Is Long on ice as thin as Bielema? He likely could be

By Andy Hodges
November 5, 2017

This is the crowd on the East side of Razorback Stadium midway through the first quarter of Saturday's game against Coastal Carolina. Official attendance numbers peg the crowd at over 61,000.

Arkansas football fans made their voices heard Saturday.

The absence of live, breathing people at the game and tailgating outside was startling. That’s how the fans make their opinion known … they simply don’t show up.

And the two guys responsible, Jeff Long and Bret Bielema, appear oblivious to what would be a hilarious run to the gallows for both at just about every other school in the SEC.

Shoot, there are some schools where a board meeting likely would have been held in one of the luxury boxes after the 39-38 debacle Saturday night. The fact that the Razorbacks won the game and we’re still calling it a debacle should be telling by itself.

The pressure has been mounting around both since the September Swoon when the Hogs were “close” against TCU and Texas A&M in losses that realistically should not have happened.

It didn’t help that neither Long or Bielema have enough respect for Arkansas fans to just step up and tell the truth. Apparently, they think Razorback fans are dumb enough to believe anything they say.

Long, who talked in Little Rock about Bielema needing to win just a few more games to be a great coach and how Arkansas is “not a win at all cost program,” let the perception hang out there that the buyout was over $15 million.

When that didn’t work, all of a sudden lawyers start pointing out that, well, by golly, maybe that buyout was more in the order of something like just north of $5 million. While that sounds like a fortune to the common Razorback fan, in the world of college athletics that’s not a big deal.

Then the powers that be allowed attendance at home games against New Mexico State and Coastal Carolina to be announced at hilariously inflated numbers.

All of it may add up to a problem for Long, who is wrapping up his 10th season in charge of Razorback football. It’s been a 10-year run of being #uncommon for a program where common was seven or eight wins a year with a nine or even 10-win season thrown in every four years or so.

It’s been now six years since that 11-2 run that finished No. 5 in the country. Long steered the program towards the ditch by making a hire with little research, ignored the warning signs a couple of years ago and now is watching it wobble towards a cliff.

Bielema isn’t to blame for taking the job. Just the financial aspect of it alone made him want it, plus the chance to see if he could duplicate in the SEC what his mentor, Barry Alvarez, did at Wisconsin.

You suspected the first year he wouldn’t. By the midway point of his third season you knew he couldn’t. As the end of his fifth season approaches, everyone is wondering who’s next.

While some saw progress in that little run in 2015, they were overlooking it was a run to mediocrity. Losing home games to Toledo and Texas Tech were proof positive of that. The finish simply delayed what was becoming the obvious inevitable.

Losing the best playmakers to the NFL at the end of the 2015 season, combined with some lackluster recruiting, made the future look grim to those paying attention. When the rest of the playmakers were gone after the 2016 season, which collapsed at the end, pointed up every single problem the Bielema Era has.

Average coaching of average players yields average results until everyone gets tired of it. Then you have, well, a season where you’re trying to convince what’s left of your fan base that beating very bad teams by a single point with fourth-quarter comebacks is a positive sign.

Nobody believes it.

Particularly the fan base, who left the Auburn game in droves in the third quarter, then didn’t bother to even show up for a game against Coastal Carolina a week after another miracle win at Ole Miss.

There is zero confidence in the direction of Razorback football.

And it goes above Bielema’s head. Let’s face it, even if the Hogs manage to pull out a couple of wins here at the end nobody has any hope it will be better down the road.

Being 29-31 overall in your fifth year and 11-26 in the SEC makes it difficult for even the most hardcore fan. Having a constant dazed and confused look on the sideline followed by rambling, incoherent statements after the game just completes the circle.

Of course, Long, who has made statements that he doesn’t like making changes during a season, preferring to wait and let things play out, simply isn’t saying anything.

By doing that now — to some — it is showing he has less of a clue than his football coach apparently has.

Long has said the football program is more than wins and losses. Some say the athletic director’s job is more than the football program.

Both are wrong.

Football is the biggest marketing platform the entire university has.

And wins and losses, ultimately, are all that matter there.

In the SEC there are no participation trophies.

Which is why Long may be more worried about saving his own backside than what to do with Bielema.