Bielema turning fun into a marketing tool at Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bret Bielema's degree is in marketing, likely the least surprising tidbit of information about the Arkansas coach for those who have come to know him in his few years in Fayetteville.
It's an educational background Bielema has put to good use since leaving Wisconsin for the Southeastern Conference, where his outgoing personality has developed even more of a spotlight-worthy reputation.
From the early days of engaging Twitter ''haters'' to his well-chronicled fashion selections, such as his sparkling shoes at SEC media days last month, Bielema has thrived under the glare of the south - more than once using his platform to sell himself and the Razorbacks.
And despite leaving his players in comedic tears from time to time, explaining ''that's just coach'' to friends and family, the Razorbacks are well aware there is a method to Bielema's seeming madness.
''I think he's always got a purpose for everything,'' quarterback Brandon Allen said. ''He rarely does things without a reason behind it. Whether those reasons are clear to us or not, he's always got a reason for something - whether it's the shoes or anything else he does.''
Allen was aware of who Bielema was when he was hired away from the Badgers following a tumultuous 2012 season at Arkansas. He didn't, however, yet fully realize the extent to which Bielema was about to bring ''fun'' back to the Razorbacks and put the program back on college football's radar.
Even Bielema was uncertain how much of his laid-back nature he wanted to show the football-serious south at first in Fayetteville. After all, this was his first time taking over a program he hadn't already been associated with, so tradition dictated formality.
As former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez had instructed since his days as an assistant, Bielema wore a suit and tie when meeting with the media for the first few weeks of the 2013 season.
It was hardly the attire the man who coined ''flip-flop Fridays'' - for his preferred choice of footwear - wanted, but he still felt the need to adhere to the lessons of his youth.
That is, until one day he threw formality to the wind and showed up for a Monday debriefing in his usual practice shorts and wind breaker.
He had never been happier or more relaxed, an approach he carried forward while struggling to keep a talent-depleted Arkansas team relevant nationally as it finished winless in the SEC during his first season.
The Razorbacks quickly took notice of all the quirky and unexpected personality traits of their new coach, from his love of reggae music to wearing a long-sleeved wind breaker even during the most searing of early season games.
More than anything, they appreciated his sincerity after becoming accustomed to the heavy-handed ways of former coach Bobby Petrino - Bielema's polar opposite on the personality scale.
''That's just his personality,'' Arkansas defensive lineman Deatrich Wise said. ''And that's what is so great about our coach, what you see on camera is what you see behind closed doors. He's the same person you see on and off the camera.''
As Arkansas' fortunes turned last season and the wins finally began to come, Bielema's job of promoting the Razorbacks became easier.
In perhaps his best use of that marketing degree yet, Bielema even used a mid-season play call to promote Arkansas' offensive line to recruits across the country.
Already ahead 21-0 over Alabama-Birmingham in the second quarter, the Razorbacks briefly lined up for a short field goal attempt before shifting into a swinging gate formation. What followed was a 6-yard touchdown pass by 6-foot-5, then 350-pound Sebastian Tretola, a highlight Bielema quickly capitalized during a halftime interview.
''I don't pre-plan a lot of the things I say in the media, as you can probably tell, but when I did say `Come to Arkansas as a lineman, we'll make you famous,' I knew that one would go off the charts,'' Bielema said.
What made the touchdown pass even more of a marketing tool for Arkansas was that of all the Razorbacks, Tretola was the only one close to Bielema's equal in terms of outgoing personality and comfort in the spotlight.
And it showed during the school's mock Heisman Trophy campaign for the offensive guard that followed, playing on the fact Tretola briefly struck the Heisman pose after his first career touchdown pass.
Arkansas enters this year with expectations soaring ahead of Bielema's third season, but don't expect the Razorbacks coach to change his ways anytime soon.
He's too busy having fun being himself - such as last month when he described last season's bowl win over Texas as ''borderline erotic'' - and letting everyone know about it.
''If you don't have that element of fun, I believe you're going to go south in a hurry,'' Bielema said.