LITTLE ROCK — Until mid-afternoon Tuesday, I couldn’t spell Bielema.
I was stuck on the Mike Gundy treadmill while trying to identify Jeff Long’s Plan B just in case.
A heads-up that the next hire could be both a name coach and a surprise prompted a quick rundown of the top 25 or 30 possibilities, most with "no way" attached. That exercise was the first time in eight months that I had considered Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema, one of four who met the criteria.
Until somebody convinces me otherwise, I will believe that Bielema’s name came to Long’s attention in recent days. Multiple sources reported that Bielema met with Long on Monday night in New York, site of the National Football Foundation dinner and gathering.
Here’s what I know about Arkansas’ new coach:
—He’s only 42, but he’s been Wisconsin’s head coach for seven years. His record is 68-24, including three straight 10-win seasons, and the Badgers are on their way to their third straight Rose Bowl.
—He has won in Madison in a conference dominated by Michigan and Ohio State for years and he has a reputation for relying on the running game.
—He was a defensive coordinator for two years before becoming head coach.
Proven winner, pro-style offense, defensive background.
Sign me up.
Yes, the Badgers were 8-5 this year, but three of those losses were in overtime and they reached the Big Ten championship game despite starting over at quarterback and losing three offensive linemen who went to the NFL. Those who perceive Wisconsin to be run-run-run should remember that Russell Wilson completed almost 73 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns during his only year as the Wisconsin quarterback. Yes, that is the same Russell Wilson who starts at quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks.
So, let’s recap briefly. A guy who coaches in the Midwest packs up his pro-style offense and emphasis on defense and moves to the Southeastern Conference. Isn’t that the background of Alabama’s Nick Saban and LSU’s Les Miles?
From there, the obvious question is whether Bielema can recruit athletes of the caliber that trot onto the field for the Crimson Tide and the Tigers and the other powerhouses in the Southeastern Conference. For sure, he will call on North Little Rock running back Altee Tenpenny, who has committed to Alabama, and ask if he has ever heard of a Wisconsin running back named Montee Ball.
Caught off guard like everybody else, some media critiquing the hiring of Bielema have brought up his quote about the SEC. Some omitted the context. Bielema hinted that Ohio State’s Urban Meyer used illegal recruiting tactics when he said, "I can tell you this. We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC — in any way, shape, or form."
He said he called the former Florida coach and that the practice stopped.
Bielema is reportedly in line for a raise from $2.64 million to $3.2 million per year and there has been some talk that four years will be guaranteed, something that might be requested by a coach aware that it’s going to take a couple of years to recruit needed talent.
The news from Fayetteville overshadowed the word that Gus Malzahn had left Arkansas State University after one year to become head coach at Auburn. Malzahn, who led the Red Wolves to a Sun Belt Conference championship, was the offensive coordinator when Auburn won the national championship in 2010 and his name came up shortly after Gene Chizik was fired, so the announcement was not a complete surprise.
The one thing that I know about the resolution of the job opening at Arkansas is that two media members who live in the 479 area code will celebrate the end of the calls three and four times a day from an old sportswriter in Little Rock.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.