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Harty blog: Bielema’s decision might be about more than stuffing his bank account

[ 0 ] December 4, 2012 |

Money has to be a major reason why Bret Bielema is making what many consider a lateral coaching move by leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas.

One thing seems to be getting overlooked, though.

Perhaps Bielema thinks he’s done about all he could in seven seasons at Wisconsin and that it’s time for a new challenge.

Bielema has a history of facing challenges, including joining the Iowa football team as a walk-on defensive lineman in 1988. He grew into a starter and was a team captain for the Hawkeyes before becoming an Iowa assistant coach.

Bielema is giving up a sweet gig at Wisconsin at a time when the program is soaring with three consecutive Rose Bowl berths. He was making about $2.5 million annually, which might not sound like much to Iowa fans, but is more than enough to pay the bills.

My guess is that he’ll probably earn close to $4 million annually at Arkansas with most of it guaranteed. So even if he fails at Arkansas, Bielema would be knee-deep in cash and still far from being damaged goods.

Bielema like any successful head coach has an ego that occasionally needs to be fed. Coaching at Arkansas could turn into an all-you-can-eat buffet if Bielema can compete with Alabama and Louisiana State on a regular basis.

Arkansas has plenty of donors, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who are always ready to spend plenty of money. But it also has the distinction of being in the Southeastern Conference, which is without question the premier conference in college football.

Bielema would be a living legend if he could turn the Razorbacks into an elite program, especially if it came at the expense of Nick Saban and Alabama.

Something else to consider is that Bielema might be tired of coaching in the shadow of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. It seems no matter what Bielema did with the Badgers that Alvarez did it first during his reign as the Wisconsin head coach from 1990 to 2005.

Alvarez always will be the coach who lifted Wisconsin from misery, whereas Bielema simply kept a good thing going as Alvarez’s successor in waiting.

Bielema is now charting his own course at a program that arguably has more upside than Wisconsin, and in a conference that is vastly superior to the Big Ten in football.

This also could Bielema revealing a side of his personality. Maybe he just doesn’t what to stay in one place for very long. He’s still in his early 40s with plenty of time to climb the coaching ladder and shape his legacy.

Or perhaps Bielema wanted to avoid going through what Kirk Ferentz is currently experiencing as the Iowa head coach. Ferentz now faces his third rebuilding project as the Iowa head coach with the Hawkeyes coming off a 4-8 season in his 14th season on the job. Ferentz’s problems started with a 7-5 season in 2005, and with exception to 2008 and 2009, Iowa has been an average program ever since.

Wisconsin also has lost five games this season, so maybe Bielema saw it as a warning sign and decided it wasn’t the worth the risk to follow in Ferentz’s footsteps.

One thing is certain about Bielema’s decision; it doesn’t look good for the Big Ten when the head coach at one of your top football program bolts for a middle-of-the-pack team in the SEC.

The Badgers hardly were a power this season as evidenced by their 8-5 record record heading into the Rose Bowl. But they filled in admirably for undefeated Ohio State, which was serving a self-imposed postseason ban, by crushing Nebraska in the Big Ten title game, scoring 70 points in the process.

It would’ve been interesting to see Bielema compete against Ohio State coach Urban Meyer on a regular basis, but no more so than watching Bielema match wits against Saban and LSU coach Les Miles.

Bielema gained a lot of attention when he fired his offensive line coach after just two games this season. It reminded us how serious Bielema is about winning and that he isn’t afraid to make dramatic changes.

His sudden move to Arkansas is another reminder.








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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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