BENTON - First-year Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema energized a crowd of more than 600 Wednesday night with some salty speech at the Saline County Razorback Club annual fish fry.
When asked about the challenges of playing in the toughest division in college football (SEC West) and a daunting 2013 schedule that features nine opponents that played in a bowl game last year, a relaxed Bielema said: "I came to the SEC for a variety of reasons, but the major one in my mind was to win an SEC championship."
The new head Hog, hired in December from Wisconsin, then addressed two-time defending national champion Alabama and Coach Nick Saban. "The reason the SEC is talked about all the time is one team, because of their dominance. But I didn't come here to play Alabama. I came here to beat Alabama.
"You can take Saban's record when he was at Michigan State and when he was a coach in the Big Ten and put it against mine, and he can't compare."
Bielema again connected with the Saline County crowd when he explained his "1-0" philosophy, a signature phrase he uses in autographs and on social media.
"It's a way of thinking, taking everything for what it is," he said. "When you take on a football season, if you try to jump to the end, try to jump to a national championship, try to jump to an SEC championship you're never gonna get to where you want to be. It carries over to what I tell our kids. If we let today's opportunities get behind us and don't capture everything we can, we let a day go by."
HC Bret Bielema calling the Hogs
Bielema said his "excitement had grown a thousand percent" in three months since arriving in Fayetteville after a quick but successful transition.
"The first challenge I had was to combine two different tasks. I had to bring in an entire staff and had to balance that with recruiting," Bielema said. "I had no idea how good a recruiting staff I hired." Bielema named Parade All-America tight end Hunter Henry (Pulaski Academy) and JUCO All-America linebacker Martrell Spaight (North Little Rock) as two of his first targets in recruiting and as examples of his plans to keep top talent from leaving the state.
To build a roster to fit his more balanced offense, Bielema said he wants to recruit heavily in Texas and Florida.
"The previous staff had many guys at wideout and running back. They really had an emphasis on the pretty boys," said Bielema, a former defensive lineman at Iowa. Bielema cited Arkansas' current commitments from highly touted offensive linemen Reeve Koehler, Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland as well as running back Alex Collins as key to an offense that will lean on a physical running game.
Bielema complimented current players for their approach to the off-season and on-going spring practices. Bielema said he did not watch much film of last year's Razorback team to avoid forming any opinions of players on this year's roster before seeing them in person.
HC Bret Bielema
Bielema stated he wasn't sure which player would start the season at quarterback, but did speak highly of the prospects at running back and tight end. Defensively, the coach praised the play of sophomore Rohan Gaines and senior Eric Bennett at the safety positions and said he has been encouraged by the talent on the defensive line. Bielema cited linebacker as "a position where we need to grow" and said Spaight and freshman Brooks Ellis (Fayetteville) would have a chance to fill roles next fall.
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