Bret Bielema moving to Arkansas was the most surprising move of the coaching silly season thus far. It went up on Wikipedia a few minutes before breaking and was dismissed as an Internet prank. The hiring was unexpected, interesting and has ramifications for both the schools and conferences. It can be considered the latest blow in what has been a disastrous calendar year for Big Ten football.
For The Big Ten: This move should be disturbing culturally for the Big Ten. Bielema may be the most “Big Ten” human on this planet. He is from rural Illinois, played at Iowa and coached at Wisconsin. He’s pasty. He has bad hair. He has a body built to withstand beer, sausage and extreme weather conditions. He’s smug. He has accused someone in a public forum of ungentlemanly recruiting. That guy just left to go to the SEC. Not sterilized for national consumption SEC but backwoods, crazy, non-ironic YouTube video SEC.
In the age of conference dick measuring, the Big Ten appears to be coming up short. Wisconsin is not Michigan or Ohio State, but with what happened at Penn State it is on par with Nebraska as the third or fourth best job in the conference. It is a Top 20 national program paying out a top 20 salary. It has represented the conference in the Rose Bowl the last three years and five times since 1999. Bielema is leaving there to go to maybe the 8th or 9th best program in the SEC and not for an unresolvable money. (That would be like Mark Richt leaving Georgia to go to Purdue)This should scare people in the conference, if it hasn’t. Of what value is the television footprint if it’s not fostering a competitive league?
For Arkansas: Bielema should be a solid hire. He is experienced. He is only 42. His template for success – develop offensive line beasts and pound the ball – should fit the SEC well. He had to be resourceful and develop under the radar guys at Wisconsin, a school without a natural pipeline. Arkansas faces a simliar situation. He’s not a Southern guy, but neither were Saban, Meyer or Miles. Bielema should be successful, but may need to redefine success.
Winning is harder in the SEC. Arkansas will still offer him the soft, non-conference cushion. The conference slate is brutal though. He’s replacing the Big Ten Leaders (Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Illinois and Purdue) with the SEC West (Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn). Not one of those is a guaranteed win most years. Arkansas’ inter-division opponents next year? Florida and South Carolina. Bielema might play two or three of the top 15 teams in the country during a good Big Ten year. He can count on playing four or five in an average SEC year.
Bielema should build a good program, though he may not be a Sumlin or, indeed, a Petrino who can raise the program’s ceiling.
For Wisconsin: This may not be so bad. Wisconsin has not hired a coach outside the program since Barry Alvarez arrived in 1990. This is a far stronger program making the current hire. It’s hard to see how it is not Paul Chyrst. Chryst was born in Madison, played for Wisconsin and has spent the bulk of his career there is an assistant. He is the architect of the current offense. He has been hired twice by Alvarez. He just makes too much sense. Leaving Pitt would be terrible, sending them searching for their fifth head coach since 2010, but it’s hard to see him turning down that offer.
[Photo via Presswire]