Ever go through a frustrating time that perhaps forced you to behave in a somewhat harsh manner, to the point where you suspect you might be acting harsh and become self-conscious and worry if your colleagues are saying anything unflattering about you and your erratic behavior consequently worsens? (Exhale.)
Some might call that paranoia.
And it’s the scenario that comes to mind when I consider the recent behavior of Wisconsin’s football head coach Bret Bielema, which may surprise those not involved in Madison’s media scene.
You see, every week, Wisconsin’s offensive players speak to the media on a specific day, usually Tuesdays.
Last week, after dismissing new offensive line coach Mike Markuson after only two games on the job, no offensive linemen – except for captain Ricky Wagner – was made available to the media, along with Markuson’s replacement, Bart Miller.
In all, only Montee Ball, Jeff Duckworth, Danny O’Brien, Jacob Pedersen and the rest of the offense’s assistants were available, when usually the entire offense is at the media’s disposal. No James White, Jared Abbrederis or Brian Wozniak et. al.
Then, after benching quarterback O’Brien against Utah State Saturday, Bielema made all quarterbacks off limits this week. No Joel Stave, Curt Phillips or O’Brien (Not even Thad Armstrong!).
But never fear. Bielema assured his weekly press conference-goers a starting quarterback has been determined and nobody will be talking to them about it.
“They already know,” he said. “They already know what’s going on. You won’t talk to them, but they know.”
There are two reasons why Bielema would shield members of his team from the media, neither of which I think are rational in these contexts: He’s either paranoid about dissent or overly-protective.
Before getting into specifics, there’s a general reason for him not to behave this way. To describe it charitably, UW’s been disappointing in all three games this season. Its list of things to fix grows weekly. Fans are not happy and critics are feasting. By firing people, benching people and then keeping things hush-hush, one could reasonably question Bielema’s confidence in the team in several ways.
He needs transparency. And there’s little reason for him to turn it down.
If he’s paranoid about someone speaking out against him – why would he be? If there’s anyone who’s got something to pick with Bielema over this past week, it would presumably be Markuson, who’s out of a job.
But in an interview with SiriusXM College Sports Nation after his removal, Markuson didn’t express any resentment. He said the firing surprised him, but didn’t slam his former boss like he could have. He also managed to say he thought O’Brien and Miller would serve the Badgers well.
And Bielema has already allowed Stave and O’Brien to talk to the media since swapping the two. O’Brien, who already has experience losing a starting job while at Maryland, told reporters after the game he’d be “supporting the hell” out of whoever plays. He did also say he didn’t expect to be in a quarterback battle that week.
As for Stave, when asked what he expected to come next after finishing the game versus Utah State, he simply said he didn’t know and wasn’t worried about it.
So yeah, doesn’t exactly sound like either are about to make off-field headlines.
It’s fine that Bielema doesn’t want to tell who the starter is, obviously. He probably just wants to keep his next opponent, UTEP, in the dark about what signal-caller they’ll be facing. And given the complete and total lack of creativity, inspiration and buoyancy the offense has shown against three unranked teams, the Badgers might just need all the strategic advantages they can get.
But there’s still such a thing as being overly-protective and that means Bielema shouldn’t fence off his quarterbacks. If he were worried the media’s inquiries would distract whoever ends up being the starter, it’s puzzling why he would allow them to speak Saturday night.
It’s not like we’re dealing with Big City media here, where they travel like schools of fish. Madison’s is a bit more modest in size and isn’t abrasive in interviews. In both situations, with the quarterbacks and offensive linemen, 10 or 15 minutes with the media would probably suffice and then everyone gets three full days to be hunky-dory by kickoff.
There’s just something to be said about a coach who is willing to make tough decisions but is unwilling to allow those affected to speak on it.
Unless the ship gets righted, the microscope will only focus more on Bielema. Should that happen, he would be wise to allow his players to speak, whether they have different opinions or not. Transparency is a healthy thing.
Otherwise, I’ll keep imagining Bielema hiding behind a thinly leafed bush in the hallways of Camp Randall, waiting for two players to walk past so he can pop out with a wild look on his face and say, “what have you been saying about me”?
Elliot is a fifth-year senior majoring in journalism and philosophy. Do you think Bielema should loosen up? Tell him about it via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or twitter (@elliothughes12).