MANHATTAN, Kan. — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long came to Bret Bielema’s defense Saturday, issuing a stern statement referring to Ohio State president Gordon Gee’s remarks about the football coach as “slanderous and unfounded.”
The statement came a day after a records request made by SI.com uncovered audio of controversial comments Gee made during a meeting of Ohio State’s Athletic Council on Dec. 5. Gee made several eye-opening remarks at the Southeastern Conference, Notre Dame and Louisville during his speech.
He also took a jab at Bielema, saying Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez believed the former Badgers coach was a “thug” who was not liked.
“Someone was saying to me, well, you know, Bret Bielema leaving … that was a blessing for Wisconsin and they knew it,” Gee said, according to the documents obtained by SI.com. “Because he was under tremendous pressure. They didn’t like him. Barry Alvarez thought he was a thug. And he left just ahead of the sheriff.”
Long publicly objected to Gee’s comments about Bielema a day later.
“As a member of the higher education community, a director of athletics and a native of Ohio, I am deeply troubled by the unfounded and slanderous remarks the President of the state’s flagship institution, Dr. E. Gordon Gee, made about Coach Bret Bielema,” Long said in a statement released Saturday afternoon. “While I recognize Dr. Gee has issued an apology stating regret for his comments, it does not erase the unwarranted attack on Bret’s character.”
Long hired Bielema on Dec. 4, which came the day before Gee’s remarks to Ohio State’s Athletic Council. Long pointed out numerous facts regarding Bielema’s academic and character achievements during his run as Wisconsin’s coach and referred to his accomplishments at Arkansas since last December.
“It is widely known Coach Bielema placed an emphasis on academics, character development and community outreach while serving at the University of Wisconsin,” Long said. “His 2010 and 2011 football teams won the Wisconsin Athletic Department’s community service and Champs Life Skills awards.
“Bret also had 131 academic all-conference selections in seven seasons and his team’s APR figures climbed each year with a most recent multiyear rate of 975 and a final single year rate of 1000. In his time here, Bret has demonstrated the qualities we sought when we brought him to the University of Arkansas and has supported our football student-athletes as reflected in one of our highest spring GPAs.”
Alvarez also responded to Gee’s comments Friday, saying they were inaccurate.
Alvarez publicly voiced his displeasure with the way Bielema handled his departure last December. But Alvarez said he never “said that about Bret, nor had those feelings towards him” in reference to Gee’s “thug” comments.
“I accepted Gordon’s apology and consider the matter closed,” Alvarez said.
Bielema confirmed Gee issued an apology to him as well Friday, using social media to reveal the exact wording of the Ohio State president’s email.
Bielema posted the apology on his Twitter account and said he considered it “a start.” Bielema also said he planned to take a phone call from Gee soon.
“I write to apologize for my comments about you, as well as remarks I made that were entirely unfounded and speculative about your relationship with Barry Alvarez and the University of Wisconsin,” Gee said, according to the email to Bielema. “My comments were unfair, inaccurate, and wholly wrongheaded.
“To be sure, you have a remarkable record of accomplishment with student-athletes both on the field and in the classroom. I am deeply sorry for my comments and for any and all pain they have caused.”