Monday, March 11, 2013
Bret Bielema picked as top first-year coach
By Edward Aschoff
The SEC welcomes in four new head coaches to the league this year. All have tall tasks in front of them, and all of them will face the immediate pressure of succeeding early in college football's toughest conference.
Coach Bret Bielema faces some high expectations in Fayetteville, Ark., this upcoming season.
Last week, we asked our readers which of the four new coaches would see the most success in his first year in the SEC. With more than 9,700 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, Arkansas' Bret Bielema won by grabbing 40 percent of the vote. Auburn's Gus Malzahn was second with 35 percent of the vote.
Both Bielema and Malzahn are looking to bring success back to programs that fell on very hard times in 2012. Arkansas was well behind the eight ball once Bobby Petrino was dismissed last April. Interim coach John L. Smith didn't exactly bring the right sort of motivation or teaching needed to replace a guy like Petrino, and the Razorbacks went 4-8, after winning 11 games in 2011 and 10 games in 2010.
Bielema shocked many when he left Wisconsin to take over the Hogs' program, and he brings a hard-nosed attitude to Fayetteville. He wants to be very balanced on offense, but prefers to get things going with a very tough, physical running game. Some key pieces are missing on offense, but Arkansas' defense needs major work as well this year. The good news is that Bielema has assembled a solid coaching staff for his first year. Arkansas' schedule is pretty tough, though, as the Hogs have road games against Rutgers, Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU.
Malzahn returns to Auburn after a year as Arkansas State's coach. He's bringing back his spread offense, which should really help turn things around on that side of the ball and is very, very familiar with the Tigers' personnel. He has a lot of youngsters to work with on both sides of the ball, but those youngsters have a decent amount of talent lurking.
With the exception of LSU, Auburn's toughest games of the year take place at home.
Tennessee's Butch Jones came in third with 18 percent of the vote, while Kentucky's Mark Stoops grabbed just seven percent of the vote.
Jones is working with a Vols team that has really struggled in recent years, and the frustration level is high in Knoxville. Jones has brought some much-needed excitement to the program this spring, but he'll need more than just excitement to turn things around this fall.
As for Stoops, he's hoping his more defensive-minded approach will really benefit him in his first year with the Wildcats. Kentucky struggled in all phases last year, but keeping the defense ahead of the game could really help Stoops early in his tenure. Figuring out how to get the offense going will be very important, as the Wildcats have ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in total offense the past two years.