This is hot-button stuff, and I’m happy to link a lot of good stuff about Bret Bielema’s surprising departure from Wisconsin to become Arkansas’ head football coach.
Let’s start with Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, who had just knocked out a terrific column on Northern Illinois’ wild weekend when he got back on the horse and wrote this about Bielema. An excerpt:
There’s hardly any legitimate competition between the Big Ten and the SEC anymore. At least, not on the field. That’s just reality. But the Big Ten wants to think it is closer than it is while clinging to the idea that it still has something over southern football, leaders and legends, that type of stuff.
Wisconsin is an incredible school. Madison is a top-line college town. Camp Randall is as rowdy and fun an environment as there is. Bielema was under no pressure, was well-paid and was winning comfortably and consistently
Yet it wasn’t enough.
The view from this essay by Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is that Badger fans who are happy to see Bielema go may want to temper their glee. Hunt wrote:
Now what for the Badgers?
Are their followers so spoiled by the last two decades of success that they believe it is possible to get someone who can do better than 68 victories in seven years and three consecutive Big Ten championships? Have the expectations become so skewed at a place that will always be at a recruiting disadvantage that those who were unhappy with Bielema are celebrating this occasion?
Actually, it is possible for Wisconsin to hold its ground or maybe do better. Alvarez knows it, too.
The move would be to bring Chryst back from Pittsburgh, where he became head coach last season and took valued assistant Joe Rudolph.
Brian Bennett of ESPN.com called Bielema’s jump a bitter pill for the Big Ten to swallow. A passage:
At Arkansas, Bielema will have much more access to blue-chip talent, but also far more competition for it. Simply getting to BCS games, as he has in Madison, won’t cut it in Fayetteville. Bielema will also find that certain flaws that left him unloved by some Badgers fans — some questionable late-game management, a personality that bordered on cocky at times — are about to be magnified exponentially in the maniacal SEC.
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples calls this “an excellent move for Arkansas.” Staples wrote this:
SEC schools allow head coaches to pay assistants a truckload of money. For a guy who lost six assistants after last season, this is huge. At elite programs in wealthy conferences, assistants should only leave for quality head-coaching jobs. This is something the Big Ten has been incredibly slow to figure out. Ohio State knows it now. So does Michigan, which in 2011 opened the wallet to allow Brady Hoke to hire Greg Mattison as his defensive coordinator. Apparently, word had not yet reached Madison that the easiest way to keep a head coach happy is to let him make his assistants happy. …
In terms of pay, facilities, ease of winning the league and access to elite recruits (the most important criterion), Arkansas is behind Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M and probably even with Auburn and Tennessee. So Bielema, the winner of three consecutive Big Ten titles, left that league to take what is at best the sixth-best job in the SEC. What does that say about the Big Ten?
Steve Greenberg of The Sporting News also endorses Arkansas’ hire.
It’s fair — and, frankly, foolish not to — speculate about whether or not his recruiting at Arkansas will be good enough to compete with the monsters of the SEC.
But Bielema definitely will restore an identity to the Razorbacks. Lots of power runs. Lots of weight-room warriors. Lots of toughness.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long could’ve done a whole lot worse.