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The Bielema Era Begins In Fayetteville

Bret Bielema is a “name” coach.  Usually, “name” coaches from successful Top 15 programs don’t leave for other programs unless that new program is the coach’s good old alma mater.  But Arkansas AD Jeff Long snagged Wisconsin’s coach just days after he’d wrapped up his third Rose Bowl invite in a row.

That in itself is a coup.

The fact that Long kept the discussions quiet while so many other conversations leaked out — Gary Patterson, Les Miles, Chris Petersen, Mike Gundy — might have been an even bigger surprise.

Before we get to whether or not Bielema will be successful in Fayetteville, here are some issues that played a role in Arkansas’ ability to land its new leader:

 

*  He’ll be paid $3.2 million annually for six years.  That’s a $600,000 per year raise over his Wisconsin salary.

*  If fired during his first three years, Bielema will be paid 100% of this contract.  That’s about as good a buyout as a man can get.

*  He can earn as much as $700,000 additional dollars each year through incentive clauses.

*  Bielema pointed out at his introductory presser on Wednesday that he had a hard time holding onto assistants while at Wisconsin.  UW “isn’t wired” to be pay big dollars to assistant coaches “at this point.”  Arkansas very much is.

The new coach also made it clear that living in the shadow of current Wisconsin AD and former Badger coach Barry Alvarez was wearing a bit thin.  “I came here to chase a dream.  I’ve never been to a place where I can give them something they’ve never had.  At Arkansas, it’s never been done.  We never won an SEC title.  Been in the game three times.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out you win the SEC title, you might be playing the big one, especially after 2014.  That is what a dream is all about.”

*  Further, he made a telling comment regarding Alvarez’s decision to coach Wisconsin in this year’s Rose Bowl.  “I just heard that before I came here, which will be awesome.  They might finally win one.  Everyone tells me he won three and I lost two.”  Ouch.

*  Long revealed that Bielema was one of only two or three coaches to send him a handwritten note of encouragement when he axed Bobby Petrino back in April.

*  Having eight months to research job candidates might have been a pretty big advantage after all.  When Long received a note from Bielema, he had to think to himself, “Why am I getting this?”  Everyone’s got an ulterior motive.  Long had eight months to correspond with Bielema.  Who knows how often they conversed (regardless of what they might say now)?  Perhaps Long knew of Bielema’s weariness of Wisconsin months ago.

 

But now the big question becomes: Will Bielema succeed in the SEC?

First, we’re firm believers that coaches should re-start their coaching clocks by switching schools every 7-10 years.  Get movin’ before the posse starts to form.  Bielema did that and he was wise to do so.

But he’s also entering a league that’s at the very apex of collegiate football.  The Big Ten hasn’t been top-to-bottom good in a while.  For comparison, this past season the SEC had six teams ranked in the top 10 nationally.  Alabama, LSU, and Auburn are traditionally strong inside Arkansas’ division.  Ole Miss and Mississippi State seem to be moving in the right direction.  Texas A&M just served notice to the rest of the league that the Aggies won’t be pushovers.  Bielema is about to step up in weight class to be sure.

Hog fans will have to get used to what’s been a run-first offensive attack in Madison.  In the 2012, 2011 and 2010 seasons, Wisconsin averaged more than five yards per carry on the ground.  The Badgers finished 12th, 11th, and 12th nationally in rushing yardage in those years, too.

On defense, Bielema’s teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense in each of the past four seasons.  That’s a big plus if the coach can translate that success to the SEC.  Run the football, play good defense?  Yep, that’s a recipe for SEC success.

But the concern we have for Bielema comes on the recruiting trail.  Wisconsin’s current recruiting class is ranked #28 nationally by Rivals.com.  That’s behind 10 other SEC schools including Tennessee, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.  The Badgers ranked #56 in 2012 and #40 in 2011.  In 2012 and 2011, Bielema signed four players from Florida and one from North Carolina.  That’s it for prospects living below the Mason-Dixon line.  That doesn’t mean Bielema can’t put down roots across the South (and in Texas) just as James Franklin’s staff has at Vanderbilt since arriving from Maryland two years ago.  But it is a concern.

Recruiting is one to really keep an eye on as Petrino’s pass-happy system is no longer around to make two- and three-star recruits look like four- and five-star players.

Bielema’s style might be bland, but Florida went 11-1 this past season using a similar “run, play defense” formula.  For that reason, we believe Arkansas fans should be quite happy about their school’s new hire (who ironically grew up on a pig farm).  But in the end, he’ll have to recruit better at Arkansas than he did at Wisconsin.  And if he thought Urban Meyer brought some less than gentlemanly tactics to the Big Ten this past year, wait’ll he starts recruiting in the SEC.

Bielema proved at Wisconsin that he knows how to win games.  But in his new league he’ll need better players in order to win.  Whether he can find them and sign them or not will determine his long-term success at Arkansas.

 


7 comments
Dnayew
Dnayew

What a great article. I seriously love this website.  As a Gator Fan, you just got me pumped about Arkansas Football. How weird is that? You guys do great work here - far above the hacks over at PFT, SI and ESPN.

 

Keep it up!  :)

kentatm
kentatm

“I just heard that before I came here, which will be awesome.  They might finally win one.  Everyone tells me he won three and I lost two.”

 

couple that with his anti SEC comments from when Urban hacked him off over recruiting and the guy starts to come off like a bit of a cry baby.

Fayettechill14
Fayettechill14

 @kentatm He was joking when he said it. He has a lot of respect for Barry Alvarez, who is a class act, but he was getting weary of following him. Wanted to create something for himself.

GeoffDawg
GeoffDawg

It’ll be interesting to see how fast he can acclimate the program to his style. If I’m not mistaken, I think he ran a lot of two TE + FB power football at Wisconsin. I don’t know if Petrino and Smith recruited that type of talent over the last several years.

Fayettechill14
Fayettechill14

 @GeoffDawg Arkansas' top commit is a 5* TE and we have a great FB in Kiero Small who was injured this year (but great in 2011).

 

It's O-line that's a concern. We have some high-recruits but they were not developed properly. May take at least one, maybe two years to get the line where he wants it. Wisconsin's line was consistently bigger than the Green Bay Packers' line.

MoKelly1
MoKelly1

I hope he has success at Arkansas --- they deserve success. I don't give him much credit for the Rose Bowl this year --- Wisconsin isn't even ranked in the Top 25. Not exactly something the Big 10 should be proud of having this year.

deltaboy
deltaboy

This guy looks like the "anti-Petrino".  Thank goodness!

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