Bret Bielema learned some valuable lessons growing up on a hog farm in rural Illinois. As he looks to build the University of Arkansas football program he is reminded about a building project that went awry on that farm when he was 10.
The coach told a packed house at the Little Rock Touchdown Club Tuesday about how he and his older brother took shortcuts building a large fence for around 200 hogs. Bielema’s father showed the boys how place the posts and attach them. However, after a period of time the brothers realized they could use less posts and the fence looked the same. Bielema said on a Friday night they corralled 200 hogs into the pen. The next morning, though, the hogs had knocked the fence down and were running loose.
Bielema says his father was furious, and he and his brother had to retrieve the hogs and rebuild the fence.
“When you don’t build something right, you have to do a lot more work to do it again the second time to get it right,” he told the crowd.
The former Wisconsin coach is taking the same approach with his Hogs football program, as he tries to build on a 3-9 debut season and erase an eight-game SEC losing streak.
“As a head coach, it’s not coach speak or a just an answer — it’s the way I live. If we get better everyday, I know where we are going,” Bielema told a group of media members before addressing the Touchdown Club. “You can’t skip a step to get to where you want to be. If you are building a home, and you skip a week and go to the fifth week worth of plans, something is gong to fall down, something is going to cave in. It’s going to look good for a little bit, but it is eventually going to go to hell in a hand basket.
“The thing I love about building something on a daily basis is that it gets you to where we want to be. As a head coach, I need to not just look six months from now but a couple of years down the road to what we need to do. I know where we are going, and I know we are on a path to success on a daily basis to get to where we want to be. I see glimpses and big examples all of the time. Because of the way today’s world works, things are based on wins and losses. As a coach, you can’t operate like that on a daily basis. I look at the big picture, and that is how I stay focused.”
Bielema knows fans and media measure progress in wins and losses, but he preached patience to fans in attendance after last year laying out what his expectations were for the program. During his second speech, he stressed the process.
“To accommodate the fans, you’d like to say after the first game, they will have a better understanding of who we are and what we can be this year,” Bielema said in the media session. “But every game is uniquely different. We won’t know until after that game.”
It’s tough for Hog fans to endure a rebuilding process, though, when eight of the SEC schools are ranked in the preseason AP Top 25.
“I just go back to my first year [at Wisconsin], we were ranked No. 76 to start the season and finished 12-1 and were ranked No. 5,” Bielema told reporters. “I do know that rankings truly do not matter. I think that is a great thing for me. As a player and a fan, I know they don’t necessarily see things the way the head coach does. I know where we are at as far as our team. I’m excited to see how we match up against Auburn.”
When pressed by a reporter on where Arkansas falls in the pecking order, Bielema gave this repsponse.
“I don’t think we are No. 76, and I don’t think we are No. 1. I think we are somewhere in between,” he said. “To be quite honest, until we have another recruiting class to fill in our depth chart … I think that is very critical. We are paper-thin at some areas. That always has to be a thought in the back of our minds as coaches of how we handle practices and strategies in games.”
So, Bielema and his staff are worrying less about time and making sure the process is correct. A lesson he learned while chasing pigs on the family farm.
“What we are building is something that is going to last,” he said in the press conference. “I’ve learned since I was little until now that if you build things the right way you wont have to come back and rebuild it later. That’s true if you are building a house, a fence or a program. Sometimes it may not happen as fast you would like and you don’t always build a mansion, but it is definitely going to be a functional living space.”