Bielema made the statement that he left Wisconsin to come to Arkansas with intentions of beating Alabama. From Hootens.com:
“But I didn’t come here to play Alabama. I came here to beat Alabama.”
I understand what he is trying to say. He simply means that he is not interested in moral victories. The problem for Bielema is that SEC head coaches can’t say the phrase, “I came here to beat Alabama,” without it becoming an instant sensation on Twitter and quick headline. Maybe it is unfair, but that’s the way it is.
Bielema did not stop there, though. He went on to make a comparison between his record and Nick Saban’s:
“You can take Saban’s record when he was at Michigan State and when he was a coach in the Big Ten and put it against mine, and he can’t compare.”
Now that is a quote that no one can claim is out of context. He just made a major comparison, and in the process, opened himself up to criticism from a number of different angles.
It immediately garnered attention from columnists, talk show hosts, and bloggers around SEC country. Most were outraged that he would dare compare himself to Saban. That is not the purpose of this editorial, although I do not think the comparison was necessary. I want to address a more serious potential effect of Bielema’s remarks.
Maybe Bielema has an unusual way of motivating his team. But I doubt that’s the case. More likely, he had the propensity to make such remarks on a regular basis when in the Big Ten and still thinks he can get away with it here in the SEC. He is figuring out, though, that everything, almost without exception, he says as the head coach of Arkansas is monitored, noted, and scrutinized.
As a result, every time he makes news with public comments, his players will hear about it. With all of the instantaneous media today, they will probably read headlines to the effect of, “Bret Bielema goes after Nick Saban,” or, “Bret Bielema says he came to Arkansas to beat Alabama.”
Monday, Bielema tried to clarify his remarks on Twitter, calling them a ‘joke’:
Things to chill out about today: 1- I'm only driving my car today 2- Alabama quotes were a joke to a question from a fan at pep rally. #wow
— Bret Bielema (@BretBielema) April 1, 2013
We know that Arkansas is coming off of a very disappointing season and is enduring a transition in its coaching staff. We also know that Alabama is the two-time reigning BCS champion and defeated Arkansas in Fayetteville last year 52-0. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest that the Razorbacks will be underdogs (probably significantly so) going into the October 19 matchup in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
On the week of the game, you can bet media members will bring up Bielema’s comments. That could create a very pressurized situation for Razorback players. What happens if the team gets drummed by a margin similar to the one last September?
I admire the tenacity and the bravado shown by Bielema. I think it can be a great motivator, and Arkansas needs some of that right now. I would just caution Bielema, or any coach for that matter, against poking Saban and Alabama at this point in time. Why give them another potential edge with bulletin board material?