Last night, as I stared up at the ceiling from my bed around 3 a.m. with bloodshot eyes, there were a few thoughts that were rushing through my head.
One was, “how did I drink that much coffee and not die”? The other, well, you have to go back more than 12 hours to begin the news expedition that led to that point of my night.
With the news breaking of Bret Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas occurring sometime around 2 p.m. Tuesday, I rushed out of my class to the office of The Badger Herald and called my editor, Ian McCue, telling him the news.
He didn’t believe me at first. Sure, I have a reputation around the paper as a joker, but it took about two minutes for Ian to finally believe I was telling the truth.
I have to admit; the thought that Bielema had left was a bit unbelievable, even to myself. But there it was in front of me, a tweet by the Rittenberg/Bennett account on Twitter, the most definitive news source when it comes to the Big Ten on the social media site.
As we called in our fellow editors to begin coordinating our coverage, the fun (if it can be called that) began. Sometime after 2 a.m., after numerous updates and several sources in hand, the complete story was finally ready for print in Wednesday’s paper.
And there I was an hour later still trying to fall asleep, still trying to comprehend what had just happened.
I think what I felt at the end of that night was more sadness than shock. Sadness for the players who had been recruited by Bielema, who had to find out the same way many of us did that their head coach would no longer be with them.
For a coach who preached character, commitment to the program and voiced a love for his team (saying he enjoyed coaching this year’s team the most of any he ever had) the move to leave for another program before his current seniors played their final game for the university was hypocritical.
So maybe that’s the reason star running back Montee Ball, one of just nine seniors on this Badger team, looked so visibly frustrated as he walked out of the team meeting Tuesday night, the one where Bielema told his Wisconsin squad that he was leaving them less than a month before their final game of the season.
And perhaps what made matters even worse is that Bielema decided to leave this team just as it finally looked like the last bumps in the road of the 2012 season had been passed over.
To put everything in perspective, let’s go over the crazy 12-month ride that led to the point of Bielema’s departure.
Six assistants leave the program after the conclusion of the 2011 season. Ball gets a citation for trespassing at the Mifflin Street Block Party. Ball gets jumped and knocked unconscious a few days before the first day of training camp. Wisconsin loses its second game of the year to Oregon State. Bielema fires offensive line coach Mike Markuson the next day.
Hold on, I’m not done.
Wisconsin benches its starting quarterback Danny O’Brien in the second half of the Utah State game. The Badgers collapse in the second half against Nebraska. O’Brien is subbed in for the game’s final drive over starter Joel Stave. A misread by O’Brien results in a botched handoff to Ball on a fourth-and-1, ending the game in a loss for UW. The Badgers lose Stave for the season to a broken collarbone in an overtime loss to Michigan State.
And I’m still not done.
Fifth-year senior Curt Phillips, who has never started a game in his career, is named the starting quarterback against Indiana. The Badgers lose to Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers destroy Nebraska in the B1G Championship game.
And, to top it all off, the head coach leaves the program for the Arkansas job just three days after what may have very well been the most impressive win of his career.
That’s more storylines than some programs have in five seasons, let alone one. So maybe that’s why, if there was any season Wisconsin would lose its head coach, it was going to be 2012.
One thing is for sure: Few people truly know all of the reasons Bielema left. Maybe it was money, maybe it was the pressure of living in Athletic Director Barry Alvarez’s shadow or the criticism he endured during Wisconsin’s struggles throughout 2012.
But it doesn’t matter. As of now, his departure is ancient history, because the big question still remains: How will this Wisconsin team respond?
This is still the same group that had the character, talent and tenacity to win an unprecedented third trip to the Rose Bowl and beat the then-No. 12 team in the country 70-31 this past Saturday. And this is still the same team that found a way to overcome all the hiccups, shortcomings and inconsistencies that could have sent them to Jacksonville rather than Pasadena.
And with the announcement that Alvarez will coach in the Rose Bowl all but official, fans and players should take solace alike in knowing that there will be no drop off in the competitiveness of the team and its chance of winning its bowl game on New Year’s Day.
After all, the guy won three Rose Bowls and served as Bielema’s mentor for the past seven years. What player wouldn’t be excited to have an opportunity to play for the man who made Wisconsin football what it is?
In a way, it’s fitting that there was one more major surprise before the conclusion of 2012. But, if this team and Alvarez has anything to say about it, there will be just one more.
The program’s first win in Pasadena since 2000.
Nick is a fifth-year senior majoring in English and history. In addition to being a football beat writer for The Badger Herald, Nick also hosts “The Badger Herald Sports Hour” on 91.7 WSUM on Sunday’s from 4-5 p.m. and is a member of “The Student Section” on Mondays from 4-6 p.m. Catch Nick covering all things Rose Bowl for the Herald throughout winter break on www.badgerherald.com