If Auburn’s first-year coach could take his team from worst to somewhere near first among the nation’s top turn-around teams, why can’t Arkansas’ coach do it?
Why can’t the coach that took Wisconsin to Rose Bowls make the quick turnaround when Gus Malzahn has in his first year as a Bowl Championship Series-conference head coach?
The answer, Bielema hinted after No. 8 Auburn’s 35-17 rout of Arkansas, is that he inherited a program in a much different place.
“It was a big recruiting weekend for us,” Bielema said after Saturday’s game as his team dropped to 3-6. “So, hopefully, some of these kids see the opportunity to come in here and help us to get where we need to be.”
After watching Auburn struggle so through a 3-9 meltdown in 2012, including an 0-8 SEC record, it’s strange to think that Malzahn inherited a program in better shape. Then again, Auburn already had the players to fit Malzahn’s hurry-up offensive system.
Auburn, now 8-1, struggled in 2012 largely because former head coach Gene Chizik tried to bring Bielema ball to a Malzhan team.
Bielema is trying to bring his physical, conventional running offense to a team that passed Bobby Petrino and interim head coach John L. Smith, who presided over the 2012 Razorbacks after Petrino was fired for off-field issues.
Bielema also inherited a program that was never great on defense under Petrino and badly needs to rebuild that side of the ball through recruiting. Defense was the biggest reason why the Razorbacks went from No. 3 in the country late in 2011 to a 4-8 team in 2012, and a similar fall would have happened with Petrino on the sideline.
So Bielema used his postgame remarks Saturday to plead for patience.
“I know it’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s very frustrating for me as a head coach, as an assistant, as a player, as a senior, as a parent, as an alumni, as a fan, as an administrator. It get it. I understand it.
“It’s not like I haven’t been here before. I know where we need to be. We’re not there yet.”
What will it take?
“We’re learning how to run the ball better, learning how to do certain things in the passing game,” Bielema said. “It’s not what everybody wants to hear. It’s baby steps, and I’d much rather be sprinting, but we’re walking.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.