Arkansas is firing head football coach Bret Bielema, seconds after a 48-45 loss to Missouri that dropped him to 4-8 in 2017.
A press release announcing Bielema's firing was given to the media while we were waiting for his postgame press conference. He is still coming in to speak to the media.— Trent Shadid (@Shadid13) November 24, 2017
Arkansas’ radio broadcast isn’t even off the air yet and Bert’s gone.— College And Magnolia (@CollegeAndMag) November 24, 2017
Bielema: "I was informed coming off the field I would no longer be the coach at Arkansas."— Brandon Zimmerman (@BZSEC) November 24, 2017
Am told Arkansas fired Bret Bielema right after the game because his players were scattering and leaving town for the holiday weekend. And did it that way because they did not want them to hear on social media or via group text.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 25, 2017
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is interested in returning home to the position, though his status might depend on this week’s Iron Bowl. If he were to leave Auburn, he’d also have a hand in picking Arkansas’ new AD, sources have told SB Nation.
Why’s he out?
It’s not complicated. Bielema lost way too many games and never approached contention in the SEC West. His 2015 and 2016 teams made early appearances in the AP Top 25, with the latter team even hanging around for a few weeks. But both collapsed down the stretch, which was a regular thing for Bielema’s Razorbacks.
Bielema stepped into a difficult job in 2013, taking over a team that had gone 4-8 the year prior under John L. Smith (though was just two years removed from winning 21 games across 2010 and ‘11.) Bielema went 3-9 in his first year in Fayetteville.
He recovered enough to post a mix of 7-5 and 6-6 seasons for the three years after that, but he still lost a lot of SEC games and wasn’t competitive in the West race. He started 2017 2-5, and his firing in his fifth year on the job felt predestined by then.
Was this the right move?
Yeah. Coaches get a year or two (and sometimes three!) to claim things will get better and sound believable. But Bielema had five years at Arkansas and never came close to breaking through. What would’ve happened in a sixth?
This, from Hogs blog Arkansas Fight after one October loss, feels apt:
It is time for Bret Bielema to go.
Does anyone really, truly want to discuss the football game from last night? I don’t. Can’t. Won’t. What is there left to say? What sentence can be written that doesn’t include the word “still”? Arkansas still cannot block. Still cannot catch. Still cannot defend. Still cannot avoid special teams snafus. Arkansas is still bad. Arkansas is still getting worse. Arkansas still has five games to further hone its skill of losing in the most demoralizing manner possible, and consequently, Arkansas fans still have five games of misery to endure.
Arkansas’ next two games were fun: A big comeback at Ole Miss, and a big comeback at home to beat 1-7 Sun Belt team and first-year FBS member Coastal Carolina.
But the writing here was on the wall. Fans had been hostile toward Bielema for a while. In 2016, a university professor was arrested after cussing the coach out following a loss. In 2017, digs ranged from the obvious (his poor results) to the “Wow, they really hate this guy” (his wearing a windbreaker with his initials on it).
One dying grandfather wanted him fired before his passing:
And Bielema’s Hogs got stunted on by the head coach of Arkansas State:
Where was Bielema before Arkansas?
Wisconsin, where he won lots of games and took the Badgers to two Rose Bowls and top-10 finishes. They lost both Rose Bowls, but Bielema established himself in Madison as one of the country’s upper-echelon head coaches. His decision to leave the Badgers for Fayetteville led to a long silence between Bielema and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez.
It wasn’t all bad, right?
It was pretty bad in general, but there were a few good moments. Bielema has always been a good quote, at turns describing his team as “sexy” and specific moments on the field as “borderline erotic.” His 2015 team went 8-5, which was at least pretty decent.
There were two bowl wins sprinkled into Bielema’s tenure, the 2014 Texas and the 2015 Liberty. But the Hogs’ 2016 bowl, the Belk, featured them turning a 24-point lead into an 11-point loss, capping off a season full of second-half collapses.
Bielema’s Hogs were never able to string together enough good things without bad things interceding. That, as much as anything, explains why he’s out of a job.