Bielema to take over

first_imgHerald file photoBret Bielema never dreamed he would be a head football coach, let alone the head football coach at a perennial Big Ten powerhouse like Wisconsin. But there sat the lifelong assistant, next to Wisconsin Chancellor John Wiley, in perhaps the biggest moment of his life, as he accepted the position of head football coach at the University of Wisconsin for the 2006 season, taking over for the retiring Barry Alvarez. “I didn’t ever envision myself coaching the game of football until, actually, I was done (playing),” Bielema said. “I came back to Iowa City and was bumming around the office and coach (Hayden Fry) saw me and asked me to see him. I had a meeting with him the next afternoon, and he said there’d be a position opening. So that’s how it all started.”From that humble start, Bielema rapidly worked his way up the coaching ranks. He started as an undergraduate assistant and graduate assistant under coach Hayden Fry at Iowa, before moving up to assistant coach under Fry and later under the man who took over for Fry, Kirk Ferentz. Bielema continued his rapid ascent through the coaching ranks when he became co-defensive coordinator for Bill Snyder at Kansas State in 2002 — just ten years removed from his playing days — before joining Wisconsin last year. But it was Bielema’s days of work under Fry, a man Alvarez is very familiar with after his own days of working under Fry in the late 70’s and early 80’s, that greatly influenced the departing head coach’s decision to hire him.“I know how difficult and how tough Hayden Fry is, to make that assistant, make him a graduate assistant, and then make him a full-time coach I think sent a strong message to me, and then the fact Kirk (Ferentz) held him over,” Alvarez said. “Hayden knew him as…a player, a coach, and then made him a full-time coach. I think that sent a strong message.”Despite Bielema’s young age — he’ll be 36 when he takes over the reigns of the Badgers — Alvarez, who was 42 when he took over at Wisconsin, believes he’s found the right man for the job.“I feel truly fortunate to have a coach on my staff that will continue the level of success that we’ve enjoyed. Although we’ve spent just one season together, I couldn’t be more convinced that Bret Bielema is the right man to replace me,” Alvarez said. “He’s a rising star in this profession.”While it may seem fishy that Alvarez’s hand-picked successor is just one year removed from joining the staff, Bielema insists there was no promise of the head coaching position when he accepted the defensive coordinator job after Kevin Cosgrove’s departure last spring. “This job wasn’t promised to me when I took the job here,” Bielema said, before explaining when he first got the inkling Alvarez was looking at him as a possible replacement. “It was subtle things; I didn’t really know what was going on,” Bielema said. “He just began to ask me certain things, and I realized that he was probably trying to figure out if I knew the right answers to his questions about the possibility of running the program…Apparently I gave the right answers.”Probably the best answer Bielema gave all season was his immediate connection with the players. His high-energy coaching style — he made a habit of sprinting across the field during practice to congratulate players after nearly every play — resonated well with the team, both on offense and defense. “Bret’s not only a great coach; he’s a great guy to be around,” quarterback John Stocco said. “I know I like him, I know a lot of the guys like him, and it’s not only for his coaching ability.”Part of Alvarez’s decision to make his retirement announcement before the season, rather than in February when the season was over, was to allow Bielema to keep Wisconsin’s momentum rolling in their recruitment for 2006. Wisconsin has already received eight verbal commitments for the 2006 season. Though he does not assume head coaching duties until the 2006 season, Bielema will take over all phases of recruiting, while continuing in his capacity as defensive coordinator this season. The job brings an increased workload to the young coach from Prophetstown, Ill., but Bielema believes his work ethic, instilled during his days of raising pigs on the family farm, will get him through the tough dual role.“My responsibilities, added responsibilities for recruiting, will in no way take away [from] my performance as a defensive coordinator,” Bielema said. “I know that it’ll be a lot of time; I’ll…come in early or stay late, whatever needs to be done to be able to take care of those things.”Last year, Bielema led a Badger defense that ranked No. 9 in the nation in total defense, allowing only 291.3 yards per game. The Badgers were also in the nation’s top ten in passing defense, allowing 167.3 yards per game (7th), and scoring defense, allowing 15.4 points per game (6th). In his previous stint at Kansas State, the Wildcats were 22-6 during Bielema’s two seasons as co-defensive coordinator. Kansas State led the nation in scoring defense (11.8 points per game) and ranked second in total defense (249.0 yards per game) and rushing defense (69.5 yards per game) in 2002. The Wildcats ranked No. 6 nationally in total defense (283.1 yards per game) in 2003. “I know there are many challenges ahead of me and a lot of people will draw assumptions to my abilities to handle it,” Bielema said. “And I do know this. I have experienced four different programs in two different conferences and I’m going to draw from those experiences.”last_img

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