For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you would know that over the weekend I retweeted a post from a CBS Sports reporter in Chicago claiming that Bret Bielema had been approached by the University of Tennessee for its vacant head coaching position. It turns out another SEC school--Arkansas--was actually pursuing Bielema (not to say UT may not have been interested as well)--but it did not come as that big a surprise to me yesterday when the Coach announced he was leaving Madison for Fayetteville.
The leaked information did catch plenty of people off guard, with sports call in shows inundated with listeners wondering "How could he leave Wisconsin? It's the best job in all of sports! He'll never be as successful anywhere else as he has been here!" Well, if you are able to put the homerism aside for a minute, you can see why Bielema's move makes all the sense in the world.
The first--and the most important reason he's leaving--is cash. Bielema will be getting a pay raise in excess of a half million dollars a year to coach the Razorbacks. Six years, $3.2 million annually is a deal that he probably wasn't going to get at Wisconsin. And he can take that money without being reminded by every professor on campus, state employee union leader or Democrat in the Legislature that he is the "Highest Paid State Employee in Arkansas" as he was reminded constantly in Madison.
Secondly, the SEC is just a better football conference. This of course is a double-edged sword. Sure, you can afford to lose a conference game and still have a shot to make the BCS Championship--or the new four-team playoff on the horizon--but you are also competing every week against a team ranked in the top ten in the country. And SEC fans take their football a little more seriously than us Big Ten folks do. 8-5 won't sit well with the boosters helping to pay off your players for very long (oops, did I say that out loud?). However, it is easier to get "less academically gifted" players who can run 4.3 40's into your program in the SEC than it is in the Big Ten.
And finally, Bielema gets to be his own man at Arkansas. He's not "the guy who replaced the legend (Barry Alvarez) that turned the program around from a national laughingstock into a national powerhouse". And that "legend" won't be his boss in Fayetteville either--reminding you that he went 3-0 in Rose Bowls while your record is 0-2. Instead, Bret will be "the guy who replaced the crazy man (John L. Smith) who was the emergency replacement for the guy (Bobby Petrino) who crashed his motorcycle and nearly killed himself and his 20-something year old mistress whom he also helped to land a high-paying position within the Athletic Department".
Unlike some of the haters, I'm not going to say "good riddance" to Bret Bielema. I thought he did a good job of maintaining many of the traditions of Wisconsin football. He didn't bring in a spread offense and throw the ball around 75 times a game to "establish his own program". He took the fundamentals established by Barry Alvarez--big, talented offensive linemen, a tandem of workhorse, explosive running backs, and a ball control style of offense that always kept the Badgers in the game. And perhaps most importantly to me: HE NEVER LOST PAUL BUNYAN'S AXE TO MINNESOTA!!!!! 9-0!!! USUALLY RUNNING UP THE SCORE IN THE PROCESS!!!!
Hopefully, his replacement just does a better job of coaching special teams, managing end-of-game situations and winning in Pasadena.