Saturday, July 22, 2017

New father Bret Bielema shows off same quick wit at SEC media days

HOOVER, Ala. — Just hours after the birth of his daughter Saturday afternoon, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s phone began chirping. It was SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, and he wanted to FaceTime.

Or not.

“I butt-dialed him,” Bielema said, laughing.

Briella Nichole Bielema weighed in at 7.8 pounds. She’s Bielema’s first child, and he says he’s still getting used to the whole idea. The coach was asked Monday if his perspective on being a father figure to his players might change with, you know, actual fatherhood.

“You know, I’m 48 hours into this baby,” he said — meaning fatherhood, the baby, whatever — “I can’t say I’m well-versed.”

Bielema, who was the first coach to take the podium at the SEC’s media days, didn’t seem much different. He showed off the quick wit that annually makes his sessions among the most entertaining.

If anything was new, it was in the urgency surrounding the Razorbacks’ offseason after a poor finish in 2016. Arkansas lost three of its last four games. And in losing to Missouri and then Virginia Tech to end the season, the Hogs first built and then lost huge leads — in some ways, microcosms of the season as a whole.

Afterward, Bielema made changes, both on the defensive staff — Robb Smith resigned to go to Minnesota, and Paul Rhoads was promoted to coordinator — and in the scheme. Arkansas will shift from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 in hopes of improving on a unit that ranked 126th nationally in rushing average and allowed 39 rushing touchdowns, the most in FBS. But those late-season collapses were the biggest concerns for Bielema.

“The end of last season was a new situation for me,” Bielema said. “Even when we went 3-9 (in 2013, his first season at Arkansas) … I felt at the end of the year we were getting better and moving in the right direction. … I knew we had to take a new look at things.”

Despite Arkansas’ 7-6 finish, Bielema denied feeling any pressure. And fatherhoods? He says he’s not sure how fatherhood might change the way he looks at things, other than this:

“I feel like I want to do everything right with her,” he said. “I don’t want to make a mistake. Not that I want to make a mistake coaching, but I always know they’ve got tomorrow.”

But it might possibly already be tempering his public persona, as evidenced when a reporter referred Monday to Bielema’s comment several years ago that beating Texas felt “borderline erotic.”

“I know you guys are all looking for a quote,” he said. “I don’t think I can go much further than that one. … That was before I had a child, so I think I’ll leave it at that.”

When the accidental FaceTime connection with Sankey occurred, Bielema was on his way to Chipotle — “Trying to get an endorsement right there,” he said — sent by his wife Jen for a double veggie bowl. He wasn’t the only one who was disappointed.

“I thought it was going to be a family moment,” Sankey said. “It was Chipotle.”

2017 SEC MEDIA DAYS: DAY 1

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