The Arkansas Sports Media Is Turning On Bret Bielema

Three of the state’s leading sportswriters lay into Bielema following the Coastal Carolina debacle

For years, Bret Bielema and the Arkansas sports media enjoyed a prolonged honeymoon. On the whole, columnists, reporters and broadcasters enjoyed covering him and he seemed to enjoy riffing with them. In the times I interviewed him his first couple years, his enthusiasm and swagger always made for a fun, interesting conversation.

Bielema, after all, is a likable guy. And it helped that in his first three seasons at Arkansas, his teams clearly improved. Perhaps the culmination of the good times with local media came near the end of 2015 season, when sports radio host Bo Mattingly began producing a feel-good, behind-the-scenes mini series on Bielema and his program. No doubt, Bielema knew such a project could only help market his personality and the Razorback brand to potential recruits and fans.

Public image, after all, is so important in the entertainment industry. That’s one reason Jeff Long signed on to be the chairman of the College Football Playoff Selection Commitee, a position that for two years gave him and Arkansas much national exposure.

This year, though, as the 4-5 Hogs have seemingly regressed in every phase of the game, the local media has begun to turn on Bret Bielema. And things are getting more heated in the aftermath of Arkansas’s worst win of the modern era, a 39-38 unthinkable catastrophe-aversion against Coastal Carolina, a 1-8 Sun Belt team.

The local media doesn’t turn on coaches on a whim, like so many fans are apt to do. Media members understand that their access to covering games and interviewing players and coaches depends on maintaining a standard of professionalism and accuracy. Calling for a coach’s head after one bad game, or two or even three, is the kind of quick-trigger reaction-ism most professionals avoid.

But when enough bad efforts and worse executions happen over a long enough stretch, as they have in Arkansas football since last fall, then it becomes obvious that the issue is something systematic. And now, some big names in the Arkansas sports media landscape are calling this out. To wit:

1. Wally Hall, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist

Today, in his game recap column, Hall writers earlier this season Coastal Carolina team had lost to Arkansas State—traditionally only the second-best program in state—by 34 points and 10 of the Chanticleers’ points came against A-State subs. After lamenting the Hogs’ woeful defense, Wall also delivered this indictment:

Perhaps the biggest concern should be the leadership at the UA, and that means at the top. Who allowed a program that was in the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season to slip to the point it has to charge back to slip by a visiting team that hasn’t won a Sun Belt game?

It should be noted that Bret Bielema wasn’t even hired until 2012. Regardless of whether “leadership” here means Bielema, or athletic director Jeff Long, or both, Hall is no longer holding back on the public criticism. That’s a bad sign for Bielema’s future at Arkansas.

2. Kurt Voigt, Associated Press Arkansas sports reporter

Speaking of Bret Bielema’s future at Arkansas, that’s a topic which in late October Voigt wanted to interview Long about. Most AP reporters strive to stay objective and report “just the facts.” But since that request Voigt hasn’t been afraid to chime in with observations and details that cause a buzz.

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Wally Hall, the Arkansas Activities Association & the Loss of a State’s Athletic Heritage

Before Malik Monk, this man torched local nets like no other. His name, though, keeps being forgotten.

We’re taught in school that history, at its core, is comprised of facts: so-and-so did such-and-such on a certain date. Learn enough of those, and you know enough to write an essay, make your passing grade, and get on with graduation.

Unfortunately, history is a lot less clear cut than that.

The people wielding the most power often determine what the “facts” are, and which ones are passed down to following generations. Our past, it turns out, is riddled with voids. We can’t fill them all, but it can be enough of a start to acknowledge they are there.FullSizeRender

This came to mind when reading today’s column by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports editor Wally Hall. At the end, he praises Jim Bryan, an Arkansas prep basketball legend who recently suffered an embolism. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, Hall’s pretty generous when it comes to wishing folks well.

What concerns me is the part where Bryan is described as “the second all-time leading scorer in Arkansas high school basketball history.” That’s not true. In terms of all-time career points scored, Bryan is listed as the state’s fourth greatest scorer.

INDIVIDUAL – REGULAR SEASON OFFENSE – MOST POINTS SCORED
Career

4,896 Bennie Fuller, Ark School Deaf, 1968-71

3,619 Jacob Roark, Concord, 2011-14

3,238 James Anderson, Junction City, 2004-07

2,792 Jim Bryan, Valley Springs, 1955-58

2,755 Dederick Lee, Clarksville, 2009-13

2,317 Ronnie Parrott, Tuckerman, 1976-79

2,239 Payton Henson, Siloam Springs, 2009-13

2,018 Allan Pruett, Rector, 1963-66

The above records are kept by the Arkansas Activities Association, the state’s governing body of high school athletics. The fact that Hall missed Bryan’s standing by a place or two, to me, isn’t too big of a deal. What’s far more important is what the records don’t include. Namely, any mention of Jackie Ridgle and Eddie Miles – potentially the two most potent scorers in Arkansas high school history before current Bentonville star Malik Monk.

Miles, for one, averaged 21 points as a freshman, and then upped that each year to top out at around 32 points points a game as a senior. With numbers like that, there’s no doubt the North Little Rock native deserves a spot near the top of the all-time scoring list. But he’s not there, nor is Ridgle, because they played for all-black schools with records that have been largely lost, forgotten or destroyed. Even those which still exist and can be verified – such as Miles’ and Ridgle’s – haven’t been incorporated into the AAA’s record book. Until that happens, it shouldn’t be viewed as a true, official account of the state’s prep history.

This is a major issue that needs to be addressed. I’ve written about it time and time again. To the credit of the AAA, its assistant executive director Wadie Moore has been sympathetic to this problem and he has added Miles’ name to one category. But one mention isn’t enough when he (and Ridgle) deserve mention in multiple categories:

Per Game – Season

50.9 Bennie Fuller, Ark. School Deaf, 1970-71

46.0 Larry Stidman, Mount Ida, 1989

32.7 Josh Smith, Prairie Grove, 1996-97

31.0 Steven Delph, Guy-Perkins, 1987-88

30.3 Eddie Miles, NLR Jones, 1958

30.2 Marvin Newton, Viola, 1956-57

29.2 Glen Fenter, Charleston, 1977-78

28.8 Bill James, Armorel, 1957

28.0 Randy Porter, Luxora, 1979-80

28.0 Kyle James, Brinkley, 1986-87

The AAA means well, but I want it to do a more thorough job with its record books. Jim Bryan, for instance, owns the top two spots in the season scoring totals below. But where are the season point totals for the three people in front of him in the all-time career scoring list? Surely, a Bennie Fuller season or two should be here. Same with Jacob Roark and James Anderson, not to mention the likes of Eddie Miles or Jackie Ridgle.

 Season

1,190 Jim Bryan, Valley Springs, 1957-58

1,152 Jim Bryan, Valley Springs, 1956-57

1,125 Jermaine Mansko, Tuckerman, 1992

1,059 Matt Secrease, Weiner, 2002-2003 Season

1,041 Allan Pruett, Rector, 1965-66

This issue doesn’t just apply to Arkansas. It’s occurring in other states, too, especially in the South. But some states – like Texas – do a better job than others. Arkansas should join their ranks.


Below are more scoring marks, according to the AAA’s 2014 record book. (One glance down the names shows why Rex Nelson tabbed Bennie Fuller as the “Wilt Chamberlin of the Deaf“)

Single Game

108 Morris Dale Mathis (St. Joe), 1-25-1955

102 Bennie Fuller Ark. Deaf School, 12-4-1971

98 Bennie Fuller, Ark. Deaf School, 1970

77 Bennie Fuller, Ark School Deaf, 1970

65 Bennie Fuller, Ark. School Deaf, 1970

64 Bill McElduff, Marianna, 1944

61 Brooks Taylor, Buffalo Island Central, 2006

59 Wayne Lemon,s Dyess, 1952

58 Chester Barner, Jr., Marmaduke, 1959

58 Josh Bateman, Marmaduke, 2002