I don’t know what’s more shocking: Wisconsin’s utter domination of Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday, or the news that Bret Bielema will leave the Badgers after 7 seasons to become the head coach at Arkansas.
Last week I remember seeing Bielema’s name mentioned on the Internet in a discussion about the Arkansas coaching vacancy, but I dismissed it as nothing more than a silly rumor. I figured the chances of him going to Arkansas or anywhere else for that matter were about as likely as Arkansas actually getting Les Miles to leave LSU to coach the Razorbacks.
But the world of sports is a funny place, and Bielema is headed for Fayetteville.
Bielema’s Underappreciated Madison Tenure
Bielema wasn’t always the most popular man in Madison, never being embraced quite like Bo Ryan or Bielema’s predecessor Barry Alvarez. However, I think that some of the comments I’ve seen on the articles reporting his departure are ludicrous.
In addition to the trolling Ohio State fans, who can be found on any article related to the Big Ten, there were disgruntled Wisconsin fans that were saying good riddance to Bielema and claiming that the program would be better off without him.
I understand the criticisms toward Bielema, but to suggest that Wisconsin football is better off without him is just not true.
Yes, many have said that he can be a bit arrogant and is not the most lovable guy in the world, plus his clock management skills have a ton of room for improvement, but the pros outweigh the cons.
Filling Barry Alvarez’s shoes was a very, very tall task, and I think that Bielema managed pretty well for himself and kept the ball rolling. During his time in Wisconsin, he went 68-24 including 3 seasons with at least 11 wins and 4 seasons with at least 10. During his tenure, Alvarez only had 1 season where he had 11 wins.
I’m not trying to say that Bielema is even in the same league as Alvarez when it comes to coaching, because if it weren’t for Barry, Wisconsin would still be a lackluster program and Bielema wouldn’t have had an opportunity to succeed in Madison. But Bret Bielema is no bush-leaguer when it comes to coaching, and the impact he had on the Badgers was very positive.
He recruited very well while in Madison, his players seemed to really like him (see: last Saturday’s game for against Nebraska), and the fact of the matter is he flat-out won. As far as the criticism that he couldn’t win the big game goes, that’s just garbage too.
Sure, the Badgers lost the last 2 Rose Bowls, but it was to a couple of superb teams. TCU and Oregon were easily 2 of the nation’s best teams when they faced Wisconsin, and there’s no shame in losing to either of them, especially considering that the Badgers played them both close.
Also, to say he can’t win a big game would be completely ignoring one the biggest wins in the history of Wisconsin Badgers football.
On October 16, 2010, the Badgers took down the undefeated and #1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes inside of a rocking Camp Randall Stadium. As a fan of Wisconsin sports, I have to say that the upset of the Buckeyes might be my favorite moment from any Wisconsin sports teams, perhaps only behind the Milwaukee Brewers winning Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS.
Bielema at Arkansas a Curious Fit
As far as the decision by Bielema to leave for Arkansas, I’m not quite sure I understand the move.
I know that the Arkansas job is a good one, but is it really that much better than Wisconsin? It’s not a top-tier job like Notre Dame, Alabama, USC or Ohio State, so my only guess is that the Razorbacks threw a lot of money at him.
There were rumblings in the comments of these articles that perhaps he’s darting to avoid impending recruiting violations or something of that nature. While not completely out of the question, I think that is highly unlikely.
Bielema has been a Midwest guy his entire career, both as a coach and a player, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in the SEC. He’s headed to the toughest division in football, having to try and get his program back on level-footing, all while having to compete with Alabama and LSU.
He seems like an unorthdox fit for a southern school, especially considering that last year he had this to say when talking about Urban Meyer’s recruiting techniques: “We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC in any way, shape, or form.”
So while I don’t know what Bielema’s reasoning is for leaving Madison, my guess is it’s certainly legitimate
What’s Next For Wisconsin?
Now the question is for Wisconsin fans, who will be the next coach?
First is the question of who will coach the team in the Rose Bowl. Reports say that Arkansas would be fine with Bielema coaching the team in the Rose Bowl, but I’m just not sure that Barry Alvarez is going to be game for that, as he probably feels betrayed by his hand-picked successor.
It would be epic if Barry returned for 1 game to coach the team, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported that Alvarez is open to coming back to act as a figurehead coach for the Rose Bowl.
In regards to a permanent replacement, one name jumps to my mind and the minds of most Wisconsin fans: Paul Chryst.
Chryst, currently the coach at Pittsburgh, served as a brilliant offensive coordinator for the Badgers under Bielema, and I just think he would be an absolutely perfect fit for Wisconsin. Part of me would feel bad for Pittsburgh if Chryst leaves, because they’ve certainly endured more than enough coaching changes over the past few years. But the prospect of Chryst coming back to Madison has me excited, and I hope it happens.
Whether or not he coaches in the Rose Bowl, Bret Bielema’s time at Wisconsin was very successful. 3 straight Big Ten titles and trips to Pasadena are very impressive, and I will miss him at least a little. Parts of me want to be angry with Bielema and feel betrayed, but all I can say is that I wish him the best of luck in the SEC, because he’s probably going to need it.
The only thing I know for sure is that I blame Bobby Petrino for all of this.