By Jim Weber
Arkansas fans are quickly learning what Big Ten followers have known for years: People love to hate Bret Bielema.
Opposing fans in the B1G thought Bielema was classless for running up the score on lesser opponents, arrogant for constantly tooting his own horn and a whiner when things didn’t go his way. I’m not saying it was deserved and it should be noted that a fair amount of jealousy was involved in all this vitriol toward Bielema. But then he alienated the one fan base that had his back when Bielema bolted Wisconsin in December to take the job at Arkansas, as Badger fans joined the angry mob against him.
As a result, Bielema has been the target of a lot of Twitter animosity over the last five months. There have jokes about Bielema’s weight, criticism of his Rose Bowl record (0-3), accusations of being an overrated coach and, of course, the standard “You suck!” Instead of brushing his critics off, Bielema has steadily engaged in 140-character wars of words replete with pithy responses that only perpetuate negative perceptions of him:
Look, I’m not siding with the Twitter trolls. I know what it’s like to receive tweets and e-mails that make you want to put someone in their place. But when I’ve responded in the past, I’ve just ended up angrier than if I let it go. Bielema still appears unable to grasp that realization. Responses like the above (of which there are many, many more) would concern me as an Arkansas fan on multiple levels:
First, it’s petty, a waste of energy and unbecoming of a college head coach that’s the most visible member of the university. Can you imagine Kansas State’s Bill Snyder doing this?
Second, as pointed out by Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee, Bielema is always going to come off looking like the bad guy in these situations. College football coaches are paid handsomely to be above this sort of thing and always put their universities in a positive light. They are supposed to be molders of men, not people who stoop to the level of Twitter trolls. What are the parents of recruits going to think about sending their sons to play for a coach who acts this immaturely?
Third and most important, how is Bielema going to handle the pressure of coaching in the SEC and Arkansas in particular during the fall if he can’t handle clowns tweeting at him in the offseason? Ask Houston Nutt, Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith what the pressure cooker of Fayetteville is like.
In 2007, an Arkansas fan filed a FOIA request to go through Nutt’s cell phone records, looking for dirt on the way former quarterback Mitch Mustain was treated (the fan eventually found a much bigger scandal in the form of an alleged extra-marital affair). If being called fat gets under Bielema’s skin, I’d half expect him to show up at someone’s house with a baseball bat if a fan ever went through his phone records.
When Bobby Petrino was caught having an affair with Jessica Dorrell last April, fans across Arkansas turned him into a punchline between blow-up dolls on the backs of motorcycles to mocking Halloween costumes. Will Bielema be able to handle it if a belligerent fan this fall makes a joke in public about the fact his wife, Jen, is 15 years younger than him and that the two met in Las Vegas when she was under the age of 25?
As for John L. Smith, his time in Fayetteville was only marginally less of a nightmare. After a September loss to UL Monroe last fall, there were endless talk radio callers who wanted Smith’s head on a platter two games into the season. That lasted for the next three months until Smith was mercilessly let go.
Bielema won’t face the same level of scrutiny as Smith but he better not expect a long honeymoon period. With Arkansas losing a ton of talent off a 4-8 team in the brutal SEC West, Bielema will soon experience how intolerant SEC fans are of losing. Does Bielema plan to call into these radio stations himself to dress down every boneheaded caller who mercilessly rips him?
Whether it’s Nutt, Petrino, Smith, Ron Zook (FireRonZook.com), Derek Dooley (public humiliation) or Gene Chizik (“We want a leader not a loser!”), you need the thickest of skin to survive coaching in college football’s best conference where there is more pressure to win than many NFL jobs.
Heck, even someone as successful as Georgia head coach Mark Richt has spent much of the last decade on the hot seat.
Because the public now knows it can get under his skin, Bielema is only going to encounter more knuckleheads this fall on social media and in person. If Bielema doesn’t learn to let the immense criticism that comes with coaching in the SEC roll off his back, he’s going to be consumed by a perpetual anger that will take away all the fun from his job, distract him from his duties as a head football coach, undoubtedly result in a confrontation that will blow up in his face and eventually drive him crazy.
That is, if Bielema doesn’t already go crazy from being in a division that includes Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M.
Welcome to the SEC, coach.
Bottom Photo Credit: Beth Hall/USA Today Sports