Arkansas has now hired Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to coach their football team. That is as weird as it sounds in every respect: an SEC school grabbing a Big Ten coach with no experience in the conference relatively late in the hiring process just days after his team won a surprising Big Ten championship in an otherwise down year for their program. Prior to today, Bielema had not appeared in rumors surrounding the Arkansas coaching search, and he has no historical ties to the Razorbacks' football program.
There is plenty of sense to be found here. Bielema has a 68-24 record as a head coach at Wisconsin, shared one Big Ten title in his tenure, and did what great Big Ten coaches traditionally do: lose multiple Rose Bowls. He ran a clean program, did a pretty good job keeping the small pool of talent native to Wisconsin in state, and once coached a team that scored 83 points on Indiana. Historically, he stands behind only Barry Alvarez--his predecessor--in terms of wins in Madison.
He also picked up his wife at a blackjack table. There truly is a lot to admire about what he has accomplished, not only at Wisconsin, but also as a human.
The situation in Arkansas is not totally dissimilar to what Bielema faced at Wisconsin. Arkansas does have a smaller population than Wisconsin, but generates a disproportionate amount of talent while boasting glossier facilities and better proximity to the motherlodes of college football talent: Texas and Florida. Bielema's predilections are SEC-compatible from the start: he favors a big power run game paired with beefy defensive lines on the other side of the ball, something that should warm the heart of every Arkansas fan who hated Houston Nutt, but didn't mind the pounding ground attack of his offenses.
Those are all the positives, and now for the bad news. Bret Bielema never dazzled in recruiting during his tenure. He has no SEC experience, and that might matter as he settles into the viper's nest of the SEC West and its skullduggerous recruiting ecosystem. Remember that it was Bielema who openly complained about Urban Meyer's aggressive recruiting tactics when Meyer came to the Big Ten; now he enters a conference where every recruit left unattended for one second is fair game for opposing coaches.
Bielema also might suffer from being a fish out of water, or at least lacking an immediate understanding of the unique political landscape he'll occupy as Arkansas head coach. This is the same athletic program that jettisoned the winningest head basketball coach in the history of their program, had their head football coach's cellphone records subjected to a FOIA request from intrepid fans, and then lost Bobby Petrino overnight when a motorcycle wreck unraveled his personal and professional life. There have been long periods of productive stability at Arkansas, but Bielema has to know what he doesn't know--i.e. that the roof can cave in fast at Arkansas, and in spectacular fashion.
Oh, and he'll be playing a much tougher schedule than he did at Wisconsin, will face Les Miles and Nick Saban every year for the foreseeable future, and has no idea how nice and reasonable Badgers fans will seem in comparison to the deranged embrace of hardcore Razorbacks fans.
Have you met Hogville, Bret Bielema? Oh, you're about to, whether you like it or not, and you'll be paid handsomely for the privilege.
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