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Coaches Can’t Cut Their Teeth At Auburn Anymore

gfx-they-said-it4Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is riding high these days.  He hired Gene Chizik who in turn brought in Cam Newton who in turn led Auburn to a BCS championship.  After firing Chizik he hired his former offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, who immediately led AU back to the BCS title game last season.  And after firing Tony Barbee two weeks ago, he immediately coughed up a hefty sum for new basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

From a fan’s point of view that’s exactly what an athletic director should do — bring in coaches who win and be willing to pay for them.

This week, Jacobs made it clear he’s done trying to find bargains:


“The university is committed to winning and the administrators have given me the latitude to go out and do what we need to from a financial resource.  This is no longer a place you come in and cut your teeth.  You come in with proven track records, particularly in our major sports, and proven success…

People know we’re committed to winning championships because of what’s happened to football the last few years and these guys sit and talk to me about, ‘Are you as committed to do this in basketball as you are in football?’  Absolutely, yeah, and I’ve demonstrated it.  And we’re going to continue to demonstrate it because we’re going to win championships.  That’s what I’m committed to.”


Sounds good, but there are two things to keep in mind.  First, Jacobs has just backed himself into a corner if he has to hire another football or basketball coach down the road.  There will be no up-and-comers, only guys with “proven track records” and “proven success.”

Second, there’s another AD in the SEC who’s made splashy hires that were initially met with thunderous applause from his school’s fanbase — Jeff Long of Arkansas.  But Bobby Petrino blew himself up and took the UA football program with him.  Bret Bielema has gone from a “wow” hire to an “ow” hire in just over a year.  And his big-money swoop for Missouri’s Mike Anderson has resulted in one NIT berth in three years.

The lesson?  Just because you hire someone with a proven track record, it doesn’t guarantee success.  But for Jacobs, fresh off an SEC title in football and the splashy hire of a new hoops coach, it’s easy to understand his big smile and big talk.

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Bret Bielema Apologizes For “Unintentionally Hurtful” Comments

SorryThat didn’t take long.  One day after referencing the death of a California football player while  voicing support for a proposed NCAA rule change that would try to slow down up-tempo offense, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema apologized for “unintentionally hurtful” comments.

Bielema had reference Cal football player Ted Agu, who died in a team training run earlier this month, when responding to a question about a proposal that would  prohibit offenses from snapping the ball until 10 seconds have run off the 40-second play clock.

Those comments came Thursday night.  By Friday, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour called the remarks “beyond inappropriate” and took aim at the Arkansas coach in a series of tweets.





Not long after, Bielema issued an apology.  a statement:


“It was brought to my attention that remarks I made yesterday evening while discussing a proposed rule change were unintentionally hurtful. I am very passionate, as we all are, about the serious nature of protecting the well-being of student-athletes. Earlier today I was interviewed by Andy Staples to explain my stance on the proposed rule. In my press conference last night, I referenced information about the tragic loss of a life of a student-athlete. My comments were intended to bring awareness to player safety and instead they have caused unintended hurt. As a head coach who works with young individuals every day, the passing of Ted Agu is a reminder to us all how short and precious life is.

“I would like to extend my deepest condolences and sympathy to the Agu family, Coach Sonny Dykes and to the University of California family.”


In an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples earlier on Friday, Bielema attempted to put the Agu comments in context by saying,  ”We all have sickle cell players. To me, it’s the most scary individual thing we face. There are no signs. There are no indicators. ”

Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban have been two of the coaches most critical of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses.

It’s not an opinion shared across the conference.  South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has called it the “Saban Rule” and says he hope it doesn’t pass. Said Georgia coach Mark Richt this week: ”I feel like if you can train offensive players to play five or six plays in a row, you can train defensive players to play that many plays in a row, too.” Auburn’s Gus Malzahn  is skeptical of claims linking pace of play to safety issues.  ”There’s absolutely zero evidence, documented evidence, that (it) is hazardous on the pace of play, only opinions.”

The vote on the proposal is scheduled for March 6.

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Bielema On Up-Tempo Offenses: “I’m Not Talking About Injuries, I’m Talking About Death”

gfx-they-said-it4Other than perhaps Nick Saban, no SEC coach has been as outspoken and critical on the topic of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses than Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.

Addressing the media at an Arkansas high school on Thursday, Bielema made his first public comments about a proposed rule change that would prohibit offenses from snapping the ball until 10 seconds have run off the 40-second play clock.


“I’m not talking about injuries, I’m talking about death. That concerns me. I understand the resistance, I understand the push-back. It’s not a philosophy with me, it’s a matter of safety, life and death. This is a philosophy I’ve had since the day I started in this business.” 


Bielema brought up the recent death of California University football player Ted Agu during a training run.  Like Agu, Bielema says there are a half-dozen players on the Arkansas roster who’ve tested positive for the sickle cell trait.


If one of those players is on the field for me, I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game, and he raises his hand to come out of the game and I can’t do it, what am I supposed to do? If we get to the point where we are flopping around on the ground like somebody did against us this year, then that is what you are going to force people to do.

“But if a kid wants to come out of the game because he can’t go any further, they have given us no other choice, so that is the whole agenda.”


Bielema is optimistic the new rule will be implemented.


In all of the years I have been there, anything that has ever been player-safety driven, in my history there, has never been stopped.”


The playing rules oversight panel will vote on March 6. Bielema and Saban’s stance place them in opposition to other SEC coaches like Auburn’s Gus Malzhan who is critical of the proposal.  ”There’s absolutely zero evidence, documented evidence, that (it) is hazardous on the pace of play, only opinions,” Malzahn said this week.

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Arkansas Misses Out On Thomas

PLAYER UPDATETop 100 defensive end Solomon Thomas has elected to play his college football at Stanford rather than Arkansas or UCLA, who were believed to be his runners-up.  Thomas would have been a nice Texas grab for Bret Bielema, but no go on this one.

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Arkansas’ Bielema Reached Out To MSU’s Mullen After Tragic Player Death

writing-centerIt was a little more than three years ago when Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell passed away from brain cancer.  The 20-year-old declined quickly after being diagnosed with the disease in September.  At the time, MSU’s Dan Mullen had this to say:


“Nick was a son and he was a brother to everyone in this football family.  I know he’s looking down on us right now and I’m sure he’s already been picked for a team up in heaven to play football again — the game that he loved.”


Mullen’s team lost its next two games to Alabama and Arkansas (by seven), but rebounded to beat Ole Miss and then routed Michigan in the Gator Bowl.

Mullen — whose team faces Arkansas on Saturday — remembers that new Razorback coach Bret Bielema reached out to him after Bell’s death.  At the time, Bielema was at Wisconsin and the two men had never met.


“You are surprised because you get a lot of calls and you have things that go on.  You get a call from Nick (Saban) and Les (Miles), but they’re in the conference wishing you the best.  To take time out and write a full letter out and send another thing with it, was a really neat deal… He probably doesn’t remember writing the letter but it did have an impact on me and that just shows the character he has as a coach and how all of us try to live our lives.”


Bielema does remember the letter he wrote.  Asked about it this week he said:


“I think as a coach you just always look for people that you admire the way they do things.  I remember watching (the Bell story on Television) and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s pretty impressive,’ and I just reached out to him.”


It’s good to hear these kinds of stories about SEC coaches, no?

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Bret Bielema On Mississippi State: “Should Be An Interesting Game”

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema previews Mississippi State ahead of Saturday’s game in Little Rock.

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Arkansas’ Bielema Not Thrilled With Oxford’s Lack Of Hotels

no-vacancy-neon-signOne thing we’ve learned about new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema this year — he’s not afraid to speak his mind.  During yesterday’s SEC teleconference he let the world know what he thinks of the hotel situation in Oxford, Mississippi, where his team will play on Saturday:


“We’re staying in Memphis, got about an hour, hour and 10-minute drive.  When you know that in on the front end of an early morning kickoff, it leads to a really early morning.  This is our third one so our kids are a little more well-versed, but that’s probably the only thing that jumps out to you with the location of some of these universities and the towns around them.

It’s just not real convenient for the visiting tream to have a hotel that’s within a reasonable driving distance.  That’s a challenge, as is the early game, but it’s not something we can’t overcome.”


We’ve made the case in the past that the over-the-top fan passion in the Southeastern Conference is fueled in large part by the fact that most of the league’s schools are located in — no offense — one-horse towns.  With the exception of Vanderbilt in Nashville, the other 13 SEC cities and towns live and die with the local college team.

Bielema comes from the Big Ten.  Played at Iowa.  Coached at Wisconsin.  And several Big Ten schools are located in large cities — Minneapolis, Ann Arbor (a half-hour drive from Detroit), Chicago, and Columbus.  Even the smaller cities in the Big Ten have, for the most part, larger populations than Oxford (20,000ish), Starkville (25,000ish), and Auburn (55,oooish).

Bielema’s comment simply reinforces the idea that Arkansas really did hire an outsider as its new coach.  How long it will take Bielema to adjust to his new Southern home is anyone’s guess.

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USA Today’s Coaching Salary Database Not Quite What It Seems

bag of moneyBefore you get your dander up over the release of USA Today’s annual football coaching salaries database, know that the numbers aren’t necessarily what they seem to be.

According to the report, ten SEC coaches rank among the 25 highest paid coaches in the country:


1.  Nick Saban, Alabama — $5.3 million

3.  Bret Bielema, Arkansas — $5.1 million

4.  Butch Jones, Tennessee — $4.8 million

7.  Les Miles, LSU — $4.3 million

12.  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina – $3.3 million

13.  Mark Richt, Georgia — $3.2 million

17.  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M — $3.1 million

20.  Gary Pinkel, Missouri — $2.8 million

22.  Will Muschamp, Florida — $2.7 million

23.  Dan Mullen, Mississippi State — $2.7 million

32.  Gus Malzahn, Auburn — $2.4 million

49.  Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss — $2.0 million

40.  Mark Stoops, Kentucky — $2.0 million

54.  James Franklin, Vanderbilt — $1.8 million


We know what you’re thinking: Bret Bielema and Butch Jones make about $5 million… ahead of Les Miles?

No.  They don’t.

In Jones’ case, USA Today has factored in the buyout that Tennessee paid to Cincinnati after landing Jones.  Jones actually makes about $3.4 million (including a first-year $500,000 signing bonus).  Toss in the $1.4 million buyout that UT paid the Bearcats and there’s your $4.8 million.

Bielema’s package at Arkansas is set to pay him $3.2 million.  USA Today also added in his buyout from Wisconsin stating: “The gross amount that athletics department said was required to produce an after-tax payment of $1 million; the gross amount remains subject to change, based on the completion of a review of Bielema’s final tax situation.”  So $1.9 plus $3.2, carry the one, and that’s $5.1.

Vanderbilt’s James Franklin is also listed at the bottom of the SEC ladder at $1.8 million.  It’s been reported numerous times that Franklin is making about $3 million.  Vandy’s private school status protects them from having to release exact contract details.

Two quick points:


1.  As we’ve stated in the past, it’s near impossible to make apples to apples comparisons when it comes to schools’ budgets and coaches’ salaries.

2.  It’s a bit misleading to list money paid to another school as a buyout as part of a coach’s “salary.”  For example, if Tennessee’s Jones is going to be credited with anything the school is paying out in connection with its head coaching job, he should also be saddled with Derek Dooley’s buyout.  But he’s not getting that money any more than he’s getting the money UT paid to Cincinnati.  Ditto Bielema at Arkansas.


Expect a flurry of press releases from SEC schools stating that USA Today’s database doesn’t accurately reflect what their coaches are actually being paid.

It’s a nice effort by USA Today.  It’s also an impossible one.

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Arkansas’ Long Didn’t Want The Texas Job, But He Will Take More Money

jeff-longKudos to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long for turning one school’s reported interest in him into a tangible bump in salary.  The Dallas Morning News reported last weekend that the Razorback AD was on the three-man short list of AD candidates at Texas.  Long put out a press release stating: “I do not comment on the searches of other universities or on unsubstantiated rumors… Further, I am not seeking a position or engaged in the search process of another university.”

Here’s why: Arkansas boosted Long’s salary to $1.1 million per year, gave him a $100,000 bonus for sticking around, and upped his buyout to $1.3 million through June of 2015.

The Associated Press got hold of Long’s amended contract — freshly cut last Friday — via an open records request.  They found that UA officials conceded in the pact that they were aware that “another institution of higher education with significant resources” had come a’calling.  Also, the new monetary benefits to Long were “in exchange for your agreement to remover yourself from consideration for another position and to retain you at the University of Arkansas.”

It was a smart move by the Razorbacks.  Long has become one of the most respected ADs in the nation by always landing the coaches he desires (Mike Anderson in hoops, Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema in football), by proving to be an excellent fundraiser, and by taking the high ground in the Petrino situation (which was not an easy move to make).

As for those Arkansas fans who won’t like Long angling for a raise, put yourself in his shoes.  If the biggest company in your field wanted to talk to you, wouldn’t you consider moving?  And if your current employer was willing to up your pay in order to keep you, wouldn’t you happily take the cash?

This was a win-win for all involved.  Long’s staying in Fayetteville and he’s making more money.  Arkansas maintains stability at the top of its athletic department by holding on to a proven leader.

Good times.

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SEC Conference Call: Bret Bielema Talks Auburn

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema talks Auburn – Week 10 SEC Coaches Conference Call.

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