A long, long time ago, I liked Bret Bielema.
Mostly on the strength of this, an incredible troll move that exploited a one time loophole in a silly rule that was stricken down the following year. I appreciated that Joe Paterno, a man sure to be completely infuriated by illegal exploitations of the rulebook (right? RIGHT??), was the victim of a clever ruse on the part of a literal pig farmer, and had hopes that we'd see more in the way of these kinds of shenanigans in the future.
We did, of course, but instead of being cheeky and fun they became more irritating and annoying. The zombified corpse of Grantland has a pretty good rundown of what Bielema has been up to since then, but in case you aren't in the mood to read two articles about ol' Bert today, here's a quick summary:
- Ran up the score on numerous hapless opponents, including going for two against Minnesota in a blowout win, which is kind of like dunking in the face of the world's friendliest toddler
- Criticizing Ohio State's schedule before almost immediately losing to a C-list Ohio school
- Blamed the tragic death of a player in practice on the hurry-up offense
- Complained about Ohio State recruiting under Urban Meyer turning the Big Ten into the SEC, mere milliseconds before ditching Wisconsin for Arkansas
- Said "erotic" out loud and in public, forever ruining that word in any non-ironic context
There's more, but you get the idea. Basically if you combined the first thing that pops into your head when you think "pig farmer" with the first thing that pops into your head when you think "childhood neighbor who would tell his dad on you if you beat him in a game," then you've got Bret Bielema. I once spent an entire football season writing a Homerian epic devoted to his adventures across America, but that doesn't mean I still like the guy. Time has eroded his charm, and now he's just kind of an oddity, like a turd on the sidewalk that looks like it could be from a human instead of a large dog, but you really don't want to take the necessary steps to figure it out either way.
Or so I thought!
Because Bret Bielema has teamed up with Arkansas radio personality Bo Mattingly and together they've created the new hit reality show "Being Bret Bielema," a seven to ten minute program devoted to telling you what a cool and interesting guy Bret Bielema is.
"I thought people would find it fascinating to see how he is in his everyday life," Mattingly said. "The more we can show him not coaching football and show more of his personality...
Well, okay, that sounds awful, but fine I guess.
Can you imagine what Bielema might say at a recruiting event to a bunch of Hog fans? What about when he's hanging out by the pool?
The possibilities are endless.
"At Fleming's steakhouse in Memphis, they had a coaches dinner with the wives," Mattingly said. "Bielema's got this room at Fleming's, and he's buying steak for everybody. He just invites the bus driver to come in and eat with them. So the bus driver is sitting next to a staff member, just hanging out like it's no big deal. Bielema introduced him to everybody. He's just always like that."
Wow! Now that is the kind of anecdote that you can structure an entire web series around. Maybe next time Bret leaves a big tip at Olive Garden. Perhaps we will get insight into his many high fives to the janitor who never forgets the urinal cakes at the end of the week. The possibilities are endless, really, and that's the tone set by the first episode, released yesterday and guest starring guys like Andy Staples and Dan Wetzel.
It's called "The Setup," and I watched it so you don't have to.
The episode starts with a (probably) fake radio intro from a person that I assume is Bo Mattingly, doing everything that he can to convince us that "There's a lot that you still don't know about Bret Bielema..." and then moves on with the strong endorsement that "he's usually pretty entertaining."
The framing device of the episode is Bielema being asked to be a guest analyst for the SEC Championship game, which Bret was available for because Arkansas was not playing in it.
My favorite shot of the whole episode comes right after this, in a delightful sequence of Bielema on and exiting a private jet that can only be described as Clooney-esque:
He spends the next thirty seconds laying down some traditional Bret Bielema craziness on the air at the SEC championshiaaahahaha I'm just kidding, he's boring as hell.
The minute and 25 seconds of the show after that is devoted to Bielema explaining why he said "jump on my wife" and why he called a win "borderline erotic," which I'm simply noting is a thing that happened and I wish it hadn't.
Talking about Bielema's journey to Fayetteville, Andy Staples remarks that "Wisconsin in the Big Ten is very much like the Arkansas in the SEC" and that is my favorite quote from the episode, mostly because of how angry that will make Badger fans. Thanks Andy.
The strongest case that "The Setup" makes for Bielema's comedic genius and rude 'tude is a phone call where he asks the caller if they ate the giant cookie he made for them, and then slyly intones "You believe I made that big thing? Huh? Naaaahhh I'm just kidding. I bought it." Oh ho ho Bielema, you scamp! Another foe bested in a battle of wits!
And that's... pretty much it. There's an ad for a car dealership and a preview for the next episode, which seems to involve Bielema just talking shit about Kansas State for eight minutes. Which, dammit, I think makes me want to watch it.
Here's the thing about Bret Bielema: love him (unlikely) or hate him, he's a legitimately interesting person. The problem with "Being Bret Bielema" is that it completely misunderstands why he's interesting. It's not that he's some savant wildcard who will say anything at the drop of the hat, or that he's a member of Hee Haw that somehow wandered on to the set of Ballers or Entourage or whatever cool dude wish fulfillment show is on HBO right now.
No, Bielema is interesting because he has exactly zero qualms about doing or saying whatever benefits either himself or his team at any given time, even if those things might be contradictory or hypocritical. He's made a literal career of it, and the only thing stopping him from becoming truly vilified is by being surrounded by guys that are somehow even worse.
That is to say, he's the kind of heel that you can root for against the real villains of college football, and while I can't say I like the guy, he's still worth paying attention to if only for the occasional lazy hot take on Twitter. That probably isn't the cool, off the cuff Bret Bielema that Bo Mattingly would like you to see in his weirdly hagiographic show, but hey; we'll always have Penn State.