For the first time in a while, someone said something more controversial than Bret Bielema. Unfortunately, the University of Arkansas coach didn’t take advantage of it. He made it worse. Instead of taking the high road and making Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury look like the hothead, Bielema fired back at his weekly presser Monday. And the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette took full advantage of a slow sports-news day to blow up the feud with a huge front-page spread and story. The whole thing started when Bielema spoke at the Texas High School Coaches Association in July. According to the story’s timeline, “Bielema apparently rankles some coaches in Texas by saying his style of play should be equipped to handle Spread offenses without a fullback who throw the ball a lot.”
Sounds pretty benign and no mention of Texas Tech. Since Bielema took the job, he’s had to repeatedly comment on his more physical ball-control style compared to the up-tempo Spread and finesse of many of the other SEC programs. However, Kingsbury obviously took exception, and after his team beat Arkansas 35-24 on Sept. 19, he wasted no time bashing Bielema in the postgame presser. According to the Democrat-Gazette, Kingsbury “referenced what he claimed were remarks made by Bielema at a clinic in Texas about ‘kicking the asses’ of teams that pass the ball 70 times per game before adding, ‘He just got his ass kicked twice in a row and probably next week by A&M, as well, so that did feel good.”
The ball was then in Bielema’s court and instead of letting it go, he smacked it back. “You know, as a coach who’s been in it for 10 years, I know better than to worry about somebody that’s been around for a couple that’s .500, so we’ll just go forward,” Bielema said at his Monday presser.
And Bielema added this jab: “So he threw Toledo into the category, too. It was just kind of … a perfect storm. I realize we haven’t won in two weeks, and it’s an opportunity to jump on and have some fun with it. If that was an ass kicking, I’d love to see what last year was. But obviously, it’s all about what have you done for me lately. I move on from it. … I’m happy he got to vent, and hopefully he feels a lot better.”
And an explanation about the convention comments: “I don’t know if he read all my notes, but come on, brother, don’t be so sensitive. We’re talking about football. We’re not talking about you in particular and what you believe in.”
All Bielema needed to say was, “I didn’t mean anything by the comments this summer. I am moving on to Texas A&M.” It’s not a front-page story then, and it’s forgotten. Instead, it’s in the national headlines another day, and his reputation grows.
The perception of Bielema seems to be that he is a pompous jerk that talks too much. He has been raked over coals for comments he made about Ohio State’s weak schedule before the Hogs lost to mid-major Toledo. In all fairness, Bielema was asked about the Buckeyes’ schedule. However, knowing he has this reputation, he could have gone a long way to polishing his image by not counter-punching Kingsbury. But Bielema couldn’t resist getting in the last word. I can understand wanting to clarify, but he could have done that in one or two sentences and be finished.
Kingsbury was out of line. He is definitely grasping for straws when he says his dad was a Texas high school coach and claiming to be offended by the clinic comments. It appears Bielema was brought in to talk about and defend his style of play and how it compares to the norm. He didn’t insult coaches who run the hurry-up. Anyway, Kingsbury was the one who looked arrogant and ignorant bad-mouthing Bielema.
It’s also telling that Kingsbury wouldn’t comment on the issue further on Monday during the Big 12 teleconference.
“I really just left it at that,” Kingsbury said. “I’m not a big reader of the Internet or anything of that nature. I’ve moved on from that. We’ve got a big game this week against TCU, so I really don’t want to revisit it.”
He also wouldn’t comment on what he thought the score of the Razorbacks-Aggies game would be. “No, I’m not going to touch that,” he said.
So in the heat of the battle, Kingsbury said some things he shouldn’t, and then wouldn’t back them up when given a chance later. That speaks volumes and speaks louder than whatever cheap shots Bielema could send back. It was a perfect chance to take the high road. A road less traveled for Bielema.