The day started with a proposal. It ended with a divorce.
In between there was a heckuva football game, perhaps to be forgotten.
Bijhon Jackson got a yes on the proposal at midfield, just after his introduction during Senior Day ceremonies. Bri Biehl made sure everyone in Reynolds Razorback Stadium knew the big nose tackle had won her heart.
Bret Bielema got the rejection four hours later. Julie Cromer Peoples, the interim athletics director for the last nine days, ended his time at Arkansas within minutes of the bitter finish of Missouri’s 48-45 victory.
The man who grew up calling the Hogs in Illinois teared up midway through his final press conference with the media, but not before wishing them a belated Happy Thanksgiving.
Bielema probably could have skipped the press conference, but that’s not his style. He even gave the media one more “Woo Pig” before taking questions.
It was a bizarre day. It started with two of the injured stars riding a golf cart to midfield for the senior introductions, including captain Frank Ragnow, out for the last five games. Then, Jackson got down on his knee to propose.
Playing for the seniors is what Bielema said he asked his players to do, not anything for him personally. Either way, the Hogs came out of the gates on fire. They jumped to a 21-7 lead with their best first quarter against a Power 5 team in the last two years.
Missouri clawed back with great deep passing from quarterback Drew Lock. Wide receiver J’Mon Moore toasted the UA corners for 10 catches and 160 yards. The last one was the killer, a 24-yarder for a touchdown.
It was one of the many plays that the SEC officials seemed to get wrong. Field judge Greg Thomas watched intently as Moore pushed Henre’ Toliver out of the way, then grabbed the pass in the end zone with a nifty toe touch.
The crowd booed lustily, as it did earlier as UA quarterback Austin Allen was jerked around by his face mask at least twice.
There were other goofs by the referees. Referee Hubert Owens had to call the teams from their locker room because the halftime clock didn’t stop on a play out of bounds. They had to reset the clock to :02, although the added play was just an incomplete pass.
There were other strange happenings, like Moore running the Arkansas sidelines afterwards looking to taunt some of the Razorbacks. There were several Arkansas players interested in whatever he wanted, but Bielema’s staff got the team into the locker room to let the Tigers celebrate retaining the Battle Line Trophy.
It was Missouri that probably began and ended the final chapter in Bielema’s five years at Arkansas. The Tigers rallied from a 24-7 deficit to beat the Hogs 28-24 last year in Columbia.
That rally seemed unlikely at the time. This one was so familiar that it was almost predictable, although the Hogs never quit fighting this time.
Missouri entered on a roll. The Tigers (7-5, 4-4 SEC) had won five straight by a combined 177 points. But, they probably didn’t beat any team in that streak that was as talented as the Hogs (4-8, 1-7).
Lock led the Tigers to 696 yards of total offense. He completed 25 of 42 for 448 yards. Toliver grabbed two interceptions and also had a 33-yard punt return. The Hogs scored touchdowns after two of those big plays.
Allen fought admirably behind a makeshift offensive line led by left guard Hjalte Froholdt. Jake Raulerson stepped in at center with Ragnow and Zach Rogers both out with injuries.
Froholdt, bothered by an ankle injury, made key blocks on three of the four UA touchdown runs. His ankle finally gave out early in the fourth quarter. Backup tackle Paul Ramirez played the final 10 minutes at guard.
The two teams traded field goals in the final five minutes. Connor Limpert tied the game for the Hogs at 45-45 with a 42-yarder, but Missouri responded with a 14-play, 75-yard march to set up Tucker McCann’s 19-yard-er with five seconds left.
All of that seemed like minutia by the time Bielema entered the media room. Assistant athletics director Kevin Trainor had just passed out a statement from Peoples that Bielema had been fired.
Bielema’s best team was mentioned in the release. The Hogs went 8-5 in 2015, including a victory over Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. There was also mention of the back-to-back shutouts of Ole Miss and LSU in 2014, the only time that had ever happened to ranked teams in back-to-back games in the history of college football.
That’s the good news, but there was also a lot of disappointment. Bielema’s overall record of 29-34 includes 11-29 in SEC games. The Hogs went 5-3 in 2015.
Bielema said it was the first time he’d ever “been let go.” He said there are no regrets and that Fayetteville will always be remembered as the birthplace of his daughter, Briella. He pointed to the injury list in this season along with key players leaving early to the NFL in other seasons, something that he said was rare in his time at Wisconsin.
“The only (early) one there was J.J. Watt,” Bielema said, who said six of his top nine players this season missed significant time with injuries.
Lack of line depth was his undoing, Bielema said. As he has mentioned earlier this season, he said he wishes he’d signed more players in the offensive and defensive line in his early years with the Hogs.
Bielema didn’t object to being told immediately after the game.
“This is much better,” he said. “I got to say goodbye to at least 80 of my players just now.”
If Bielema expected it, he didn’t say so.
“I was told to keep working, keep recruiting, keep grinding,” he said. “Give credit to my coaches. That’s what they did.”
Bielema thanked Jeff Long, his former boss. He also thanked Peoples who was his sport administrator for two years. He said he’ll have fond memories of just about everything from his five years at Arkansas, including the media.
“I love people who love doing their jobs,” he said. “I didn’t want to make it hard for anybody to do their jobs.”
While taking questions, Bielema made it clear that he’s open to coaching again.
“I’ll do anything to help Arkansas,” he said. “I’ll be a big fan. If they want my help, I’ll give it tenfold.”
Later, he said, “You have a lot of positives to sell here. I just felt like we were paper thin with our roster, always chasing. I think in our first class, there are seven or eight in the NFL right now.”
There was one little barb in his final 15 minutes with the media. He said he gave Peoples some stats just after she took over for Long. It pushed his case for another season. He wished he could have given that information “to the people who pulled the trigger.”
Don’t expect Bielema to carry a grudge. It’s just not like him.
Plus, he’s going to be paid millions for several years. He left with a smile and at least one handshake. He said he was headed home for a plate of dressing his wife, Jen, had promised after a trip to Whole Foods.
Bret Bielema can buy a lot of dressing and he’s not going to ever have to farm hogs again.
What’s next? Arkansas fans are left to watch Auburn’s Gus Malzahn battle No. 1 Alabama. Is there any truth that Nick Saban has made it so tough in that state that another loss to the Crimson Tide has readied Malzahn for a return home? Malzahn could coach four more games with Auburn, including Saturday. That would be a heckuva wait.
The only thing for sure Friday is that Jackson got a yes and many Razorback fans will be rooting for Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Clay Henry can be reached at email@example.com .