Bret Bielema / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
When Arkansas faces Kansas State on Jan. 2 in the Liberty Bowl at Memphis, Bret Bielema has the opportunity to stamp his name in Razorbacks’ lore as the only head coach to win his first two bowl games.
When you think about who’s coached at Arkansas that fact isn’t insignificant. Some fine coaches have plied their trade on the hill, but none of their teams were able to get win two bowls in a row.
John Barnhill didn’t accomplish it although he’s the first coach to guide the Hogs to back-to-back bowl games in 1947 and 1948. His 1947 Razorbacks tied LSU, 0-0, in the Cotton Bowl, but his 1948 squad did bounce back to beat William & Mary, 21-19, in the Dixie Bowl.
Bowden Wyatt didn’t do it. His second Razorbacks squad lost, 14-6, to Georgia Tech in the 1955 Cotton Bowl after winning the Southwest Conference for the first time since 1946. Weeks later Wyatt, who drove to Arkansas two years earlier from Wyoming in a pick-up truck, then drove off to coach his alma mater Tennessee in a Cadillac that Hog boosters had given him in appreciation for winning the SWC title.
Frank Broyles crafted a legendary 19-year coaching career from 1957-1976 at Arkansas, and he won his first bowl game when his Razorbacks topped his alma mater Georgia Tech, 14-7, in the 1960 Gator Bowl. However, his Hogs lost a 7-6 heartbreaker to Duke in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
Lou Holtz and his first Razorbacks squad shocked the college football world in the 1978 Orange Bowl by defeating heavily favored Oklahoma, 31-6, after he had suspended his starting tail back, fullback and wide receiver for breaking team rules. However, his second Razorbacks squad struggled to a 10-10 tie with UCLA in the 1978 Fiesta Bowl.
Likewise, Ken Hatfield, the Hogs’ winningest coach by percentage (.760), wasn’t able to win his first two, either. Auburn, keyed by Bo Jackson’s backbreaking, second-half run, came from behind to beat his first bowl team, 21-15, in the 1984 Liberty Bowl.
Danny Ford guided Clemson to a national title in 1981, but as the Hogs’ head coach, he only made it to one bowl game in 1995, where his Razorbacks lost 20-10 to Mack Brown’s North Carolina Tar Heels.
Houston Nutt’s first season as the Razorbacks’ head coach started with a bang and ended with a great trip to Orlando, Fla. for the 1999 Florida Citrus Bowl. However, some guy named Tom Brady quarterbacked Michigan to a 45-31 victory over the Hogs. I wonder whatever happened to him?
Like Bielema, Bobby Petrino guided his second Razorbacks team to a bowl game, and his Hogs weathered the sub-freezing temperature to top East Carolina, 20-17, in overtime. However, Petrino’s Razorbacks fell 31-26 to Ohio State in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
So in a few short weeks, we’ll see if Bielema and his Hogs can do something that’s never been done at Arkansas before. We’ll see if that note could add a little extra motivation as the Razorbacks prepare to play the Wildcats.
If Bielema is to accomplish the feat, it will mean defeating a team coached by the legendary Bill Snyder, whom Bielema assisted from 2002-03 as a co-defensive coordinator before heading to Wisconsin. Bielema, of course, parlayed his defensive coordinator position with the Badgers to become their head coach from 2006-12.
Bielema remains close with the Wildcats’ coach, which was evident Sunday in the Liberty Bowl conference call. How close? Bielema is in New York to attend Snyder’s induction into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Snyder, 76, is one of only four college football coaches to gain hall-of-fame status while still actively working the sidelines. The other three are Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and John Gagliardi.
“I came across Coach Snyder when I was first a walk-on at Iowa,” Bielema said. “I appreciated him and had a chance to work for him for two years. He was the first guy to give me a coordinator title and first guy to give me a lot of money for coaching. The day I left him was a sad one. I called Coach Snyder earlier in this year when we were struggling. He gave me some advice. I can’t say enough about him.”
Snyder spoke highly of Bielema as well.
“Bret is a bright, bright young guy,” Snyder said. “He had all the traits that are significant to me to have in our program. How they handle themselves. Bret had a great feel for defensive football.”
Dan Enos / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Evidently, Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long knows how to strategize defensively, too, and it likely has already paid off for the Hogs.
Bielema said Sunday that Long suggested — possibly insisted — that a non-compete clause within the Southeastern Conference be added to the three-year contract Arkansas offered its offensive coordinator Dan Enos when Bielema hired him away from the head coaching position at Central Michigan.
Bielema confirmed that new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart did give him a courtesy call before attempting to contact Enos about the possibility of becoming the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator. The clause should keep SEC schools from plucking Enos away unless it is for a head-coaching job.
Now, that doesn’t mean programs from other conferences won’t take a run at Enos, who had the Razorbacks’ offense purring like a Tiger in the second half of the season. Hopefully, he is happy in Fayetteville, and there can be some continuity and stability next season as the Razorbacks groom the second quarterback of the Bielema era.
The inquiry by Smart was a major compliment to the work Enos has done in a very short time at Arkansas. Enos’ contract of $550,000 per season is good for two more years, but it would not be surprising if he did get a bump in pay anyway, like defensive coordinator Robb Smith did a year ago.
Successful coaches are always in demand, and programs generally have to pay the going rate if they want them to stay.
Enos would do well to stick with the Razorbacks at least through his contract. Should the Hogs win the SEC West in the next couple of years or even an SEC title, Enos would likely be in line for a head-coaching job at a Power Five school rather than just a coordinator’s spot.
Word about Smart’s interest in Enos probably won’t be the last time we hear an Arkansas assistants’ name come up in connection with other jobs. The upheaval that’s going on with head coaching positions will trickle down to assistants, and it could very well touch the Razorbacks’ program.
Will there be any movement before the bowl game? There’s no way to tell. But based on past experiences, coaching staffs can be fluid up to and even after February’s national signing day.