How Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is helping Texas football teams unite
During SEC Media Days in July, Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema was asked about his team’s destruction of the Texas Longhorns in the 2014 Texas Bowl. “To beat Texas in that way that was pretty significant,” he said. “To kneel on the 2-yard line three times in a row at the end of the game was for me a very fulfilling moment.”
Then, Bielema went even further. “Um. Borderline erotic,” he concluded without even a smirk, as if the statement was perfectly natural.
Longhorns coach Charlie Strong reportedly printed the statement and hung it on the locker room wall in an effort to motivate his young team this summer. And while the results of Strong’s tactic have been mixed, it isn't hard to understand his displeasure with Bielema’s provocation.
Outside of Austin, however, in college towns around Texas, Bielema’s dig was mostly met with amusement and a sense of schadenfreude. You see, that’s the difference between the state of Texas (and the Big 12 overall) and the SEC. There is no real sense of community or common thread among Texas schools.
Rarely will any Texas team defend another. Sure, there is a sense of state pride, but that doesn’t carry over onto the football field. You’ll never hear a BIG 12! or TEXAS! chant pulsating from a stadium when a local team is dominating an out-of-state opponent, bowl game or otherwise.
This phenomenon is at least party due to the outsized disparity between the state’s institutions. The University of Texas and Texas A&M have the money, land grants and history of success that the other schools don’t. This structure breeds a natural resentment that doesn’t seem to exist in the SEC, where the majority of schools compete on seemingly equal footing; where you can hear the deafening chants of S-E-C! raining down when one of their own is on the verge of a big out-of-conference win.
Bielema has long been an opponent of the up-tempo style that so many of the colleges (and vast majority of high school programs) in Texas run. He’s even gone so far as to suggest that playing fast is potentially deadly.
In dismissing that style of play in the state, Bielema has perhaps unknowingly given the major programs in Texas a villain to unite against. It’s unlikely that any self-respecting Red Raider would ever cheer for a Longhorn, but maybe, over a Shiner Bock, both could agree that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And that “enemy” currently resides in Fayetteville, Ark.
High school skill position players in Texas spend their summers honing their craft in 7-on-7 tournaments, where the name of the game is tempo and speed, not bulk and strength. These camps have helped make Texas the leading producer of starting quarterbacks at both the NFL and major college level in recent years.
Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, and Ryan Tannehill have all benefited from summers spent passing to speedy wideouts, and perfecting an up-tempo style over diagramming the best way to run the veer. An emphasis on clock management and ball control simply isn’t pushed in Texas. As such, the the abiding philosophies of Bielema and the majority of football minds in the state could not be further apart.
Of course, that didn’t stop Bielema from accepting an invitation to speak at the Texas High School Coach’s Association meeting in Houston last July — just days, ironically, after his fetish with kneel downs were made known. It was there that Bielema so rankled Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who uncharacteristically spoke about Bielema’s comments after his Red Raiders defeated Arkansas last Saturday night.
“At the Texas High School Coaches Convention this summer he stood up and said if you don’t play with a fullback we’ll kick your ass, and if you throw it 70 times a game we’ll kick your ass,” Kingsbury said. He continued: “He just got his ass kicked twice in a row and probably next week by A&M too. That did feel good.”
The statement was shocking on its face, but even more so coming from Kingsbury, who’s much more Bill Belichick than Mike Leach in his approach. In his third season at Texas Tech he’s rarely said anything quotable or newsworthy, preferring instead to stick to standard cliché and coach speak. The fact that Kingsbury briefly broke character is telling, and should speak volumes about the level of disdain toward Bielema in Texas.
Later during Saturday’s press conference, Kingsbury was asked if he took Bielema’s comments from the coaching clinic personally. “I’m the son of a Texas high school coach, he said. “Texas high school coaches, probably 90% of them run the spread offense, so to walk in there and say that ... it definitely rubbed me the wrong way.”
Then, just as Bielema had done back in July, Kingsbury went further. “He’s a prideful guy, it just hasn’t worked out for him.”
On Monday, Bielema responded to Kingsbury’s outburst. “I’m happy he got to vent and hopefully he feels a lot better,” the Arkansas coach said. “As a coach who has been in it for 10 years, I know better than to worry about somebody that’s been around for a couple and they’re .500. So we’ll just go forward.” Bielema is 11–17 as head coach at Arkansas.
You can bet that football coaches across Texas are celebrating Kingsbury’s unexpected takedown of a man so dismissive of their philosophies and coaching style. It’s also safe to believe that next day, when Bielema’s Razorbacks take on Texas A&M, there will be Red Raiders and Frogs, Longhorns and Bears casting an eye toward College Station.
Though it will be brief, there might be a common thread found in Texas football. The Aggies have moved to the SEC but they will always be a Texas team. And though few will ever admit it, many across the state will softly mutter a “Gig ‘em” if Bielema’s team gets pummeled again by one of Texas’ own.