HOOVER, Ala. — He’s younger, he hails from a different part of the country, and he was a defensive lineman in college rather than a quarterback. But Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema shows all signs of becoming the heir apparent to Steve Spurrier at SEC Media Days.
That was certainly the case Wednesday, when Bielema injected some needed life into a Media Days mired in coach-speak. He recalled being on a train bound for Paris when he found out Michigan had pulled out of an upcoming game. He called satellite camps “a colossal pain in the back end.” He talked about being in the wedding of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who played for him at Wisconsin.
“Well, I wasn’t in the wedding,” he corrected. “I was the guy in the eighth row on the outside seat.”
He used the term “sexy” four of five times, twice in relation to the scrubbed game against the Wolverines. “I know Michigan-Notre Dame sounds sexy to everyone,” Bielema said, “but I think Michigan-Arkansas sounds sexy.” It wasn’t Spurrier, whose quip-filled address was almost always the best one of the week, but it was still welcome given how these Media Days have become weighed down by one lifeless session after another.
Listen, we’re not asking these guys to be comedians. But three days in, it’s become painfully evident that Spurrier possessed more personality than just about everyone else put together. Before Bielema arrived, the most notable address this week had been that of Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen — because of how he tap-danced around questions about the admission of freshman Jeffery Simmons, admitted even though he was videotaped beating a woman during a fight.
After all that, Bielema provided welcome relief. “I was in Europe with my wife. We were on a train headed to Paris. It’s ironic for me to say that in every word,” he said. “My wife said, ‘Hey, there’s something on the Internet about a Big Ten team canceling with an SEC team.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ She said, ‘Really? Your picture’s right here.’ She’s real quick.”
Later, when asked about his offense: “At Arkansas, we’re not built very sexy. We’re just kind of a work in progress. We need a lot of time in the bathroom to get ready and come out and look great. But when we do, we’ll stop time. And at some point we’ll get to where we want to be. And when we get there, it just means a little bit more.”
And later, when asked about his midfield exchange with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin after an overtime loss to the Aggies last season: “When we got done with the game and we’re walking across to shake hands, he said, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ I said, ‘Don’t say anything, I might punch you.’”
It all came on the heels of the first head coach to speak Wednesday, Alabama’s Nick Saban, who took questions in the main room for about 20 minutes, not nearly enough time to accommodate the hundred or so reporters who raised hands. He was asked about flooding in his native West Virginia, about the evolution of his offense, about Lane Kiffin, about his three former assistants now coaching in the SEC East.
But he wasn’t asked — not in the main room, at least — about the status of Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones, players arrested in May on gun and marijuana charges, but not prosecuted by officials in Ouachita Parish, La., where the arrests took place. According to a post on the website Awful Announcing, the absence of that question led SEC Network host Dari Nowkhah to comment off camera — but with his mic still hot — that Saban owned the media.
Listen, if you’re SEC Network, and you have coaches brought to your set and have the time and opportunity to ask anything you want, such an omission would surely be glaring. But the main room at Media Days, where hundreds of writers covering different schools and pursuing different story angles are jockeying to be called upon, is a different animal. Particularly in the case of Saban, who with his five national championships lends a degree of gravity to any piece, and is more in demand than anyone else here this week.
Bottom line: It’s hard to get called upon with Saban in the room. Yours truly struck out twice trying to ask a Saban question about South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, both in the main room and in the internet/radio room, where coaches conduct a shorter interview session that’s not televised by SEC Network.
It was in that room where Saban was asked about Robinson and Jones. “They were not charged with anything. I think that the facts that we have are a little different than sort of were advertised. Both players have done a significant amount to change their behavior internally, whether it was police ride-arounds or whether it was community service or juvenile groups that need positive role models and influence to make better choices and decisions,” he said.
“We view this as, if these guys do this to change their behavior and help these other people, and that is ongoing, if they continue to do that, that will be how this matter is handled internally.”
Saban was also asked about gun use. “I think when people make poor choices when they use these things that you’re talking about, it’s because they’re afraid. They don’t have a relationship, they don’t have an understanding, they don’t have a feeling, whether it’s a policeman or some young person or a player,” he said.
“This person doesn’t know how that person feels, that person doesn’t know how this person feels. There’s always a little fear. When you have that kind of fear, you have people making poor choices.”
Neither of those answers appeared on SEC Network, which uses the coach question-and-answer sessions in the main room as daytime programming. Coaches and players make various media stops over the course of the day, and reporters often follow them from room to room, trying to be strategic about where they ask questions given the time limitations.
Bottom line: Just because a question wasn’t on TV doesn’t mean it wasn’t asked at all. Saban’s last stop of the day was SEC Network, which got to ask him anything it wanted, and the result was a snit between the Alabama coach and Paul Finebaum. In contrast, Bielema provided a needed bit of levity in a week that misses the Head Ball Coach more and more.