Next 5 games huge for Razorback program’s future

Few if any know exactly what Arkansas Athletics Director Jeff Long and the other power brokers involved with making critical decisions about Arkansas’ football program think about what has been unfolding on the football field this season.
It’s easy to assume their thoughts aren’t pleasant. It’s been a miserable season thus far.

However, what you hear and read about Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema’s job security at this point is just speculation. Some of it is educated and astute, while the rest, well, isn’t. I’ll let you discern which is and which isn’t.

Many feel Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup against Ole Miss is a make-or-break game for Bielema’s program. Like the Razorbacks (2-5, 0-0-4 SEC), the Rebels (3-4, 1-3) have struggled on the field this season, and some figure if the Hogs’ can’t beat Ole Miss, which SEC team can they beat?

While I would consider that a fair assessment, the dye on Bielema’s tenure as coach won’t be cast based solely on Saturday’s game, one way or the other.

Whether Bielema is retained or released, what happens during November will play a large role in that decision. But when pebbles are being placed on a scale for a coach’s future, every game is important. The Razorbacks need to take advantage of the opportunity they have at Oxford, Miss., this weekend.

A victory keeps hope alive for a bowl bid, and while earning a bowl might not be a guarantee that Bielema’s tenure as coach will continue, it might be the most tangible goal the team can accomplish this season. Making a fourth-straight bowl would sound good in a recruiting pitch.

As a Razorback fan and follower, my hope is that Bielema rights the Razorback ship over the next five weeks and that he is able to stay on as the Razorbacks’ head coach. Though the Hogs’ play this season has been unacceptable so far, if there is a chance for stability, I think that would be best.

I can’t support the idea of hoping the Razorbacks’ continue to lose so a change at head coach is a sure bet. The end doesn’t justify the means to me. Maybe, I’m just too old, conventional, and conservative, but hasty decisions involving coaching changes at Arkansas has never worked out well.

Arkansas nearly buried its basketball program with back-to-back hires of Stan Heath and John Pelphrey, who both ended up being fired. Frank Broyles admitted his decision to fire Lou Holtz in 1983 was a mistake of listening to too many outside voices, and his desperation move to hire offensive coordinator Jack Crowe when Ken Hatfield exited to take the Clemson job late in recruiting season mired the program in indecision under the inexperienced Crowe, just as Arkansas was about to move into the SEC.

Firing and hiring isn’t always the solution for a program’s woes. Sometimes it just makes the problem worse. That’s why Long and the others making decisions have to be very wise at this time.

Hiring a new coach with a new philosophy only means more rebuilding before the program rebounds. There is young talent on this team that is gaining experience week by week. That maturing process is more likely to bear fruit more quickly under the current coach than the next.

That said, the Razorbacks have to show more than just signs of life with Bielema at the helm over the next five weeks. They need to make progress on the field, and that only comes by winning.

How many games do the Hogs need to win for Bielema to be retained?

I’m not sure, but anything less than winning three of the final five would make retaining him difficult to justify, in my mind. But that is my litmus test, not Long’s or anyone else’s. Winning three might not be enough.

So, yeah, the outcome of this Ole Miss game and the Hogs’ final four games this season are huge for the season and the program’s future.