Jeff Long's exit at Arkansas opens up an enticing next step for Bret Bielema
I’m just sayin’.
With the reported news (and recently confirmed) that Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long is out in Fayetteville, the ripple effect seems significant. Bret Bielema, the guy who Long smuggled from Wisconsin, is entering uncharted territory. For the first time in his head coaching career, his AD is gone. For the second time in his head coaching career, he’s in serious jeopardy of missing a bowl game.
Bielema’s Arkansas squad has as many wins (4) as Nebraska. In case you forgot, the Huskers just hired a new athletic director themselves, and a new head football coach seems inevitable at this point.
You probably didn’t forget that Bielema did alright coaching in the B1G before Arkansas. In fact, Bielema was better than alright at Wisconsin. A 68-24 mark with a couple of B1G titles and 3 Rose Bowl appearances wasn’t too shabby for the former Iowa nose guard.
In his 5 years in Fayetteville, Bielema lost his identity. His teams didn’t win the battle in the trenches, nor did they have the dominant backfields that he had in Wisconsin. That, perhaps as much as anything, could cost Bielema his job. That was in question with Long still around. Still, firing Bielema would’ve been an admission of Long’s biggest hire not panning out.
With Long out, Arkansas appears it’ll follow in Nebraska’s footsteps. That is, fire the athletic director in the middle of the season and bring in a new coach at season’s end.
Could that mean Bielema’s next step is to Lincoln?
Yes, I hear you, Nebraska fans. What about Scott Frost? Isn’t he the obvious, slam-dunk, break-the-bank hire? Yes. Of course. If you’ve read anything I’ve written about the Huskers in the past several months, you know how I stand on that.
But it’s not a slam dunk that Frost will wind up in Lincoln. Despite those splashy names that are getting thrown around at Florida and Tennessee, both programs have deep pockets and seem more than capable of making a serious run at the Wood River, Neb., native.
Bielema, however, would be the ultimate consolation prize.
After all, Wisconsin’s model of success is the one that Nebraska is so desperate to emulate. Who knows that model better than Bielema?
The guy spent years turning 2- and 3-star recruits All-American offensive linemen while punishing B1G teams in the ground game. His success in the B1G speaks for itself, too. For Nebraska, a program that can’t seem to even hang in the top 25, Bielema’s résumé would be as good as anyone on the open market.
The interesting thing is that this move would make a lot of sense for Bielema even if he doesn’t technically “hit the open market.” Whoever Arkansas hires as its next AD won’t owe anything to Bielema. Even if Bielema isn’t fired at season’s end, his leash will likely be shorter than ever.
He can either deal with that uncertainty, or he can let Nebraska woo (pig) him away. Why not go to a program with more resources, coach for an athletic director who wants you around and get back to the conference where you made yourself one of the top coaches in America? This wouldn’t be some tail-between-the-legs move back to the B1G. It’d be Nebraska, a program with ample history and resources that Bielema could thrive with.
It almost makes too much sense.
I can already picture Bielema’s offense running for 400 yards against some B1G West foe and hearing 90,000 at Memorial Stadium give that “this is what we’ve been waiting for” type of applause.
Bielema would be welcomed in open arms in Lincoln. He wouldn’t have the brash, defensive attitude of Bo Pelini. Bielema wouldn’t have the hapless, we’ll-get-em-next-time demeanor of nice guy Riley. Bielema would bring energy and a chuckle to a program that hasn’t had enough of that in the 21st century.
He hasn’t had much of a reason to chuckle since he’s been at Arkansas. Bielema’s 11-27 record in SEC play is the first thing that’s brought up when his possible departure is discussed. It’s a far cry from his 37-19 B1G record in Madison.
Clearly, the ball hasn’t bounced Bielema’s way since he left for the South. A lot of that is on him. He knows that with the roster Arkansas had returning this year, his team shouldn’t have been fighting for bowl eligibility in the final 2 weeks.
In a matter of a few short weeks, Bielema could have a decision to make. Perhaps that decision will be made for him. Either way, that job in Lincoln has to look pretty enticing.
I’m just sayin’.