arkansas’s situation at the time, so the Bielema hire wasn’t completely without theoretical merit in terms of matching a resume with a situation.
There may be one other important reason, too. Bret Bielema definitely has a passion for large sandwiches and a cold one. We mention because Jeff Long only has one other football coaching hire on his record: Dave Wannstedt, whom Long brought on at Pitt. Jeff Long simply can’t resist burly men with a hankering for massive sandwiches, a dedication to the run game, and going a little under .500 as head coach.*
*West Virginia fans, you really should hate Jeff Long. Add him to the extremely long “People West Virginians Hate Ledger” at the next meeting y’all have.
That less-than-inspiring record happens to be about where Bret Bielema stands now in his fifth season at Arkansas: 29-32 overall, just 11-27 in in SEC play, and doing the dreaded downward turn coming into the home stretch of the 2017 season. His benefactor, Long, is now gone after an ugly Board of Trustees meeting last week where Long allegedly sat outside on a bench instead of in the meeting. Bielema would appear to be, for the moment, completely unprotected at Arkansas.
After five years, that is on Bielema. The roster is built from his recruits, the assistants are his hires, and the results are conclusively his. What that equals in 2017, so far: four conference losses by more than 20 points each, a combined 64 point margin in the negative against the state of Alabama in two games against the Crimson Tide and Auburn, and an incoming recruiting class currently ranked 20 spots below Rutgers by Rivals.
A kinder person wouldn’t mention a narrow win over mediocre competition, because a win is a win is a win. We’re not that person. This year also featured a one point win at home over Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers prefaced this near-win by losing earlier in the season 52-10 to Western Illinois. Arkansas was almost out here handing out transitive road victories to directional whatevers from somewhere between Peoria and Keokuk in the year of our lord 2017.
Arkansas is a one point win over a scandal-dazed Ole Miss team from being winless in conference for the year to date. With a game against Mississippi State coming up, it doesn’t look like they’ll pick up another division win—or possibly not even another conference win given how well Missouri (the only other remaining game on the schedule) is beating derelict teams right now.
None of this ended up working. There was enough time, and enough money, and it didn’t work. That’s fine. It happens, more often than not at places like Arkansas with smaller populations, unique geographical challenges, and vicious competition on all sides. Bielema will get his money, though less of it in buyout form than one might think—around $5.9 million, a sum that fell off dramatically from a previously insane number earlier in his deal.
He should take that money somewhere sunny but not too sunny, get some skin protection, buy all the green juices he can, work out regularly, and you know, just chill for a while. Hang out with the kid, grill some lean meats, and recharge. We mean, good lord, just look at those pictures. The curing process at Arkansas has taken a damn toll on Bret Bielema, and didn’t yield much in the way of the edible for Arkansas fans, either.
That meat’s been hanging around for five years now. If it’s not good now, then it’s way, way past done.