Bielema quickly turns attention to recruiting

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm •  Published: December 17, 2013
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — When Bret Bielema was hired at Arkansas last year, he arrived with the promise of bringing the school its first Southeastern Conference championship.

Instead, Bielema's first season with the Razorbacks turned into the worst in school history — three straight wins and then nine straight losses, a 3-9 mark that included the program's first winless season in the SEC since joining the league in 1992.

More than two weeks after a season-ending 31-27 loss at LSU, Bielema — burdened with the free time that has come following his first season without a bowl game— has had the time to evaluate his first season at Arkansas.

He is now making promises of landing "more of, and better" players, and the former Wisconsin coach has stayed busy recruiting the last few weeks. Bielema's optimism remains firmly in place as he tries to establish the Razorbacks as a contender in the brutal SEC West, home to the last four national champions.

It turns out that Auburn — along with the team it defeated in the SEC championship game, Missouri — have given Bielema his best sales pitch to recruits.

"There isn't anything more self-evident than to see two teams playing in the SEC championship game that had one win in the SEC total last year," Bielema said during an interview with The Associated Press. "The cards couldn't line up any better for where we're at and where we want to be."

Whether Bielema can deliver an Auburn- or Missouri-like turnaround next season is a long way from being determined.

He needs to find a replacement for defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who was hired Monday as the head coach at Florida Atlantic. Bielema said he keeps a "three-deep" of potential coaches ready at all times, and that the three candidates for Partridge's position are currently involved in bowl-game preparations or in the NFL. He hopes to have the new coach on campus before recruiting begins again in January.

National signing day in February has become Bielema's top priority since the end of the season, a year in which he brought stability to an Arkansas program hit hard by the Bobby Petrino scandal and firing and a scuffling season that followed under interim coach John L. Smith.

The Razorbacks this year looked much more like the team that went 4-8 last season under Smith rather than the one that was a combined 21-5 over Petrino's last two seasons in 2010-11.

Bielema said the change in systems, from a pass-centric philosophy under Petrino and Smith to a more physical style of play, led to many of this season's issues. Arkansas was 12th in the SEC in both scoring offense (20.7 points per game) and scoring defense (30.8), and it was last in passing offense with an average of just 148.5 yards per game through the air.



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