You never get a second chance to make a big first impression. On Wednesday evening, appearing before the full SEC media for the first time as Arkansas' head coach, Bret Bielema did just that.
The big, lumbering, former Wisconsin coach railed on about player safety in up-tempo offenses, the nature of SEC recruiting, Arkansas' 2013 expectations and even managed to give one writer a wake-up call in one of the week's most entertaining interviews.
Here are some highlights from a wildly fun presser.
The room was eager to hear from Bielema on the up-tempo offense issue. Bielema sent major ripples down the SEC's (and the country's) spine earlier this summer by proposing a rule change that allows defensive players to sub during no-huddle attacks.
He started his defense of the issue by describing his personal scheme, notoriously methodic, smashmouth and run game-oriented "normal American football."
Bret Bielema on his offense: "We want to play normal American football."— Evan Woodbery (@TennesseeBeat) July 17, 2013
That flowed perfectly into follow-ups about his crusade against no-huddle offenses. Earlier in the day, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said that he thought Bielema was joking when he first brought up the issue of slowing down the sport for safety reasons.
When alerted of that, Bielema made it emphatically clear that he wasn't.
Bielema on Malzahn's "joke" comment: "He thought it was a joke? Huh. I'm not a comedian. Everything that I say is what I truly believe in."— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) July 17, 2013
At which point the new Arkansas coach began to speak with passion—and borderline rage—by barking into his microphone as he defended his players' safety.
Bielema now bringing it hard, raising voice into the microphone, disputing Malzahn's point. Coach fight!— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) July 17, 2013
Bielema is getting worked up about it. "The safety of my players is paramount." ... About injuries and hurry-up offenses.— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) July 17, 2013
Bielema on subject: "Gus is an educated man. He's got his own faith and belief. But what I said, I didn't just throw that out there."— Robbie Neiswanger (@NWARobbie) July 17, 2013
So loud was Bielema's tirade that B/R's Barrett Sallee, stationed in the next room, could hear him bellowing through the walls.
#Bert is bringing the noise in the room next door. Can hear him loud and clear railing on pace of play through the wall.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) July 17, 2013
Apparently, though, he wasn't loud enough to keep some of his audience awake. He had to stop himself mid-interview to call out some media members for sleeping in the front row.
Bielema calls us an "engaging crowd". Accuses two guys of sleeping in front row. I think he's right.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) July 17, 2013
Bielema calls out media member for sleeping in front row. Dude just now woke up— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) July 17, 2013
Bielema's points on injuries are well-guided and noble. That said, as some Twitter pundits pointed out, his credo of "player safety above all else" is a little hypocritical given his tenure at Wisconsin.
Bielema once ran his kick team offsides intentionally twice in a row to take advantage of a loophole. But sure, he cares more about safety.— Matt Brown (@MattBrownSoE) July 17, 2013
Wisconsin ran 926 plays in 2012, which would have ranked 3rd in the SEC, and ran 937 plays in 2011, which would've ranked 2nd.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) July 17, 2013
Later, Bielema was asked about the Urban Meyer-Florida situation, whereby the former Gators (and current Ohio State Buckeyes) coach turned in his old team for recruiting violations. Bielema said he would never do that.
Bielema talking about what Florida wished Ohio State did with recruiting "bump" -- a school calls the coach or school before turning in— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) July 17, 2013
In light of the Urban Meyer/FL recruiting situation, Bret Bielema was asked whether he would ever turn Wisconsin in for a violation. "No"— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) July 17, 2013
On the nature of SEC recruiting, Bielema said it was an "eye opener" just how much of an advantage the conference has due to national exposure.
Arkansas' Bielema said an "eye opener" in the SEC, compared to Big Ten, is the national exposure that benefits SEC teams in recruiting.— AJC UGA (@ajcuga) July 17, 2013
He also said that in his new workplace of Arkansas, he would like to start recruiting heavily in Texas. especially since, as he put it, some in-state teams aren't doing so well.
Bielema: Arkansas wants to make a huge recruiting push in Texas. Says it helps when certain in-state schools aren't doing as well there.— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) July 17, 2013
Bielema expanded a little bit on the move from the Big Ten to the SEC, a move he's had to handle delicately so as not to offend his old opponents. He says he's always had an appreciation for his new conference, though.
Bielema: "Everything I say good about the SEC, everybody else gets pissed. So I'm really in a quandary here."— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) July 17, 2013
Bielema: "When you're in another league, you really can't brag on another league. I was a closet SEC fan."— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) July 17, 2013
He then made, perhaps, his most interesting comments of the evening, saying that he likes how low expectations are for Arkansas in 2013 and imploring voters to keep underrating his team. He thinks it might be able to fuel them.
Bielema on Arkansas' preseason predictions: "The lower the better. We have some players you've never heard of going to come after you"— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 17, 2013
Bielema on expectations: "The lower the better. I think our kids are carrying a tremendous chip on their shoulders.”— Robbie Neiswanger (@NWARobbie) July 17, 2013
Bielema begs media to vote Arkansas lower on ballots— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) July 17, 2013
He then signed off with a fitting "Go Hogs," capping what some believed was the most entertaining presser of media days thus far.
And Bret Bielema signs off, appropriately, with a "Go, Hogs!" Probably most entertaining presser at SEC so far.— Erick Smith (@erick_smith) July 17, 2013
That might be a bit of a stretch—how quickly we forget what happened Tuesday—but it was certainly one to remember.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter @BLeighDAT