FT. SMITH — Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema isn’t going to stop being himself.
That was good news for the crowd gathered at the Fort Smith Razorback Club’s annual Chism Reed Award banquet on Tuesday. Bielema delivered a keynote address at the Fort Smith Convention Center that had equal parts of football insight, a rallying cry for the fans and a stand-up comedy routine.
In late March, a minor kerfuffle sprang up after Bielema joked, “You can take Saban’s record when he was at Michigan State and when he was a coach in the Big Ten and put it against mine, and he can’t compare.”
Before he took to the dais, Bielema told the media that he didn’t plan on toning things down because of it.
“I haven’t really changed who I am,” Bielema said. “And realize that when you’re talking, I realized this as a head coach, everywhere I am, you’re exposed to 24/7 scrutiny. No matter what you say, no matter what you do, no matter who you’re around. It’s just something that you have to expect as head coach.”
Bielema was also asked about it during the question-and-answer session Tuesday at the Fort Smith Convention Center. He made clear his respect for Saban.
“I think one of the things that was really … that made a statement to me is when I took over as head coach at Arkansas one of the first messages on my desk was from coach Saban,” Bielema said. “He reached out to me and welcomed me to the conference and I think that speaks volumes about what he is and what he could be. We’ll continue to strive to get to that level and hopefully surpass it at some point in the near future.”
Fort Smith Razorback Club officials estimated 750 people attended the event, the largest such meeting in the 59-year history of the organization. Bielema said he’s been impressed by the passion Arkansas fans have for the Razorbacks as he’s been making the banquet rounds this spring. He joked it has also been apparent while he’s been driving around Fayetteville.
“It’s one thing to talk at a stop sign or stop light,” Bielema said. “It’s another to do it driving down the road. People will be yelling ‘Hey coach’ going 35 mph, swerving all over the road. This is not safe.”
Speaking of driving, Bielema assured the crowd he didn’t own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle — one of several references to the controversial end of Bobby Petrino’s tenure at Arkansas that all drew laughs from the crowd.
While Bielema talked about the future of the Arkansas football team, the club also honored the past on Tuesday.
Greenwood’s Tyler Wilson received the Chism Reed Award. It has been awarded annually to the senior Arkansas athlete who shows “the Razorback spirit in athletics, academics and citizenship” since 1964.
“Hearing the word ‘former’ is tough, am I really this grown up?” Wilson said of being the “former Arkansas quarterback.” “Everybody talks about how quickly your career goes and it does. But I’m excited to give back to the University of Arkansas by doing events like this and this one is special because I know so many people in the room (Tuesday).”
The club also presented a lifetime achievement award to athletics director emeritus Frank Broyles. He praised the club and the Fort Smith region for its long-standing support of Arkansas athletics.