While I would never tab Bret Bielema as much of a speedster, he sure took off in a flash.
As the news broke of him taking the head coaching position at Arkansas, the utter surprise filled Twitter to the brim, but I was as blind as a blind side could get; literally, my eyes were closed.
I was laying in my bed, enjoying – as much as any Wisconsin student approaching finals could – a one-hour afternoon nap when a roommate of mine phoned me the shocking information.
As eye-opening as that phone call may have been (I needed a moment to decide whether to be surprised, angry, entertained or all three), I have a feeling Bielema is in for an even wider-eyed future down in the SEC.
I’m afraid he doesn’t understand what he is leaving and where exactly he is heading.
In classic take-the-money-and-run fashion, Bielema decided to shirk his responsibilities as the head coach at Wisconsin, leaving his former employer without a head coach as it approaches its biggest game of the season.
In leaving, Bielema waves goodbye to a third straight New Year’s spent in Pasadena, a program on the verge of sustained national prominence and a location where he was welcome as head coach as long as he could compete.
Bielema inherited the program from Alvarez, chosen above all as Barry’s best guy for the job. Then he did in Alvarez and bolted when the season that once looked bleak took a 70-31 turn for the best – or rather Bielema’s “best interests,” like he said in an Arkansas press release Tuesday.
Bielema seemingly wanted out, and that is the kicking point. He may have been prepping for Nebraska and the Big Ten Championship game, but as soon as the weekend ended, he was reportedly in talks with Vanderbilt and Tennessee, shopping his services among the toughest conference in all of college football.
To him, it was as easy as that. Compete in the Big Ten and bite at the challenge of the SEC. He bit hard, and his now greener pastures rest in Fayetteville, whether or not they are truly greener.
He has more than a tough slate awaiting him. A few cupcake opponents headline Arkansas’ early season nonconference schedule (something he is certainly used to), but as expected, the SEC is one tough cookie.
In his first season, the Razorbacks will host the likes of Texas A&M and South Carolina while hitting the road to play Alabama, LSU and Florida.
Yearly games against Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota are gone for Bielema. Those four victories boosted his record each season.
Also of note is the fact that Arkansas is trending downward. After consecutive 10-win seasons, the Hogs went 4-8 this season. Did I mention Wisconsin was headed to the Rose Bowl?
Arkansas also plays in the SEC West, where the best team is commonly compared to the Jacksonville Jaguars every season.
Bret Bielema has left the cozy surroundings of the Midwest where he was able to stand toe-to-toe with the best of recruiters. He will soon arrive in the Southeast corner of the nation, a true football hotbed. You can’t blame him. The best football players in the nation generally call Florida, Alabama, Georgia or Texas their home state.
But recruiting is on a grander scale in the SEC. The coaches bleed for 5-star recruits, entities Bielema remains rather foreign to. He has had just one 5-star recruit during his seven-year tenure at Wisconsin. That recruit was Josh Oglesby, once rated the No. 1 offensive tackle in his graduating class, destined for the NFL. He has since graduated college and is not playing professional football.
If recruiting against Urban Meyer for one season was tough, imagine recruiting against the beasts that are Nick Saban, Les Miles, Mark Richt and Will Muschamp. It’s dog-eat-dog, tiger-eat-tiger, gator-eat-gator territory down there.
Maybe the pay raise is worth it. Bielema’s yearly salary at Arkansas has been reported as $3.2 Million, a 28 percent raise from his $2.5 Million salary at Wisconsin. But the long-term outlook may prove to be not as pretty.
In the SEC, as Arkansas has proven by having three head coaches in as many years, the turnaround is often quick and many times painful as the shelf life of coaches in the SEC is shorter than most. Gene Chizik won a national championship in 2010.
He is no longer employed.
This move could be crazier than calling a timeout at Michigan State with overtime imminent. It could be worse than preparing a quarterback solely for a 2-minute drill. It could be wilder than firing an assistant just two games into the season.
Nonetheless, there are many uncertainties facing Bielema as he makes his trek from the Big Ten to the SEC. I doubt he will be taking 6 a.m. walks with his athletic director as the sun rises, at least not when his team is 4-4 following his first meeting with Alabama and Saban.
He might want to get a dog to walk around with him down there on campus, too.
We’re not in the Big Ten anymore, Toto.