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Why Did Bielema Bail Out?

Dec. 11, 2012
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There are really three seasons each year in college football. Everyone knows the regular season and the bowl season, but between those two there's what might be called the “grab a new coach season.” Underachieving leaders get the boot and their former schools dangle fat contracts to lure new saviors, often away from other schools. Or a coach sees greener synthetic turf elsewhere and takes off, even if his former players still have a bowl game to play.

And so Bret Bielema is now the former head coach at Wisconsin and the new coach at Arkansas. UW was too surprised to have a successor lined up, but fortunately there's another guy on campus with some experience coaching in the Rose Bowl.

Why this frenzy for coaching changes in December, even though the affected teams might not be finished playing? Why doesn't the NCAA do something about it? Hey, business is business....


Frank: Bielema's bye-bye sure came out of nowhere. What's your theory?

Artie: Well, he'll make more money. And he said that at UW he couldn't pay his assistants as much as he can at Arkansas.

Frank: That second one doesn't sound like much of a reason.

Artie: Remember, he had to refill six assistant or coordinator jobs this season. I think that was a big factor in the 8-5 record. But Bielema was getting a lot of flak from some fans, and maybe he just decided, “To hell with this.”

Frank: Yes, their losses were close, but to have five of them, that has to have something to do with Bielema. But however they got to this Rose Bowl, the last two were certainly legitimate.

Artie: I think Bielema's a fine coach. You might raise your eyebrows at this or that, but with any coach there are things to criticize. He seems to be a great recruiter and the players really liked him. Just as Michael Hunt wrote in the Journal Sentinel, my comment to his critics is, “Careful what you wish for.”

Frank: By the way, it's great that UW is only the second Big Ten team to reach Pasadena three straight times. But super-sub Barry Alvarez and the Badgers better beat Stanford! Otherwise they'll join those Michigan teams of the late '70s as three-peat losers.

Artie: And Barry's Rose Bowl record will fall to 3-1, with an asterisk.

Frank: I heard the theory that Alvarez had advised Bielema to be looking for a new “opportunity” and was prepared to fire him if he'd lost the Big Ten title game.

Artie: who knows? But from Bret's viewpoint, why not take a challenge and go to the SEC? I think he'd had it with the sniping, the comparisons to Alvarez, whatever.

Frank: I also saw speculation that Bielema left because Urban Meyer's arrival at Ohio State was going make things mighty tough.

Artie: But now he'll be competing with Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier and Les Miles. So I don't question his gumption.

Frank: Most of all, the timing stinks! Not just regarding Bielema but all the coaches who jump around every December. Brian Kelly did it twice within three years, leaving Central Michigan for Cincinnati in December 2006, then dumping Cincinnati for Notre Dame in '09. And Butch Jones, Kelly's successor at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, bolted from both schools too—leaving Central for Cincy in '09 and moving on to Tennessee last week. And every one of those departures came with the team preparing for a bowl game!

Artie: “Thanks for a great season, fellas, you made me a lot of money. Good luck in your bowl game.” Well, it's a good lesson in real-world economics for the players, ain’a?

Frank: But why do schools have to make all these changes so quickly?

Artie: One word: recruiting.

Frank: But can't a coach at least fulfill a commitment to his players through their bowl game? No matter how popular Bielema was, his players have to feel a little betrayed. And what about the recruits who thought they'd be coming in to play for Bielema?

Artie: They can reconsider without penalty.

Frank: But why doesn't the NCAA, which claims to care so much for the “student-athletes,” declare a moratorium on coaching changes until after the teams involved are completely done with games?

Artie: Again, recruiting. Everyone wants to start as soon as they can.

Frank: Do you really need to recruit kids during the holiday season? Why not spend some time with your own family, which you hardly see during the season anyway? I don't see why the NCAA can't just say, “Everybody take a break until the season is entirely finished.”

Artie: You should know why. It makes too much sense.

Frank: All this coach-poaching and conference-jumping by schools show that big-time college athletics is just another industry where cutthroat competition rules. It's like the airline industry or the banking industry—do whatever it takes to maximize your revenue, raid or swallow the competition if you can, and to hell with stuff like stability, tradition, cooperation, loyalty. Advance the “brand,” and if other schools are hurt or a conference collapses, so what?

Artie: I think you've grasped it.

Frank: Of course I'm talking about bowl games as though they really mean something. Under the BCS only one game matters, and when the four-team playoff arrives in two years only three games will matter. Here are the absurd numbers for this year's bowl season...

Artie: It's too early to think about this.

Frank: Not really; it starts Saturday with the always-epic New Mexico Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Artie: At least that one features the blue field in Boise,

Frank: There are 35 games, including the BCS ones, so 70 teams. Eleven have four losses; 15 have five losses; 12 have six losses; and Georgia Tech will brighten the Sun Bowl at 6-7! So a full 40% of the bowl teams have at least five losses, and almost 60% have at least four.

Artie: Not that ESPN cares; gotta fill that air time. And as long as the host cities draw some free-spending visitors, that's what it's all about.



Frank: I know you favor UW over Marquette in their basketball showdowns. So the Golden Eagles' 60-50 win was...

Artie: Disappointing, but when I heard Mike Bruesewitz was injured I figured the Badgers would lose. With Josh Gasser already out for the season that's a lot of experience to be missing.

Frank: In the first half especially, MU's swarming defense and drives into the lane really bothered UW. But Bo Ryan's team was able to grind its way back in.

Artie: I thought they would, and they missed some wide-open shots that would have made it really interesting.

Frank: Both teams had a lot of clankers from the free-throw line, and UW's Ryan Evans was 1 for 9. That put him at 32% for the season, after hitting 66% over his first three years.

Artie: He must have gone to the Dwight Howard Summer Camp for Foul Shooting. Something is seriously wrong with his form; his feet are weird, he gets in motion and all of a sudden his arms are flying around. It's just bizarre.

Frank: MU has to feel good, bouncing back from that 33-point loss at Florida.

Artie: But the Badgers have big concerns, especially their inexperience at point guard, as they get near Big Ten play. That conference is loaded this year!

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