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A new era for Razorbacks


Bret Bielema image

You do not have to be steeped in wizardry or any kind of advanced science to understand that Arkansas football is being purified from the roots up.

Recent happenings on the Hill revealed the dichotomy of the regimes that terminated and commenced in the past few weeks. The Sporting News, apparently looking for some kind of tardy scoop, published a story last week wherein John L. Smith, Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes all gave the university a retroactive middle finger for not granting them adequate security in their jobs as stopgap head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, respectively. There's no point in rehashing the comments that each made, because it only serves to remind us just how awful the 2012 season ended up being, but let's not just casually pardon these would-be jilted exes, either.

Smith, Petrino and Haynes all somehow parlayed their shoddy workmanship this past fall into shiny new head coaching jobs. Granted, Smith stepped way down to take the reins of a Division II school in Colorado that didn't win a game last year, but there's no question he's fortunate to be employed at all given his age and his missteps over the past few months. But Petrino and Haynes went north, figuratively and literally, to take top jobs at Idaho and Kent State, and are thereby getting that rare opportunity to show that whatever happened in Fayetteville was an anomaly born out of player attrition and injury.

The oddity of this ex post facto complaining is not that Haynes and Petrino are necessarily wrong. Sure, the 10-month contract extended to the staff was a backfire for many reasons. But it's galling to hear two younger men with newfound pastures making that perfunctory observation. At what point does the lamenting of a lost campaign turn into backbiting?

It was Petrino who crassly said the coaches should've either been given a two-year window or walking papers. He should have done some homework about what the proverbial "two-year pass" means according to Razorback lexicon. Frank Broyles may have been in the business of giving grace periods to coaches; Jeff Long clearly isn't. He certainly didn't offer probation to Paul's older brother, right?

And then there is the contrast that presented itself late Monday night, when the new coaching staff's dogged pursuit of a top-flight, once-committed running back named Alex Collins paid off with an announcement that he was leaving the confines of home to develop his burgeoning relationship with Bret Bielema, Charlie Partridge, Joel Thomas and Co. The development was, for Hog fans, so shocking that it seemed inauthentic: A coveted extraterritorial prospect chose Fayetteville over something more familiar. Just last fall, when the rangy Dorial Green-Beckham seemed like a secure bet to leave Missouri behind, he stayed home at the last moment.

Not to cast aspersions on the former coaching unit (even if they don't have the same misgivings), but would the ballyhooed "DGB" have gravitated toward Bielema and his support like Collins did? It's worthless conjecture, no question. But there is something materially encouraging about a head coach who pledges to treat assistants well and build constructive relationships with players, then actually goes out and demonstrates that commitment and sees it rewarded. Bielema, whose penchant for tweeting has been the source of some amusement, didn't waste time giving a stamp of satisfaction after Collins committed: "Great night to be a Razorback," he offered.

And it was indeed, even if it was just another pledge from another player. As the Bobby Petrino era signaled a new dimension of football in Arkansas, so goes the prologue of Bielema's career here. His swagger is admirable, but the follow-through looks even stronger.

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