tom oates

Tom Oates: Bielema's stunning exit leaves questions

2012-12-05T06:45:00Z 2013-07-17T17:19:32Z Tom Oates: Bielema's stunning exit leaves questionsTOM OATES | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6172

Bret Bielema always had the look of an upwardly mobile coach, a go-getter who would never stay in one place for long.

Still, it was a stunner when Bielema left the University of Wisconsin football program to take the coaching job at Arkansas, if only because it looks like a lateral move at best.

The Bielema-to-Arkansas bombshell exploded Tuesday, just three days after his Badgers won the Big Ten Conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl for the third consecutive year. Despite that run of success, Bielema was a polarizing figure in Wisconsin, where his approval rating never matched his win total.

In the wake of Bielema's departure, athletic director Barry Alvarez, who hand-picked Bielema as his successor, must find another coach who can build on the program Alvarez created. In the meantime, there are many questions to be answered.

 Will UW miss Bielema?

Depending on who succeeds him, quite possibly. Bielema never won widespread acceptance, but he did win games. On balance, his plusses far outweighed his minuses.

There is no doubt Bielema improved UW's recruiting, especially in Florida. He also put together a consistent, run-oriented program based on bringing in high-quality young men and developing them as players.

On the other hand, Bielema's game-day coaching became a lightning rod for criticism, especially this season, when UW lost five by a total of 19 points. Bielema's brash demeanor and tendency to speak before thinking also rubbed people the wrong way.

 Why did Bielema leave?

Most likely, three reasons. He will get more cash at Arkansas. He thinks he'll have a better chance to win a national title in the SEC. And he will escape the criticism — some justified, some not — that reportedly hasn't sat well with him.

Bielema will get a significant bump in pay, going from $2.5 million to a reported $4 million a year. Just as important, Arkansas has boatloads of money and a willingness to spend it on assistant coaches and facilities.

Bielema will be closer to the nation's most fertile recruiting grounds at Arkansas, though it should be remembered the competition for recruits in the SEC is more intense, too. If Bielema chafed at the recruiting tactics Urban Meyer brought to Ohio State, he's in for a surprise because Meyer learned them in the SEC.

It's no easier on the field in the SEC. Arkansas is located in the SEC West with Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, which makes the Big Ten Leaders Division look like a stroll in the park.

Still, it may be that Bielema thinks UW's program has topped out and won't be able to compete with Meyer and Ohio State in the division, thereby giving his critics more ammunition. But if Bielema thinks people were too critical of his decisions in Wisconsin, wait until he finds out how rabid SEC fans are.

 Should Bielema coach in the Rose Bowl?

No, there is no reason the coach at Arkansas should coach UW in a bowl. As much as Bielema loves the players he brought to UW, his loyalties would be divided and the players wouldn't be given the best chance to succeed.

 Who should coach in the Rose Bowl?

Unless Alvarez comes out of retirement for one game, a move that would probably energize the team and the fan base, the best choice would be respected associate head coach/co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partidge. The other top candidate would be co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, but he is rumored to be joining the staff of former UW assistant Dave Doeren at North Carolina State.

 Who should UW's next coach be?

First and foremost, someone with local knowledge, someone who knows how the program operates and understands how it wins. The Badgers' time-tested formula for success — recruit size from the state, feet and hands from elsewhere, then run the ball — shouldn't change, and the new coach should reflect that.

The best person to provide that continuity would be favorite son Paul Chryst, who was a bowl-eligible 6-6 this season after leaving UW to take over the reeling program at Pitt. There was always a sense that Chryst's offensive wizardry propped up Bielema anyway, a notion that gained traction when UW struggled on offense this season. The problem might be getting Chryst, a man of great integrity, to come home one year after he pledged his loyalty to Pitt.

Alvarez stuck with someone he knows when he promoted Bielema from defensive coordinator seven years ago and it seems likely he'll do so again, even if he can't land Chryst. Doeren is unlikely to move just days after taking the Wolfpack job and a source said he's not an Alvarez favorite anyway. But there are others who could intrigue Alvarez.

Former UW quarterback Darrell Bevell, the Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator, has spoken of returning to UW, but he's been in the NFL since 2000 and seems happy there. Another former Alvarez player, Joe Rudolph, is Chryst's offensive coordinator at Pitt, though he has only one year of experience in that capacity. Still, Alvarez wanted a proven recruiter when he hired Bielema and Rudolph is a terrific recruiter.

• Does Bielema's departure mean UW is a steppingstone job?

Absolutely not. It is one of the top 20 jobs in the nation and Alvarez should be able to attract a worthy successor.

Contact Tom Oates at or 608-252-6172.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(27) Comments

  1. Report Abuse
    - December 08, 2012 9:40 am
    can he recruit top notch HS players? That is one of the the 3 keys to our program in the future.
  2. Report Abuse
    - December 08, 2012 9:36 am
    totally agree. He will make as much in 5 years as he would in 3 years at Wis. For any coach you are only 2 bad seasons or 1 scandal away from losing your job. Over the course of 3-4 years you have about 200 college kids under your program that you are repsonsible, so it's not unlikely that 1 of them will do something stupid. You need to cash in while your stock is high. What was bad is the way he did it without showing Any respect to Barry or UW. We handed him an awesome opportunity and he tossed us aside without showing appreciation. Biting the hand that feeds you and that attitude will come back to haunt him. After seeing the way his asst coaches have run away from him in the past 2 years, and the way the players responded to his departure speaks volumes. Something was amiss and we are likely not going to miss him. He ran the program just fine while he was here, but he was Not a classy guy and even in his 40's he has a lot of growing up to do. He just never seemed genuine and now when we see his true colors we know he wasn't
  3. Report Abuse
    - December 08, 2012 9:27 am
    wisconsin has shed assistants the past 2 years under Bielema. Why? Many of them went to lesser programs and some were lateral moves. Even this year, Ash is planning to leave UW and go to NC for a lateral move. He's not planning to go with Bret. What's that tell you? Chryst was prime for a head job somewhere, but for so many asst coaches to run away from Beilema is a huge red flag.
  4. Alabama Grad
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    Alabama Grad - December 05, 2012 12:33 pm
    What do you guys think? I am an Alabama Grad and think the Wisconsin Program is much better than Arkansas. The recruiting base in Arkansas is not as good as it is being made out to be, no Arkansas team has won the SEC since they joined, so its not a slam dunk. I'll see what you guys say.
  5. Beer not facebook
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    Beer not facebook - December 05, 2012 12:12 pm
    Jacksonville has an NFL Team? Who knew?
  6. Cheesemaker4life
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    Cheesemaker4life - December 05, 2012 10:43 am
    A name that has not been thrown out there by anyone that I have seen is at least worth mentioning. Former Madison Memorial athlete and UW Assistant Jay Norvell. Jay has great roots in Madison, played in the Big Ten at Iowa, has a knowledge of the professional level and has been in the co-pilot seat too long. He played under Barry in Iowa and coached with him here in Madison. Let's at least throw the name in the hat; the resume deserves the consideration
  7. TopOfCenter
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    TopOfCenter - December 05, 2012 10:32 am
    So Wisconsin didn't win that #1 tOSU game two years ago?

    Didn't win any big games? Wisconsin won the first two B1G Title games! Are you kidding me?

    Mikey2 and his like-minded ilk might be in for some crow if this program slips. It wasn't going to dissintegrate under Bielema. It could now.
  8. Toy
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    Toy - December 05, 2012 10:27 am
    If Bret thinks he will escape the criticism by accepting the Razorback job in Arkansas with no major professional sports and completes in arguably the best FB conference in the nation is wishful thinking. The Razorbacks have been a pass happy team. I think the pressure will intensify. If Tom Oates truly believes this reason enough from he sources to include it in the article, then Oates is trying to stir up the readership or he is misguided as the Badger fan base. Up to this point, Bret is following a similar path that Tom Osborne followed in Husker land. He succeed Devany who turned a so-so team in the 60s to win back to back championships. Tom could not win the big conference game against Switzer's Oklahoma nor could he win the big bowl game until late in his career. Tom was principled, invested effort in his players and expected the recruits & walk-ons to excel in the classroom and on the field. Tom did not shoot off his mouth although the media tried to make something out of nothing. The Big 10 title game against NE should provide proof the WI belongs is the Rose Bowl. I would like to see the Bret critics coach a season in the Big 10 and see how well they would do.
  9. skippie
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    skippie - December 05, 2012 10:06 am
    The Money is not that much better? Really. An increase of $1.5M or 60% seems pretty significant to me. Also his chances of winning a NC are better in the SEC because the SEC allows oversigning and the BiG does not. If you can get more talent to come to your school you increase your chances of winning a NC.
  10. snoebird
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    snoebird - December 05, 2012 10:03 am
    Loyalty matters more than ever in college football because of the sport's explosion of revenue, which is prompting schools to jump conferences and coaches and backup players to change teams. So finding a way to lure Paul Chryst back home -- even if it means Barry Alvarez coaches the Badgers for a year -- is the right move for the long haul. Pitt is one of a handful of disadvantaged college football programs -- along with Minnesota, Northwestern, Washington, Colorado and Miami -- that share a market and fan base with an NFL team. It's been a graveyard for coaches, and Chryst ought to know that. So bring him and Joe Rudolph back where their coaching and recruiting ability can reach its full potential.
  11. Mikey2
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    Mikey2 - December 05, 2012 9:46 am
    On Bielema leaving - WHO CARES!!! Today is my birthday and this is the best present I could have asked for! Never understood why Barry selected Bielema in the first place other than Bret must have been a great brown-noser. Bret could never win the BIG games as was obvious in his squandering the talent of the last two years when he should have been playing for a national championship. His best year was his first when he inherited the players and program left for him by Barry. Last week against Nebraska it was obvious that Bret had turned over the offensive and defensive play calling to his assistants because for the first time I saw some imagination - and the players responded. Bret was sooo predictable! Good riddance to you Bret and good luck in the SEC - you'll need it! With your lack of ability, Arkansas will be a bottom dweller and your lunch will be eaten by your SEC opposition! Wisconsin has great tradition, a tremendous fan base, excellent facilities, and national prominence which made your recruiting job easy, see how that works out at Arkansas. Thank you, Razorbacks!!!
  12. Observer5
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    Observer5 - December 05, 2012 8:52 am
    I think Barry knew this was coming. BB wanted more money to hire top assistants and Barry had a total $$ limit. BB didn't like the fan criticism and lack of top notch practice facilities The money at Ark is not THAT much better and his chances of winning a national championship are not any better there. I think Ark is just a temporary stop for BB until the Iowa job (his alma mater and true love) opens up. It would have been bad form to leave Wi directly for Iowa after all Barry and Wi did for him. Just can't see BB with his midwest background and values fitting in with the SEC no-holds-barred football philosophy for many years. I trust Barry has had a couple of good prospects in his back pocket for awhile now.
  13. ReallyNow
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    ReallyNow - December 05, 2012 8:18 am
    Chris Petersen
  14. Whazzat
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    Whazzat - December 05, 2012 7:41 am
    Too bad. He had just about completed the physique that even made him look like a cheesehead. On Wisconsin.
  15. Galileo
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    Galileo - December 05, 2012 7:12 am
    I hear it was less than 4mill, but what's a million here or there. I'm indifferent, he was ok, but never wowed me. But maybe that's all we can ever have at Wisconsin.
    Gruden isn't coming here, I'd be surprised if Chryst does, he's a loyal guy, and he's got a good gig there.

    Hire Diaco from ND before anyone else does, it worked the last time we hired a DC from Notre Dame.
  16. bpro
    Report Abuse
    bpro - December 05, 2012 6:55 am
    Alvie, this time engage the rules you are required in the process of hiring the next coach.
    luv, Bret.
  17. bellevillebadger
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    bellevillebadger - December 05, 2012 6:23 am
    Flambeau made some good points about putting that "seered" to shame but then he went and made a fool of himself. UW does have aging "player" factilities. I'm not regarding to BB's big fancy office. The McClain is awful and the new center is still getting built. No outdoor practice fields anymore either, unless you count the stadium itself. BB also left for "money", not to mention the turmoil he left here. Arkansas is in such a mess they would easily pay anything, that includes a lot more then UW would of paid even with a raise.
    Move on from this mess! Forget BB, he just held onto a team that Barry was coaching from afar. Sounds like Chryst is coming back so go find another UW guy and lets get to winning a Rose Bowl again.
  18. grampabucky
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    grampabucky - December 05, 2012 6:05 am
    I always thought that Bielema considered himself to be a "conservative". This final traitorous act only confirms my suspicion. Good riddance Mr. Bielema, all the best to you as you enter the "conservative" holy grail of college football.
  19. coach_white
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    coach_white - December 05, 2012 5:39 am
    James Franklin from Vanderbilt. He topped out in the SEC--Vandy will never be a 10 win team--and he knows how to recruit, motivate, and coach against top flight teams at an academics-first institution.
    And Bret is leaving for cash; it is a sixty percent raise, after all. People need to figure out that loyalty is a waste of breath in present day athletics. After all, two of the best Badgers in recent history were transfers (Watt and Wilson)--they didn't have loyalty to Central Mich and NCState, after all.
  20. grampabucky
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    grampabucky - December 05, 2012 4:31 am
    Make no mistake, Bret Bielama is a traitor of the worst kind. Montee Ball comes back for his final season to take care of unfinished business and a month before his final game as a Badger the traitorous coach bolts to Arkansas. What about Curt Phillips, who literally went through hell just for the possibity to get to play in a Rose Bowl. For shame Mr. Bielama, you are no longer an honorable man. ON WISCONSIN? More like DUMP ON WISCONSIN.
  21. fredfunk
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    fredfunk - December 05, 2012 4:03 am
    bring some unknown person who might do well. forget about these roll over coaches who might cost a bundle but be ineffective. nuff said
  22. not_a_tax_bigot
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    not_a_tax_bigot - December 05, 2012 1:09 am
    SEC defensive star for Alabama....Kirby Smart....really should be among those receiving strong consideration.
  23. truegangsteroflove
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    truegangsteroflove - December 04, 2012 11:52 pm
    Something was in the air after the scandal last winter. I didn't like the guy, but he won games. To me he just didn't look like a football coach. If he doesn't win at Arkansas they'll be rid of him in a hurry. The game is all about money anyway, so I don't get worked up about it. Coaches are easy to find.
  24. chadhaas
    Report Abuse
    chadhaas - December 04, 2012 10:34 pm
    As much as fans would like to have the recognized names such as Jon Gruden, Paul Chryst, Darrell Bevell, etc. whom they are familiar with, don't be surprised if Alvarez names someone who is completely off the radar to make a bold statement through their hiring. One person who comes to my mind is Mel Tucker, who is currently the Defensive Coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaquar's. He has connections to the Badgers where he played defensive back under Alvarez and connections in coaching in the Big Ten, where he was a disciple of Nick Saban during his tenure at Michigan State. Hiring a black head coach to lead the next generation of Badgers would be a bold move. Tucker is a fast rising star and is very well respected as one of the young bright defensive minds in the NFL. Defenses win championships and his hiring would not be surprise me.

    Regardless of who is chosen, it sure will be curious to watch what happens next.
  25. Fflambeau
    Report Abuse
    Fflambeau - December 04, 2012 10:27 pm
    Let me add two other points. 1) Seered's absurd claim that BB is leaving be cause of inadequate pay/facilities is sheer nonsense. Camp Randall was recently renovated at a cost of more than hundred million dollars; football coaching offices are there. Facilities and training facilities are top notch. If anything Arkansas is a step down. Also, BB was making lots of loot here and he likely would have gotten a major raise had he stayed next year. I suspect one of the reasons he left abruptly is that he saw a 3rd straight loss in the Rose Bowl and that meant fans would really have had their knives sharpened for him. It really had become "put up or get out time for BB". 2) the writer's idea of having Barry coach one last time is a great one. Only he could bring the team together, and I suspect he would love to have one last shot in the Rose bowl. That would also allow more time for the hiring of BB's successor, something that should not be hurried this time around.
  26. Fflambeau
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    Fflambeau - December 04, 2012 10:19 pm
    I completely disagree with most of Seered's comments. But first, let me wish BB good luck at Arkansas. I've never been a big fan of BB or the roundabout way he was hired in defiance of UW's rules. But he seems to have done a good (but not outstanding job) this year when his staff had many transitions. I suspect that one of the reasons for his abrupt departure is that there may be more staff changes coming soon; I suspect he was a difficult person to work with and that perhaps better than anything might explain why 6 coaches (including Chryst) left all at the same time. BB was also a bad image for the university, seen widely as a loud mouth who ran up scores. I think UW can and will do better. The former hog farmer should be in heaven in Arkansas; maybe he felt his own persona was viewed as too rough in Madison but that he will fit in far better in Little Rock. I'm not sure Partridge is the answer but Alvarez should take his time. Chryst and Rudolph both should be in the mix as should D. Bevell. Pat Richter, who brought in Alvarez, should also be seated at Alvarez's right hand and give major input for this big decision. I don't know who it will be but I think it will NOT be one of the current assistant coaches.
  27. seered
    Report Abuse
    seered - December 04, 2012 9:42 pm
    Wow, this certainly is a stunning development.
    The official announcement tomorrow, if Alvarez is over being dumbfounded get off your rear
    And up the anti if you want to keep him and avoid a huge mess.

    If not shut up! You get what you pay for, and you lose what you don't pay for. The facilities are average at best here, I you want to compete and keep a top coach UPDATE the facilities, now! Before it's seriously too late, which is close.

    Telling us your surprised is hard to believe Mr Alvarez! You had to give schools permission to approach BB. If he went behind your back then you have bigger problems than anyone can imagine.

    Hire Partridge and be done with it. The players can't take going through another year of transition after fighting through it this year.
    UW won't pay to play with a big name so you better hire from within, and Partridge is the man!

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