Maybe it’s his Midwestern roots. Maybe it’s the style of football he prefers. Most likely it’s a combination of both, but it seems like Bret Bielema is forever destined to be tenuously linked to Nebraska when it looks like the Huskers are going to be in the coaching market.
Back in 2014, FootballScoop.com was hearing that Bielema was Shawn Eichorst’s top candidate. A day later football lifer and NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt went as far as saying Bielema had been offered the gig. Bielema was in his second season at Arkansas then.
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 4, 2014
A day after Brandt’s tweet, Nebraska announced the hiring of Mike Riley. Fast forward nearly three years and Riley and Bielema’s teams are both sitting at 4-6. Riley is 19-17 in three years at Nebraska, Bielema is 29-32. Both schools, with the firing of Jeff Long this week, have moved on from the ADs who hired those coaches. The writing seems to be on the wall for both of them.
So how about getting Bielema back to the Midwest? It didn’t take long for the Long news to break before some were already connecting the Nebraska and Bielema dots again:
But it’s not a slam dunk that [Scott] Frost will wind up in Lincoln. Despite those splashy names that are getting thrown around at Florida and Tennessee, both programs have deep pockets and seem more than capable of making a serious run at the Wood River, Neb., native.
Bielema, however, would be the ultimate consolation prize.
After all, Wisconsin’s model of success is the one that Nebraska is so desperate to emulate. Who knows that model better than Bielema?
The guy spent years turning 2- and 3-star recruits All-American offensive linemen while punishing B1G teams in the ground game. His success in the B1G speaks for itself, too. For Nebraska, a program that can’t seem to even hang in the top 25, Bielema’s résumé would be as good as anyone on the open market.
Do Bielema’s results speak for themselves, however? Don’t you have to factor in five seasons of basically .500 football in Fayetteville? Bielema left Wisconsin to have better resources at his disposal, but the missing ingredient in Arkansas has been . . . Big Ten football?
Here’s an alternate theory: maybe Wisconsin football propped up Bielema. Barry Alvarez is uniquely involved in the football program for an athletic director. He has come out of his AD chair to coach Wisconsin in a bowl game. Twice! Since 2012! That’s not a question of who does that, but a question of who even could do that? Alvarez is one of the few, and I think that tells us a lot about Wisconsin football.
Here, look at the yearly win totals for the Badgers head coaches since Alvarez took over.
Take out the growth phase Alvarez had to undergo as the head coach, and you’ve got a pretty steady level of winning in Madison across four different coaches. Gary Andersen, who flamed out at Oregon State as spectacularly as you’ll ever see and was basically forced out of Madison because he seemed to actually chafe against Alvarez’s omnipresent role, won 73 percent of his games over two seasons. Paul Chryst, a hometown kid, has won nearly 84 percent of his games at Wisconsin so far. When he was hired away from Pittsburgh his record was 19-19. Small sample sizes here, but the constant on that graph is Alvarez.
So what do we actually know about Bielema? We know he won three-fourths of his games when he was at Wisconsin, but it looks like just about anyone can do that as long as Alvarez is involved. We also know that he’s won less than half his games when he’s not at Wisconsin.
The only box Bielema checks at this point as a candidate at Nebraska is that he plays a brand of football that Husker fans long for and is stereotypically associated with the region.
And that seems like a terrible way to consider potential coaches. Y'know, if we get to that point.
The Grab Bag
- This is interesting: Former NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma says Penn State is tipping its plays at the offensive line and James Frankling basically doesn't disagree.
- Brady Hoke, famously headset-less during his time at Michigan, will wear one as the interim head coach at Tennessee.
- Kids, Nick Saban thinks your pre-distressed jeans are ridiculous.
- ICYMI: Really good column from Derek Peterson, a Huskers-St. John's hoops preview from Jacob Padilla, my column from the current issue of Hail Varsity and a feature on potential starting quarterback Patrick O'Brien.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.