Bret Bielema to Arkansas: Nothing More Than a Lateral Move for Wisconsin Coach
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According to Yahoo! Sports, Arkansas has lured Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema to Fayetteville to be the next head coach of the Razorbacks. This move is a shocker, to say the least; Wisconsin was heading to its third straight Rose Bowl, a feat unmatched in the Big Ten in over 30 years. Arkansas, meanwhile, was settling in for a nice long winter at home after a 4-8 season.
Now, it's not fair to judge a program by only its last season. College football is a volatile sport, especially for the middle 50 percent of its teams, and 4-8 can turn into 8-4 in the space of a year. And it's worth noting that only once in the prior 12 years did Arkansas ever turn in another season with that few wins.
Yet still, Bielema enjoyed a level of consistency at Wisconsin that he's extremely unlikely to replicate at Arkansas. He went 68-24 (.739) in his seven years in Madison, including a 37-19 (.661) Big Ten record.
Should Bret Bielema have taken the Arkansas job?
By way of comparison, Bobby Petrino was sacked by Arkansas after two straight double-digit win seasons (not for on-field reasons, obviously), and he still barely cracked .500 in his SEC games. In fact, since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, not a single Arkansas coach has topped Petrino's .531 conference winning percentage.
Bielema is now stepping into an SEC West division that's absolutely loaded—and his program's not one of the loaded ones. He gets to tangle with Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M on a yearly basis, and if Auburn gets its act together post-Chizik that's one more program restored to power. Maybe he'll catch a lucky break when it comes to what teams show up on his schedule from the SEC East. Maybe. He won't get lucky every year.
Bielema could have been a career coach at Wisconsin. His style fit the Big Ten, and he was as beloved a coach as there was in the conference after Joe Paterno's and Jim Tressel's careers met their ignominious ends.
But now? All the comfort that Bielema enjoyed as the firmly entrenched coach at Wisconsin is gone. He's going from a school where he won three straight Big Ten championships to a school that has never won an SEC championship. He's in a conference where winning a BCS National Championship won't protect you from getting fired just two years later if you don't win enough. And again: There are powerhouses in the SEC, and he's not at one of them.
Best of luck goes to Bielema, of course. He's a Big Ten product, and if he can succeed in the SEC, he can make it anywhere. But to leave Wisconsin for Arkansas? Money aside, "Lateral" might be putting it kindly for that kind of a move.
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