Bret Bielema’s time at Wisconsin was incredibly successful. Even though he had some struggles in big games, Bielema led the Badgers to three straight Big 10 Championships for the first time in the school’s history and they will be heading to their 3rd straight Rose Bowl appearance this season after running all over Nebraska to win the Big ten Championship. Bielema felt like he accomplished all he could at Wisconsin and was ready for a new challenge. That is exactly what awaits him at Arkansas. Not only is he leaving the Big Ten for the tough, rugged and best conference in college football but the Razorbacks football program is reeling. This is an entirely different situation that Bielema is stepping into at Arkansas and he will have his hands full trying to bring the program back to prominence but his resume is strong and given his accomplishments at Wisconsin, it’s clear why the Hogs brought him to the SEC.
Bret Bielema joined The Dan Patrick Show to talk about the decision to go to Arkansas, whether he spoke with Athletic Director Barry Alvarez before taking the job with Arkansas, on a lack of loyalty in college football, if he is using this job at Arkansas as a springboard into something else, why he believes he has a better chance at a National Championship at Arkansas and whether he would consider playing Wisconsin in the future.
Whether he spoke with Athletic Director Barry Alvarez before taking the job at Arkansas:
“Dan I’ve had a great relationship, I was defensive coordinator two years before becoming Head Coach so I’ve known him for nine years and I’ve had a great relationship with him and one of the things that I know about him is he’s very persuasive. He’s a guy that can get you to do things and when I made the decision to actually have some conversations with Arkansas, I knew that if I got to a point where I wanted to take this job I needed to take it before I went and saw him. Just knowing him, out of respect and knowing how convincing he can be, I told myself that’s the way I was going to approach it. I had some other opportunities come along over the last several years and just couldn’t pull the trigger. This is one I felt I finally needed to do.”
On the lack of loyalty in college football:
“I get the question Dan and I appreciate where you’re going and I understand how people can get grouped into a big pile but if you check the numbers of what actually transpired I was a coach that was making a certain number of dollars at Wisconsin and I’m not receiving very much at all in the grand total scheme. The difference between last year’s salary and this year’s salary will be 400,000 dollars and that is not why I made the move. My assistant coaches salary jumped and almost doubled and I’ve lost a lot of coaches in the last couple of years and it was an opportunity for me to have some resources to hire some assistant coaches and keep them to build something that has never been done here at Arkansas. They have never won an SEC Championship. They have played in the game three times and I’ve been a Head Coach now that has followed a great leader in Coach Alvarez, we accomplished a lot of really good things and as a man I’m a guy that loves challenges and I wanted an opportunity to win in another conference. I was a defensive coordinator when we won a Big 12 Championship, we beat number one Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, I’ve been a Head Coach at Wisconsin and won a Big 10 Championship and I want to go to the SEC and win a championship. That’s what it is all about.”
Whether he is using this job as a stepping stone to something bigger and better:
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to win at Arkansas. The hardest thing in my life to this point professionally, without a doubt, was walking in and telling those 115 players. I did it face-to-face, I did it in a room where I know other coaches have taken other venues but when I took the job I said our first responsibility was to fly to Madison and meet with my players as soon as possible and it was an opportunity to, our meeting room has two doors and there is a room in the front and a room at the back, I addressed the team and it was very emotional, it was a hard thing for me to say, those guys have given us a lot of wins, I’ve grown with them as a coach and I just expressed an opportunity to do something that I never had a chance to do and chase a dream. I told them if you walk out the front door I will say goodbye to you and wish you well. If you walk out the back door because you are mad at me then I understand. Sat outside for a minute and nobody came out. I was a little nervous but then they all came out the front door, I think there were a couple of guys that didn’t, very emotional and tough time, but you had an impact on their lives and it’s something I will never forget. I will be with them for the rest of their lives, I just may not be their coach for the next two or three years. Thankfully we did something we had never done in winning those three championships.”
Why he believes he has a better chance to win a National Championship at Arkansas as opposed to Wisconsin:
“I’ve never said National Championship, I’ve said SEC Championship and in the world of college football, 2014 it changes dramatically with the playoff system and the SEC, it’s been very apparent that you can lose a game, not even be in the Championship game and still have a chance to be in the National Championship talk so when we start going to those four team playoffs I want to put our guys in the best position to be in the big dance. And to be quite honest I love challenges. I think men are defined more by their struggles than their success and I want to go in and find some struggles and define our team and our coaches and have a chance to do it again in another league. I’m not one of those guys that wants to sit around and continue to be satisfied. I want to look at the next opportunity and the part that I love is it’s a state where Arkansas is the program in the state. Everybody is a Razorback and the support here has been overwhelming in the last 48 hours and let’s giddy-up, it’s time to go to work and let’s see where we can go.”
Whether he would consider playing Wisconsin in the future:
“Absolutely. It would be more out of respect than anything else. As we move forward the world of college football and the Big 10 talking about going to a nine game schedule and the same thing here in the SEC. If that was something that could be possible because we stay and remain at an eight game it would be really fun for both fan bases. Both of them really share the same colors and same kind of passion. Up there we prided ourselves on some cheese curds and brats and all the things that make you great. Down here in Arkansas it’s a lot of the same things, a lot of the same traditions and history and obviously a place that is starving for victories as much as Wisconsin.”
Listen to Bret Bielema on The Dan Patrick Show here (Audio begins 22:20 into the podcast)