As Bret Bielema Exits, is a Barry Alvarez Encore Coming?

“We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC, in any way, shape or form…”

~ Bret Bielema on the recruiting tactics of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, early 2012.

Well if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

Call Bret Bielema a whiny, cock  hypocrite, but at least he’s smart enough to change his mind while his value is the highest.


With Bret Bielema on his way out at Wisconsin, could Barry Alvarez step back into his old role? (Image credit: AP via Yahoo)

In the wrestling business this would be considered a good old-fashioned heel-turn, with Bielema even shocking the inner-circle of his UW coaching staff. It was a move out of the back of the playbook even more stunning than anything he dialed up on Bo Pelini the other night.

And after the embarrassing episode of Bobby Petrino/mistress/wrecked motorcycle/subsequent firing during the spring, and the nearly as embarrassing tenure of pinch-hit coach John L. Smith during the season, the University of Arkansas was desperate to swing for the fences yet again, nearly five years to the day after stealing Petrino off the Atlanta Falcons during the NFL season.

Arkansas made a bid on LSU’s Les Miles over the weekend but came up short, yet undeterred.

One booster in Fayetteville called his shot Monday to someone in Madison, reportedly saying, “We are going to steal your coach. The sky’s the limit and we’re going to do everything he wants for facilities. This place is going to spend more money than anyone dreamed of.”

When the final numbers come out, it will be by far more than the University of Wisconsin would be willing to sweeten the pot, or should.

The Alabama-based Paul Finebaum radio show billed the Arkansas hiring of Bielema as a “bizarre, but bold” move, although the program was more interested in talking about Auburn’s hiring of Gus Malzahn.

The Finebaum show went on to talk about Bielema and the University of Wisconsin in a disrespectful manner. Finebaum and his producer could not even pronounce Bielema’s name right (he’s only been coaching seven years), and the producer started to muse about Wisconsin supposedly being left in a lurch, then stopped himself saying…Nobody cares,” to which Finebaum replied “That’s why we’re going to break.”

Arkansas is even put on the backburner on the Finebaum show, with the Razorbacks being treated like a backwater Big XII school. The program will even talk more about Ohio State, now considered an honorary elitist SEC program with Urban Meyer at the helm.

The piling on the Big Ten is well deserved. All seven B1G entrants are listed as underdogs in the bowl season. Three entrants will be playing SEC opposition, three will be going up against Big XII foes, and Wisconsin v. Pac-12 Champ Stanford.

Add the explosive Penn State scandal and the conference’s recent money grab of adding Rutgers and Maryland (and in turn the NYC and DC markets) and the pot shots on Big Ten football grow even more.

Smart Move by Bielema

Bret Bielema had said in the past that he had no intentions of leaving Madison, and his family has two houses in the area (his own and his wife whom he married over the summer).

But again, I don’t blame him for the move.

Anyone remember when Jeff Tedford was a candidate to move on to bigger and better things while coaching at Cal a few years back? Well, Tedford stayed, the program regressed, and Tedford just got a pink slip.

Kirk Ferentz at Iowa is fast becoming another example. His name won’t be coming up in NFL circles after the Hawkeyes went badly backwards this season.

In the college football business loyalty is a trait that often proves to backfire.

And then there is the tremendous success Kevin Sumlin has had in just one year at Texas A&M, which will be long forgotten if the team falls back to 6-6/7-5 a few years from now.

Facility-wise, I don’t consider trading Wisconsin’s facilities for Arkansas as an upgrade. I’ve personally seen the digs at Fayettevile, and they are impressive. They have a fantastic, modern looking stadium that is about to be increased from its current capacity of 72,000 and a 80,000 square foot operations center is also under construction. And Fayetteville does have a lovely campus.

That said, I still don’t think it tops Madison. Wisconsin is one of the true marquee universities anywhere and Madison recently named the top college football town in America. And you won’t find a State Street or an Ian’s Pizza or an AJ Bombers on the campus drag in Fayetteville. The only downside is Badgers football on Saturday often takes a back seat to Packers football on the Wisconsin sports pages – a competition that SEC markets don’t have to worry about.

Bielema’s timing is also good considering he has had more than his share of critics about game management and other issues. Stunningly, 67% in a Milwaukee online poll voted that they are actually happy to see Bret leave.

He does have his faults, but also remember his staff has developed talent such as J.J. Watt and Joe Thomas, now both in the early stages of potential NFL Hall of Fame careers. Although not a huge recruiting hot-bed, there has been incredible talent coming out of Madison on Bielema’s watch.

Best case scenario: Bielema hits it big and somehow competes with LSU/Bama/Texas A&M in the SEC West, although he better be ready to recruit ten times better than the guy on the Toyota spot at halftime on Sunday Night Football.

Worst case scenario: Bret falls flat on his face, gets run out of Northwest Arkansas faster than you can say Houston Nutt, still gets paid a handsome sum of money, and then resurfaces somewhere like Illinois, or even Iowa if it becomes available by that time. At age 42, Bielema is still one of the younger members of the coaching fraternity.

Who Will Replace Bielema?

So where does UW go from here, starting with the Rose Bowl game?? Reportedly Bielema wants to coach in it, but that’s not going to happen. Like Bo Schembechler after Michigan’s hoops coach left for supposedly greener pastures before the NCAA Tournament in 1989, Barry Alvarez wants a Wisconsin man on the sidelines that day, not an Arkansas man.

The most intriguing possibility is Barry himself returning to the sideline for that game. That possibility is creating a lot of excitement and buzz from players and fans alike in the social media universe Tuesday night.

There is supposedly already a short-list in play for possible successors, but many scenarios would involve Wisconsin blindsiding another school just like Arkansas AD Jeff Long just blindsided Wisconsin.

Former offensive coordinator and current Pitt Panther head man Paul Chryst is mentioned as the top candidate, but Chryst wasted no time putting out a statement that he is perfectly happy in the Steel City, and the last thing Pitt wants right now is to see another coach use that program as a mere stepping stone to somewhere else after one season.

Former Northern Illinois coach and former defensive coordinator Dave Doreen is another option, but the ink is not even dry on the contract he signed with North Carolina State immediately after winning the MAC Championship with NIU last Friday night. Doreen’s NC State contract is for reportedly south of $2 million per year, but I don’t see him jumping ship back towards Madison less than a week after taking the Wolfpack gig. And incidentally the reported buyout price tag is $3.5 million.

A couple other rising stars on the wish list would be James Franklin at Vanderbilt and Utah State head man Gary Andersen, but both signed contract extensions with their respective schools in recent days, and there appears to be some loyalty between those coaches and their current positions.

With the coaching carousel perhaps already running out of seats, the best candidate to coach Wisconsin football in 2013 may be Barry Alvarez himself. Obviously he would not be a long-term solution, but also consider the highly successful second act of Bill Snyder (now age 73) at Kansas State.

Alvarez could re-assume his coaching position for 1-3 years before finding either his successor in-house or in a future coaching Silly Season. It would be a much better stopgap situation than John L. Smith at Arkansas this year.

At 68-24, Bret Bielema deserves nothing but the highest praise for his tenure at Wisconsin, but Barry Alvarez (even if he remains just as the AD) will make sure the right successor is named to keep the program at a top level nationally.

About Kurt Allen

Have written/blogged about sports since 2000, along with starting my popular Twitter feed in 2009. I also closely follow fantasy sports developments, along with events such as the NFL Draft.


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