If Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema were into things like holding a Lebron-like grudge list or screaming ‘I told you so’ from the top of Bascom Hill, the recent bye week gave the face of UW football plenty of time – and cause – to do so.
While Bielema would never admit to such antics, it is a pretty safe bet he had a you-know-what eating grin plastered to his face for days after the victory at Iowa.
Let us flash back to 2008. It is Bielema’s third year as head coach at UW and things aren’t going so well. The Allan Evridge/Dustin Sherer experiment is succeeding like Harry’s occlumency lessons. The Badgers have dropped their first four Big Ten games. Michigan. Michigan State. Cal effing Poly. Just saying team names invokes reflexive groans and primal emotions. No, things were not going well in Bielema’s third year.
So of course, with the Badgers falling feebly 42-13 in the prestigious Champ Sports Bowl, Bielema ends the season getting a big cooler of Haterade dumped on him. (And yes, I do feel gross using a term as lame as Haterade.)
Message boards alight with rage. How dare Bielema have a bad season?!?
Which leads to some – no one in the professional media, it should be noted for their sake – but plenty of fans calling for Bielema’s job. That’s right, unaware freshmen and sophomores, a vocal portion of the Cardinal and White wanted to end Bielema’s tenure after one 7-6 season.
Fast-forward to 2010. The Badgers are coming off the two biggest regular season wins of Bielema’s career. UW is in the running for a Big Ten title. They currently rank No. 9 in the BCS rankings – the highest of any team in the Big Ten.
So what changed?
Well, besides inserting a competent quarterback (Bielema recruit) and re-teaching the defense how to tackle, not much. Which, believe it or not, is the fairy tale moral that comes from yet another sage in sports fan moronic lore.
Continuity drives college programs. Especially programs that don’t have historical dominance on their side like Wisconsin.
With the five coaches that came before Barry Alvarez, the Badgers compiled a 95-151-7 record with not one of the coaches putting together a winning record in conference play. Under the Alvarez/Bielema reign – because Alvarez wasn’t fired, he moved on with his hand-picked successor – Wisconsin has compiled a 163-88-4 record. For those who like raw numbers broken down into shiny rate stats, that is a 38 winning percentage B.A. (Before Alvarez) and a 65 winning percentage A.A. (you get it).
Keeping the same system, the same face of the program and most importantly, the same level of recruits, has ensured the Badgers remain viable while Bielema works through the kinks of his first head coaching experience.
Bielema may not be a world-beater of a coach. He hasn’t had stunning success like Urban Meyer, dominated like Nick Saban or won in the face of all odds like Boise State’s Chris Peterson. But he is probably just a notch below, currently falling somewhere in the good but not yet great category.
And we all should have seen this. In fact, there is a perfect example of patience paying off in the conference.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz did not get off to a stunning start with the Hawkeyes. Over his first three seasons with Iowa, Ferentz compiled an 11-24 record with one bowl appearance. Winning just 31 percent of your games in three years is as fire-able an excuse as any. But realizing – like any rational human being – that starting over again after three years doesn’t make much sense, Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby trusted his initial impression of Ferentz and let it ride. Iowa was rewarded with a 70-31 record over the next eight years.
As always, it would be nice if Wisconsin fans could embrace any sort of perspective.
No, Bielema is not the top coach in college football. But he is probably in the top 25, which would make for the best the Badgers have EVER experienced.
And the moral doesn’t stop there. Bo Ryan doesn’t successfully recruit five-star athletes, limiting his team’s chances of continually residing in the top 10. But Wisconsin has made the NCAA Tournament 12 consecutive times, a feat only five other teams can currently claim to match. He too is the best coach UW basketball has ever seen.
This is, without a doubt the best time in Wisconsin history to be a Badger fan. Appreciate it.
Besides, no one likes to hear I told you so.
Michael is a senior majoring in journalism. He is the co-author of Paulbunyansaxe.com, can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @michaelbleach.