A Day In the House of the Hog: A Look Inside the Razorback Football Program


It’s 9:15am on a Saturday, and I’m waiting in the parking lot outside the Arkansas Razorback Football offices to spend the day doing what every football fan dreams of doing, but few ever get a chance to do. A few moments pass and Mark Taurisani, the Assistant AD of Football Operations, comes out to meet my dad and I. We chat for a bit, and then it’s time to get started.

Our first stop for the day is to head to the team meeting room for a full breakdown from Head Coach Bret Bielema to his players, to cover the plans for a  scrimmage that is taking place in just a few hours. The meeting starts not with an offensive or defensive schedule or game plan, but with a teary eyed Bielema thanking his players for all the support they have given him while he and his wife are going through some tough times as a family member is ill. It’s in that moment I can feel the overwhelming sense of family everyone in that room has for each other. A good coach can yell at a player and win a game, but a great coach can create a bond with a team that means more than any win ever could, and that’s exactly what Bielema has done at the University of Arkansas.

Once the itinerary for the day was handed out, each coach took his group of players for an in-depth analysis of what they expect from the day. I sat in with Coach Barry Lunney Jr. and Offensive Coordinator Dan Enos for the offensive meeting. As I go to take my seat in the back, I look 2 seats down and there he is. Bret Bielema. I am an extremely cocky individual, but in that moment I was a deer in the headlights. “What do I say? I hope I don’t embarrass myself.” Luckily, before I could find the opportunity to say something, Barry Lunney Jr. is in the front of the room, doing a film breakdown with his team.

“I better never have to repeat myself on this again.” he says as he points a laser at a missed assignment on the film screen. Once he is done he comes back and sits in front of us with and I notice coach Michael Smith is right next to him. I am officially in Razorback heaven. As Dan Enos goes through his breakdown, one thing is repeated in his talk, “I want to see Men out there who know how to play football.” A simple statement, but to these young men, it means everything. They know that it’s time to step up or step off.

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As the meeting comes to an end, I start talking to Smith and Lunney, and they instantly make me feel welcome and at home. My dad and Lunney start talking about his game he played in against Tennessee to which Lunney says, “You know your stuff don’t you?” My dad is a Razorback historian, so this made his day. They get to talking about some recruits they really like and about that time the meeting is over. As I am getting up Mark introduces me to the head hog himself, Coach Bielema. While shaking my hand he notices my shirt, which has on the front of it the score from the Ole Miss game. I smile and show him the back which has the 4th and 25 play drawn up with X’s and O’s. “I’m sure this is just how you drew it up.” We had a laugh, and it was time to get to the tour of the facilities. On the way out the door we are stopped by Paul Rhoads. He introduces himself and we chat for a bit. You may or may not have seen videos of him going ballistic on the sideline or locker room as a head coach but I can tell you this from meeting him, he is a really nice and sincere guy.

We go out the door of the meeting rooms and through a set of double doors that open up to a gorgeous display of The Boot and The Battle Line trophy. The boot has always meant a lot to the Arkansas fan base, but for Bielema, it is a symbol of something much more. It was not only his first win in the SEC as the Arkansas head coach, but it was the turning point that kicked off what is going to be a very special time for his Razorback football program. It was a gift from him to those seniors of the 2014-2015 team that had stuck with him through so much adversity, to lay the foundation for his program.

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Moving on from there, we headed to the weight room, which is Coach Ben “The Transformer” Herbert’s sanctuary. Pictures and video cant do it justice. It’s massive. 110 yards of the most state of the art gym equipment with a kitchen attached to it for making the Herb prescribed shakes. On the wall in the back side is a saying. “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll make an excuse.”

Bielema’s team isn’t just learning to go out on the field and play a sport. He takes more pride in teaching them lessons for what they do off the field and how to be the best men and most successful men they can be. I noticed on the wall, were glass plaques with a team logo and 2016 date. When I asked Mark what that was about, he informed me that each one is a game for the up coming season. Once the game is played, if it’s a win, they take them down and the entire team will sign them before going back up. If they lose however, they remain as they are as a reminder. Not just a reminder of the losing as a team, but also what it means to get back up as a team.

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Once we wrapped up in the weight room, it was time to head to Coach Bielema’s office. On the way, we took a stop for something that, as a serious computer geek, I had been hoping to get to see. The virtual reality training room. When asked if I’d like to try it out, I couldn’t refuse. I strapped on the new mobile Oculus headset and boom, I was making hand offs to Jonathan Williams and lining up with Dan skipper. To say I was excited would be a drastic understatement. I had a complete geek-gasm.

We head down the hallway and enter an office and sitting down at the desk is Bret Bielema. The walls are adorned with all things Arkansas and the many accolades he has received throughout his coaching career. He invited us to sit with him in the living room setup he had and as I am getting comfortable on his couch, I can’t help but smile hearing the reggae music playing through the stereo speaker above. This jogged my memory of something I had heard about him so I looked down and sure enough, he does chill barefoot listening to Bob Marley. All the butterflies I had earlier in the day subsided as the conversation went on.

I told him about the time my dad and I had gone to see John Elway’s last Superbowl but that it didn’t compare to the fully erotic feeling of going to Texas and destroying the Longhorns. He has a way of making you feel like you have known him your entire life. I could tell that he was tired from dealing with the difficult family situation, but for him to make time to sit and tell stories with my dad and I meant the world. It shows how much each and every fan means to him and how truly great of a guy he is. We may get mad when the Razorbacks lose but I can assure you, we don’t get nearly as pissed as he does.

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We let him get ready for the scrimmage and headed down to the field. Walking on to the field, we were met by Coach Herb. When I say he is an intimidating guy, I mean it. Just like all the other coaches I met though, he was as nice and personable as could be. As he described it, “We are all family.” I could certainly feel that family atmosphere that Bielema always refers to.

This article isn’t meant to recap the scrimmage that I attended. You can catch a recap of the plays and the mistakes from anywhere. My perspective was more from an inside look at the coaching, including as Mark called him “Coach Drew”, referring to Drew Morgan. He had a break out season last year on the field, but this season he has taken on a much larger leadership role off the field.

Talking to some of the coaches about the QB situation and seeing it for myself, Austin Allen is leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. Quarterbacks aside, what I am most excited for is the tight ends and receivers. The coaches solidified my anticipation when I talked to them about it, especially Dominique Reed. “He’s getting a lot of NFL looks and he is going to break combine records I promise you.” one coach said while we were on the sideline.

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After the scrimmage we went and ate lunch with the team. Sadly just as we were getting ready to head over to Coach’s office, Coach Rhoads sat down with us to eat but we were already in a rush. However, I did get to talk with him and Coach Herb some more which was really nice. Yet again Bielema took time out of the hectic day to show his love for his fans and signed a book for my dad and a shirt for me. We had a few laughs and I went ahead and let him get back to his work.

I have to say going into this, I really thought I would just write about what the facilities were like and get some pictures, but I quickly learned this was much more than that. I saw first hand, a family atmosphere of young men being lead by a group of genuinely great guys. Not once did I feel like I was in the way or annoying anyone. Each coach and staff member makes any newcomer or visitor feel completely included in that first handshake. “We are so glad to have you.” with genuine heartfelt meaning came from everyone. This is not just a team. This is a family.

Next: Diamond Hogs Struggle, Get Swept by Ole Miss

This experience came thanks to D.J. Williams. He set this package up as part of his fight against domestic violence, which was auctioned off with all proceeds going to help those in need of help. My family was more than happy to support his fight against an issue that affects so many families, including some close to us. I hope he continues this annually not only for the fans to be able to experience what we got to experience, but to grow his campaign against a very real issue.

I would like to give special thanks to: DJ Williams, Mark Taurisani, Coach Bret Bielema and his entire staff for this awesome opportunity and for being so hospitable to us.