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Note connects Bielema, Arkansas months before surprise hire

By Matt Hinton | Blogger

Strange as it seems, the nuances of the Freedom of Information Act have loomed improbably large lately over Arkansas football, having played a key role in fanning the flames that lapped at both Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino on their way out of town. Now, in the case of new head coach Bret Bielema, his first Fayetteveille FOIA might as well be a rite of initiation.

Unlike his predecessors, Bielema isn't being pursued for scandal, but rather for a friendly note he wrote his new boss earlier this year – at least two months before the Razorbacks left the rest of the country gobsmacked last week by poaching the architect of back-to-back-to-back Big Ten championship teams at Wisconsin. According to documents released by the university, Bielema actually made contact with Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long in September, when he sent Long a handwritten note supporting his decision to fire Petrino after a motorcycle accident revealed an inappropriate relationship with an athletic department staffer. Reporters picked up the scent when Long mentioned the note from Bielema last week, and on Monday got their hands on the original:

And for those of you who'd actually like to read it, a translation:

Jeff,

Just wanted to say that this note is long past due. As I watched your press conference this past spring I wanted to reach out and say how much I respected your actions but more importantly your words. As a head coach I know that my comments are looked at in every way possible. Here at UW I have a great AD because he is a man of his word and asks the same for all of us. Best wishes moving forward and stay strong. It was the right call!

Best wishes,
Bret

P.S. One thing I have learned through my time here at UW is that today's society wants to win them all, but as Coaches and Administrators we need to balance the Big Picture for all our student athletes!

The letter isn't dated, though Long indicated last week that it was sent in September, which is about the time Arkansas' highly anticipated season hit the skids in consecutive losses to Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama, Rutgers and Texas A&M, all humiliating defeats in their own way. By the end of the month, there was little pretense that interim coach John L. Smith would be back in 2013, and Long spent the last two-thirds of the season preparing for a fast, efficient search. Even in the darkest corners of the most obscure message board, there was no inkling that the process would result in Long hiring Bielema, a born-and-bred Big Ten guy – he still boasts a Hawkeye tattoo from his playing days at Iowa – who seemed as entrenched in Madison as any coach in the conference.

Also in September, Bielema fired his new offensive line coach after just two games, the first sign of discontent with an overhauled staff. Even with an unlikely return to the Rose Bowl on deck, the Badgers finished the regular season with as many losses (5) as in their 2010-11 Rose Bowl seasons combined. Was Bielema laying the groundwork for a possible escape as early as September? Even if we can't go that far, yet, we can surmise his departure wasn't quite as out-of-the-blue as it seemed.

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