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As of May 26, 2012, this is now a college football blog by Ren Simon. All previous posts were written by the previous blog owners. Follow us on twitter: Diehard CFB Fans

CFB Coaching Carousel: Arkansas' Bret Bielema

December 7th 2012 20:14
A lot has happened this week in terms of college football hires and rumors. But the biggest news, as well as the biggest surprise, is Bret Bielema leaving Wisconsin to head to Arkansas as the new Razorbacks head coach. Itís a big punch in the gut for the Big Ten, but not necessarily for the reason experts and sports writers think. After all, the Big Ten got Urban Meyer. So this doesnít mean that the SEC is more desirable to head coaches or that Big Ten jobs are stepping stone jobs for the SEC.

But letís examine some of the issues on the table here with Bielemaís decision.

1) Is Arkansas a better job than Wisconsin?

Honestly, you could make an argument either way, or you could say theyíre roughly the same. I would say it depends on what a head coach wants. If youíre a head coach and you want the chance to play for a national title and/or win conference champions, youíre better off at Wisconsin--despite what everyone else has been saying. As a head coach in the Big Ten, you do deal with Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska. But none of these programs are so great that you canít beat them at Wisconsin. In fact, Bielema has beaten them all. And Wisconsin has had pretty good shots at national titles under Bielema but has blown them, most notably last season when the Badgers lost two games on big late-game plays. And for some reason, Wisconsin has struggled to beat Michigan State over the past few years. These were issues that could be overcome, though.

But if youíre at Arkansas, you have to figure out how to beat Nick Saban at Alabama. Thatís not like being in the same division with Urban Meyer and Ohio State. Alabama is essentially a dynasty right now. And take Texas A&M, for example. The Aggies managed to beat Alabama, but they also lost to Florida and LSU. Just because Arkansas beats Alabama doesnít mean Arkansas will go undefeated, and it probably wonít--ever--as long as the SEC is top heavy. It can play for a national title with one loss, but Bielema usually lost more than one game in the Big Ten most seasons. Imagine how many he can lose at Arkansas.

2) How successful can Bielema be at Arkansas?

That depends. The fan base will define success one way (winning the SEC, playing for the national title) and the rest of us will define it another way. If Bielema can have 9-3 and 10-2 seasons at Arkansas in the SEC, I view that as success. And I think he can win 9 games most seasons, but heís not going to do it the way Bobby Petrino did. Thatís a good thing. By that, I mean Wisconsin was like a poor manís SEC team under Bielema. All that means is the Badgers played SEC-style ball (which is really a little more like old-school Big Ten ball) without SEC-style recruits. And donít forget--they beat a good Arkansas team in Bielemaís first season at Wisconsin this way. That type of ball is the most likely to win championships, which is one of the reasons Gene Chizik tried to switch Auburn over to a more pro-style attack on offense.

People have talked about it being hard to recruit to Arkansas. But Bielema will still be in a better region for attracting elite recruits than he was at Wisconsin, and itís not as if he didnít get Southern guys up to Wisconsin. So I see Bielema getting better players than he did at Wisconsin, plus he is good at developing players. I think this hire and the Auburn Gus Malzahn hire put the SEC West unequivocally back as the best division in the SEC, if there was any doubt this season, because Arkansas and Auburn will be competitive in the SEC most seasons under these guys.

3) Why would he go to Arkansas/Why would Arkansas hire him?

The SEC people I know recoiled in horror and/or disbelief when they found out Bielema was hired by Arkansas. Everyone else seemed to ask why Bielema would go to Arkansas.

Iím a Southern kid who also happens to be a Big Ten alum, so I see both sides. My observation is that SEC people donít know/understand what Bielema accomplished at Wisconsin. I would say that, despite Wisconsinís winning three straight Big Ten titles and going to three straight Rose Bowls, most SEC people think Michigan, OSU and Penn State when they think Big Ten. I also got the impression that many of these people really either donít know anything about the Rose Bowl or just donít value it anywhere near as much as Big Ten people do, donít pay much attention to it, etc--which is completely unfathomable to me. How do you not know that Wisconsin played in the last two Rose Bowls or that the Rose Bowl is not just another bowl game and still call yourself a college football fan? At least know that Wisconsin is going to the Rose Bowl this season. But, no, these SEC fans only know that Georgia barely lost to Alabama in the SEC title game and Alabama will ďkillĒ Notre Dame.

My thought process initially was more along the lines of ďwhy would Bielema go to Arkansas.Ē And then a lot of things started coming into focus--the money, the challenge of coaching in the SEC...Bielemaís relationship with Wisconsin fans.

Yeah...Wisconsin fans are ungrateful. I donít know if they know this, but Wisconsin used to be a Big Ten doormat. Barry Alvarez changed that, and in a lot of ways Bielema took that to another level, i.e. the three straight Rose Bowls. I know they think heís a drunk, and I agree there have been coaching errors under him. But Wisconsin fans need to stop and think about the fact that only Michigan and Ohio State have ever been to three straight Rose Bowls and what that means for Wisconsin. As a Michigan alum, when I saw what Wisconsin did against Nebraska in the Big Ten title game and realized the Badgers were joining a club only Michigan and OSU were in, that made me welcome Wisconsin to the club called the Big Ten elite. Yet there are Wisconsin fans mad about the five losses (as fans of elite teams should be), fans who wanted Bielema out as far back as 2008 and fans who are happy heís gone. These same fans had nothing to say last season or the season before when Wisconsin was destroying opponent after opponent.

I think this push-and-pull with fans is an understated factor in Bielemaís moving on. Wisconsin fans do not appreciate what this guy has done there. Outside of Ohio State, Wisconsin has been the most consistent team in the Big Ten. Outside of Michigan, Wisconsin has been my favorite team in the Big Ten because of its offense. Bielema brought an explosive pro-style offense to Wisconsin, although the offense hasnít looked great much of this season. But ďexplosiveĒ and ďpro-styleĒ generally donít go together, yet this is a program that has scored 40 points in many games by mainly running the ball. And the Badgers have mainly played in January bowl games under Bielema. But, again, this is the same coach whose departure some Wisconsin fans are celebrating. Pretty sure they helped drive him out. But be careful what you wish for.

4) How does this affect the Big Ten?

It depends on who becomes the next head coach at Wisconsin. The issue I see is that the Big Ten needs Wisconsin to remain near the top of the conference. So this hire is crucial. Itís got to be someone who will, more or less, maintain Wisconsinís style of ball. Before he took the Tennessee job, a few people suggested Cincinnatiís Butch Jones. Iíve mentioned before that I see Jones in the Big Ten at some point. Iím surprised he seemed more interested in Colorado than he was in Purdue, and who knows how much interest he had in Wisconsin. But Wisconsinís going with Jones would be a little like how Michigan went with Rich Rodriguez. Wisconsin does not need a spread offense guy. Like Michigan, Wisconsin probably would fall off a cliff if it tried to change its offensive philosophy that drastically.

Wisconsin has offered the possibility that the Big Ten could become a strong conference again on the field and be about more than just Michigan and OSU nationally. People thought Nebraska would do the same thing, but Nebraska has slightly underachieved under Bo Pelini and likely will continue to do so. The Cornhuskers havenít really been a top 5-10 team like Wisconsin has at times at any point in the last five years. Michigan State seems as if itíll always struggle to be a consistent player in the Big Ten. And Penn State has been hit hard by NCAA sanctions.

I see Wisconsin as the most likely team to compete consistently both in the Big Ten and nationally other than Michigan and OSU, and thatís why it will hurt the Big Ten to lose Wisconsin as one of its best teams--even if a lot of people nationally donít completely acknowledge Wisconsinís achievements so far. Conferences are judged by their top teams, not overall depth--otherwise people wouldnít keep saying the SEC is the best conference instead of the Big 12.

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