Bret Bielema has yet to coach his first game at Arkansas, but he thinks he's already had his first victory as the Razorbacks head coach.
“To be honest, I’ve had a couple of SEC brethren try to take a couple of our guys and (athletic director) Jeff Long has stepped up to the plate,” Bielema said during his first radio show last Wednesday. “We’re actually undefeated right now against other SEC competition in the coaching department. That’s a good feeling.”
Retaining valued assistants is key for any successful program (especially one trying to get off the ground with a new regime), but it's vitally important for Bielema, who cited the ability to pay assistants as part of the reason he stunned the world by leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas in December.
“One of the things I’ve always kind of just prided myself on as a head coach, but also before I became a head coach, I realized how much of an effect assistant coaches have on a program,” Bielema said. “It’s one thing for a head coach to deliver a message and say certain things. But the assistant coaches have to be in tune with that message, believe in that message and will relay that message when they’re in their position meetings and they’re dealing with those players.
“It takes a long time to cultivate that and it’s good when you’re able to retain it.”
Bielema didn't delve into specifics, but it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out who he's talking about. Alabama lost its offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland to the Philadelphia Eagles, and Hogs beat writer Robbie Niswanger reports that Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman recently saw his compensation increase from $275,000 to $500,000. The Crimson Tide hired Mario Cristobal away from Miami instead.
“The assistant coaches, they all have families, they all have dreams, desires and aspirations,” Bielema said. “It’s been good to keep some guys, especially when you get in some in-conference battles.”
Bielema has lost one member of his original staff, though. Wide receivers coach George McDonald has left for an offensive coordinator position under Scott Shafer's new staff at Syracuse. He was replaced by Michael Smith, who was hired away from Kansas State.