Bret Bielema remembers when Arkansas turned the corner, although he wasn't there to see it. In rebuilding his program from the crumbled mess he inherited into something that could survive and compete in the most competitive division in college football, Bielema installed a series of "Hoganese 101" meetings to create and instill the culture he desired in Fayetteville throughout the spring and summer.
The first series of meetings took place with coaches leaving the meetings. Then the coaches went on vacation and the players ran the meetings themselves.
Speaking before a crowd of close to 4,000 coaches at the AFCA Convention last Monday, Bielema outlined what he defines as the Arkansas Edge - the foundations he's using to transform the Razorbacks' culture both on and off the field. "This has to be part of our DNA," Bielema says of the Arkansas Edge. "If this was a crime scene their ass would find us."
1) Mental and physical toughness. Winning requires a kid to be both mentally and physically tough. "Can't have one without the other," he said.
2) Play fast and through the whistle. This is stressed throughout camp. "If you want to have players respond specifically to what you want, you have to be specific," he said.
3) Play Clean. This applies to players and coaches. Bielema stresses eliminating pre-snap penalties, getting plays in efficiently and a constant awareness of the play clock in avoidance of burning timeouts and being great with ball security. Arkansas was better in this area at certain points of the season than others.
4) Win Critical Areas. Critical areas are defined as four-minute offense, overtime and third/fourth-and-short situations. This is also communicated clearly during practice and worked on throughout the spring.
5) Earn Everything. Bielema talked about this a lot. He said of several players he had to kick off the team before the bowl game, "they earned it." Likewise, when a player gets drafted into the NFL, he earned it.
He also - like every other coach in America - emphasized the importance of being on time. "You miss schedule time," he said, "schedule time misses you." If a player misses a tutoring appointment, Bielema does not make it up for them. If a group of players are continually late, Bielema schedules a meeting, "and then guess who's ass is late?" He said he's left players waiting for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to drive the point home. For habitually late guys, Bielema takes away playing time.
Odds and ends:
- Bielema has his coaches identify two or three things each player can improve on throughout fall camp. One isn't enough, and four or five is too many to properly attack any specific goal.
- He set five goals for the 2014 Razorbacks:
1) Relentless mindset
2) 1-0 Mentality. Bielema turned this goal into a frequent (but somewhat clumsy) hashtag throughout the season.
3) F.O.E. - Family Over Everything
4) Expect to Win. Bielema talked about continually since his hiring two years ago, but didn't see the mentality sink in until back-to-back shutout wins over Ole Miss and LSU.
5) Leave No Doubt. Bielema shared a story of how this mentality spread throughout the entire club this season. Leading Texas 31-7 in the dying seconds of last month's Texas Bowl, his assistants pleaded to punch in another touchdown on their hated but now occasional former Southwest Conference rivals after a Jonathan Williams 25-yard run set the Razorbacks up with a first-and-goal at the Longhorns' four-yard line. "I said no," Bielema said. "Let's take a knee three times because they can't do a damn thing about it."
- Finally, the most talked-about nugget from Bielema's 50-minute address outside Louisville was definitely his critique of other coaches' set of five... pillars? beliefs? rules? I guess you could call them core values.