It has been announced today that Bret Bielema is the next head football coach at the University of Arkansas.
I did not see that one coming.
For Bielema, from a football perspective, I feel that this move makes no sense. He has led the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls and has led a respectable program. With Penn State irrelevant due to NCAA sanctions, the only major competition in the near future in Wisconsin’s division is Ohio State.
But now, he’s going to the SEC West. The toughest division in the toughest conference in college football. He’s going to coach against powerhouse programs like Alabama and LSU every year. Johnnie Manziel, one of the best players in the country is only a freshman. Auburn just hired Guz Malzahn to lead their program. Compared to all of those schools, it could be argued that Arkansas football has less tradition. Compared to all of those states, it can be argued that Arkansas has a smaller high school football pool of talent.
When Urban Meyer became head coach at Ohio State last year, Bielema was extremely critical of the ethics of Meyer’s recruitment tactics with things like continuing to pursue players who had already made commitments to different schools. In the SEC, that’s much more the norm.
I simply don’t see Bielema having nearly as much success at Arkansas as he enjoyed at Wisconsin.
For the Big Ten, I also think the move is a bad sign. The coach of one of the league’s best programs leaving for an average SEC school? What does that say about the Big Ten? It’ll be interesting to hear how much Bielema’s new salary will be, but it’s not like Wisconsin was
For Wisconsin, I think their football program is ultimately going to be ok. Bret Bielema was personally selected to be the football coach at Wisconsin by his predecessor, Barry Alvarez. Alvarez retired from coaching to focus on being the athletic director at Wisconsin. He’ll be hiring the next coach. I think that they’re going to bring in someone who runs a similar system to what has made Wisconsin successful. Who knows, perhaps Alvarez will go back onto the sidelines himself. No idea if he’d be interested, but that speculation is inevitable.
For Arkansas, I think it’s a solid hire. I think Bielema is a good coach who has a system that can potentially work in the SEC. I’m just skeptical as to how successful Bielema will ultimately be able to be in an extremely competitive SEC West. To be fair, Bobby Petrino was building a decent program, but I think that the division is even tougher now than it was when Petrino first became coach at Arkansas. It’s not that I think Bielema will be bad at Arkansas. I think that he’ll have solid, fundamentally sound teams who will play hard nosed football. He’ll have the team in bowl games, but I think that years in which the Razorbacks will challenge for the SEC Championship will be extremely rare.
For Ohio State, an easy division in the Big Ten might be getting easier. In one year, Meyer already has the Buckeyes as the best team in the conference. It looked like Wisconsin was going to be the toughest competition. As tough as the SEC West is, I have joked today that Bielema might have thought he would have better odds of winning the SEC West than the Big Ten Leaders Division against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.
Aside from Michigan, I feel that Wisconsin has become the Big Ten program Buckeye fans hate the most in recent years. Many will be happy to see Bielema go, but I would rather have a good coach like Bret in the Big Ten than leaving for another conference.