By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Two Arkansans from very different walks of life personify that old expression – Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson and Bret Bielema, Razorbacks head football coach. In this post-Thanksgiving column, let’s celebrate their achievements before returning to day-to-day politics next week.
Hutchinson not only tried again, but he tried, tried, tried again. Three times he lost badly in statewide elections – the last a 56-41 shellacking at the hands of Gov. Mike Beebe in the 2006 governor’s race. (Remember “Asa!”?) He faced good opponents, but he also lost those races because he chose to put an “R” beside his name instead of a “D,” when many other aspirational candidates simply joined the majority party.
For some reason, the former congressman, Drug Enforcement Agency director, and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security really, really wanted to be governor of Arkansas, so he placed his name on the ballot again. Now 63 and about to turn 64, this year probably was his last chance to be elected. Naturally reserved, he seemed confident, relaxed and cheerful throughout the campaign. The swirling winds of history had shifted in his favor, and he knew it.
The dog has finally caught the car, but unlike the dog, Hutchinson seems to know what to do with his prize. He is methodically preparing his budget and determining who will lead the various state agencies. He’s been measured in his public comments and seems genuinely interested in uniting the state under his leadership – even, as columnist John Brummett recently reported, having a long phone conversation with Bill Clinton, whom Hutchinson prosecuted during the impeachment trial.
You have to add a few more “try agains” to Bielema’s situation – 12 in fact. The coach left a winning situation in Wisconsin to rebuild an Arkansas program that hadn’t yet recovered from the Bobby Petrino scandal. Thirteen times Bielema faced an SEC foe, and 13 times he lost, coming heartbreakingly close to victory against some of the nation’s best teams this season. Oh, yes, people were complaining – about Bielema’s throwback style of smashmouth football, and about the fact that native son Gus Malzahn, the coach many Arkansans wanted, took his Auburn team to the national championship game at the same time Bielema was going winless in the SEC last season.
Few are complaining now. Bielema’s style – both coaching and personal – seem a perfect fit for this state. He may be an Illinois native, but he was raised on a hog farm – yes, a hog farm – and he’s unquestionably one of us. Prior to the loss against Missouri Friday, Arkansas had shut out LSU and Ole Miss by a combined score of 47-0. The Razorbacks had finished one spot out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Has a 6-6 team ever been this good or this respected?
Arkansas’ future looks very bright. The Hogs are bowl-eligible, which didn’t seem likely a few weeks ago. They’ll enter next season with talent, depth, experience and high expectations. With so many other programs adopting the pass-first spread offense, blue-chip high school offensive linemen and running backs have to be placing Arkansas near the top of their lists. And just as Hutchinson did this year, the Razorbacks will continue to have success in future Novembers, particularly when the weather turns colder and the game becomes less about airing it out and more about grinding it out.
Grinding it out – that’s Hutchinson and Bielema. They tried and tried again, and then they succeeded.