What's the quickest way for a head coach to lose his football team?
That's the fine line Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is walking now, thanks to an appearance on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly, a statewide syndicated radio program, earlier this month.
The second-year head coach was asked toward the end of the interview (11:17 mark) how long it will take for Arkansas to get back to a competitive level in the SEC West again and placed part of the blame on his predecessors (via CoachingSearch.com).
I really thought, coming in, because of the guy that I was replacing, I thought we would have a plethora of quarterbacks, wide receivers and offensive skill and expected the defense to have certain things in place. That really wasn't the case. It's not a knock on our guys. For what we need to do offensively and defensively, there was not as much as I thought was going to be there.
But that's just the thing, it is a knock on the players brought into the program by former head coach Bobby Petrino and one-year replacement John L. Smith; more so a knock on Petrino because it's not a big assumption to connect the dots and tie Petrino—who's known for his offensive prowess—to the offensive skill players Bielema thought would be on campus.
Fans may think he's right, and Bielema may privately think that he inherited a mess. But that's where those thoughts should stay. Private.
How should starting quarterback Brandon Allen, who signed with Petrino in 2011, feel about his coach throwing him under the bus? He should be pretty upset about it, especially since his younger brother, Austin, and true freshman Rafe Peavey, both of whom were signed by Bielema's staff, couldn't beat him out for the job this spring.
How should wide receivers Demetrius Wilson and Keon Hatcher, both of whom were signed in 2012 as part of Petrino's last class, feel about it? Wilson is coming off an ACL injury that cost him all of the 2013 season, but both are expected to either start or be key contributors in the wide receiving corps this year.
What about Jonathan Williams, the 6'0", 223-pound junior running back who rushed for 900 yards and four touchdowns last season, providing a solid "1B" options to Alex Collins, who just so happens to be one of "Bielema's guys?"
If they're mad about their head coach throwing them under the bus, they should be.
This is a classic diversionary tactic by Bielema. It's an insurance policy. It's an attempt to control the narrative if Arkansas struggles this year and divert blame if things go south.
It also won't work.
A lot of the players expected to make an impact this season for the Hogs on both sides of the ball are "Petrino guys" who kept their jobs despite position battles from younger players brought in by the new regime.
Of course, Bielema feels more loyalty to his guys because if they succeed, his fingerprints are more on the success than his predecessor's. But even if the cupboard was bare, that's not something he should say publicly. The only thing it could accomplish is divide the locker room, which will only lead to problems.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com. For full audio of Bret Bielema's interview on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly, click here.