Josh Kendall

Bret Bielema’s different – just what the SEC needs

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Hoover, Ala.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Hoover, Ala. AP

It takes a big man to regularly tweet photos of his tiny dogs.

Bret Bielema is a big man. There’s a wonderful photo floating around the Internet that proves it, showing Arkansas’ coach shirtless, looking fat and phat simultaneously. This is not a hatchet job column, don’t misunderstand, more of a love letter.

The SEC and college football need Bret Bielema. As the conference approaches a Steve Spurrier-less future, it’s comforting to think Bielema will be around to fill some of the personality vacuum. Whatever anyone thinks about Spurrier, and that can change week to week and quip to quip, everyone involved with college football would agree that his persona has contributed to the popularity of the sport.

No one expects Bielema or anyone else to replace Spurrier. All we’re asking is that he doesn’t turn into Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. As college football’s most successful coaches get more and more corporate and more and more willfully bland, college football is losing the personality that once made it great.

“In this world of social media, everybody is more guarded,” said Rick Neuheisel, who coached at Colorado, Washington and UCLA and now works as a television analyst. “You are on at all times, so you get in a little bit more of a bunker mentality, and that’s a little bit unfortunate. The bottom line is we love personality and we embrace it, but it’s harder to get folks to show it in the new climate.”

It’s not hard to get Bielema to show it. On Wednesday, he tweeted a photo of the shoes he was planning to wear at his SEC Media Days appearance later that day – special edition Nike Air Force 1s with a silver finish.

“Special Bling/Bling addition,” the Tweet read.

(Yep, it said “addition.” Leave him alone about it.)

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen wore Adidas “Yeezy” shoes on Tuesday at the event.

“First thing I said was, ‘(Bleep), let’s start a little Nike-Adidas war,’” Bielema said.

Later in another interview room, Bielema called the final play of his team’s bowl victory over Texas “a proud moment. Borderline erotic.”

There’s not a lot of bling in SEC coaching circles these days. There will be so much less when Spurrier retires. College football, particularly Southern college football, used to have plenty, and it was better for it. Now, it has a bunch of guys talking about process and acting like they’re curing cancer every Saturday afternoon.

Bielema’s not curing cancer. Heck, he may or may not be able to properly use the word “edition,” but that’s OK. He’s different and different is good. College football used to be different. Now it seems like it just wants to be a mini-NFL.

Bielema even plays the game differently. While everyone else wants to put the fastest players in the fastest offense, the Razorbacks are going the opposite direction – getting big and celebrating it. The front cover of Arkansas’ media guide this year is a large photo of its starting offensive line.

“Selfishly, it’s because it’s the only group that I feel good about taking a picture with,” Bielema said.

Last year, Bielema let one of his offensive linemen throw a touchdown pass on a trick play.

“There’s a reason I let Sebastian Tretola throw a pass,” he said. “I knew it would create notoriety. I knew I would get interviewed afterwards. I knew I would say, be an offensive lineman, come to Arkansas, and I’ll make you famous.”

Bielema navigated the Razorbacks out of a 17-game SEC losing streak and now has them poised as a legitimate threat to the SEC West’s top teams this season.

The message is clear. If you’re a big boy or a small dog, you’ve got a friend in Fayetteville, Ark. Bielema’s Twitter feed reveals that his two Tea Cup Yorkies, Rick and Lucy (who has her own Twitter page), live a pampered life. It also features lots of photos of food that he is cooking and date nights with his wife. He comes across as an honest-to-goodness human being.

He’s clearly the most Twitter-literate of the conference’s coaches. So much so that it factors into his recruiting decisions.

“If you have a social media nickname or something on your Twitter account that makes me sick, I’m not going to recruit you,” he said.

If you’ve got a bunch of pictures of cute dogs, he’s coming to get you.

BLING RATING

Steve Spurrier – 10

Bret Bielema – 8.5

Les Miles – 7.5

Kevin Sumlin – 6

Gus Malzahn – 5

Gary Pinkel – 4.5

Dan Mullen – 4.5

Hugh Freeze – 4

Mark Richt – 3.5

Jim McElwain – 3

Mark Stoops – 3

Nick Saban – 2

Butch Jones – 1

Derek Mason – .25

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