Zemek on Bielema: All about the coordinators

Posted Dec 4, 2012

Matt Zemek on Bret Bielema to Arkansas: It's all about the coordinators

By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek

You can make a very convincing case that Bret Bielema will make a terrific, butt-kicking coach at the University of Arkansas.

You can make a very convincing case that Bret Bielema will make a terrible, face-planting coach at the University of Arkansas.

The best piece of advice for Arkansas fans and college football observers at large, especially on a day when Gus Malzahn landed at Auburn at nearly the same time Bielema was secured by Jeff Long, is this: The coordinators matter so much.

Arkansas probably has a very good chance of creating a more rugged, robust defense as a result of the Bielema hire. It's clear that Arkansas wants to become more like Nick Saban, not less – it would have hired Mike Gundy had it wanted to become less like Saban and take the opposite kind of approach. Therefore, beefing up the defense is the most immediate improvement the Razorbacks can (and should) make.

It's the offense that's the problem, or – to be charitable – not so much a problem as an inconvenient fit akin to what Michigan experienced under Rich Rodriguez. Michigan brought Rodriguez in to handle Lloyd Carr's recruits. Rodriguez overhauled the offense to fit his system. Now, Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges are trying to steer Michigan back to a more traditional kind of offense, but the style of player they have in Ann Arbor is not quite conducive to their natural coaching inclinations. With Arkansas, the dynamic is not the same, but it's similar. This was a team built by and for Bobby Petrino, but with Bielema in Fayetteville, there's probably going to be something of a culture shift, one that will flow toward Saban (not away from him) on the offensive side of the ball.

Given Bielema's preferences, the immediate recommendation for offensive coordinator that sticks out is Jeff Tedford, the just-fired head coach at California who knows how to move pieces around a chess board (he proved this in Oregon's dynamic 2001 season, when the Ducks finished No. 2 in the country). Tedford could fit within Bielema's framework yet offer the kind of play selection that could make Arkansas an aggressive offense. Perhaps Tedford's not the guy, but the main point is that Bielema has to find a big-league play caller for his offensive coordinator. If he doesn't, it's doubtful that he'll be able to recruit and acquire the weight of reputation that will make Arkansas a fully Sabanized and elite member of the SEC.

Arkansas has chosen the identity it wants. It found a coach who is making his third straight Rose Bowl, but given the reputation of the Big Ten these days, is it that impressive that the Hogs took away the man who was probably the second-best coach in his conference?

Only time will tell. Meanwhile, Mr. Bielema needs to hit a home run with his offensive coordinator.