Was Bielema's Time at Wisconsin a Success?
He was hand-picked by Barry Alvarez to succeed him. His overall record in seven seasons was 68-24. He won back-to-back-to-back Big Ten Titles, 2012 being his latest added to an impressive resume. And now, he will not be attending what would have been his third Rose Bowl in row; something that's been accomplished only one other time.
Pretty impressive resume, right?
What Bret Bielema accomplished here at the University of Wisconsin would be remarkable for a majority of coaches across the NCAA. Then why are there such mixed feelings amongst Badger fans about him leaving to coach in the SEC?
I'll tell you why I think there is discord about his tenure. High expectations.
UW is the house that Barry built. Bielema inherited a highly successful program on its way up. Most Badger fans expected Wisconsin to keep climbing, envisioning a National Championship along the way. That never came. Not even an attempt in the BCS title game. Some could argue that the program took steps backwards from the glory days of the Alvarez era.
Bielema has three Rose Bowl appearances to hang his hat on, but Alvarez has three Rose Bowl titles. And Alvarez did it at a time when Wisconsin wasn't much of a respectable football program. His frst Rose Bowl team was a Cinderella story. They were so bad for such a long time that everyone was just happy to be in Pasedena.
Alvarez became head coach in 1990 and suffered three losing seasons in a row including a 1-10 record in his first year. By the time Alvarez won back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000, his teams were ground game juggernaughts and Wisconsin was on the NCAA Football map, becoming legitimate contenders in the Big Ten.
By the time Alvarez called it quits in 2005, UW was a factory for churning out NFL offensive linemen. As a result, top running backs came here to run behind those lines. Badger defenses grew to become solid as well depending on the year. All that was lacking from Alvarez's teams was a sufficient aerial attack to go along with the running game; more specifically an efficient passing QB.
In 2006, when Bielema was handed the reigns, he inherited an already well polished football program. The Big Ten strength of the 1980s and 1990s has dwindled of late largely due to program infractions by Ohio St., Michigan and Penn St. Wisconsin has been the top team in the conference almost by default.
The SEC has all but dictated the BCS title games. With the Big Ten being so down, these past 7 seasons would have been a perfect time for Wisconsin to dominate the conference the likes to which Badger fans have never seen.
Instead, Bielema has three Big Ten Championships in a conference that's lost its luster. If an 8-5 record (4-4 in conf.) is a good enough for a Rose Bowl bid then we all know the Big Ten has seen better days. His 2-4 bowl-game record has many thinking he lacks what it takes to win the big game.
Bielema's best team, the 2011 Wisconsin Badgers, had an overall record of 11-3. They lost to Ohio St. on a late 4th quarter drive and Michigan St. on a last second hail mary. They eventually lost to National Championship contender and PAC 12 winner Oregon.
That team, arguably the best football team to come through Madison, had six players taken in the 2012 NFL draft, including their QB Russell Wilson, now starting for the Seattle Seahawks. That was Wisconsin's best chance at a National Championship, something that Badger fans know does not come around very often.
I think Bielema was expected to bring Wisconsin football to an elite level, vying for a National Championship, not barely getting them to three Rose Bowls and losing two of them and what might have been a third. Maybe it was time for Bielema to move on. He went on national radio shows and basically blamed the university for losing all of his assistant coaches because they weren't paying them enough. There might have been internal arguing between him and Alvarez, who knows?
Bielema's time here looks good on paper, but I think expectations for winning were higher than what he actually accomplished.