The Big Ten Needs a New Bret Bielema
By Tony Gerdeman
Watching the SEC Media Days this week, it became clear that this upcoming Big Ten football season is going to be just a little bit more boring than those that came before it.
Because the drama has left the building.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With Bret Bielema gone to Arkansas, his annual verbal entanglements are gone as well. Now that he's in the SEC, what's a conference to do?
Sure, there's still the Mark Dantonio feud with Brady Hoke, but Dantonio is basically just a surly guy. He's the old guy in the neighborhood who calls the cops on everybody and when the police arrive, they pretend to write in their notebooks as he describes what happened.
And you can point to the drama created by Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke, but that's not so much drama as it is a silent battle. It's hard to get a soundbite from a guy who refuses to say your name.
That's why ol' Bret will be missed. To twist a phrase from Jack Nicholson's 'Joker': This town needs a Bielema.
Case in point, one of the latest topics of debate in the SEC is the concern over up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Both Nick Saban and Bielema have said that they are a health and safety hazard. When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, a coach who has said he wants to have the fastest offense in the nation, heard the concerns, he said he thought they were joking.
On Wednesday, justifiably unable to contain their excitement, the SEC media relayed Malzahn's comments to Bielema, and then ran behind some protective glass to take in the glory.
"He thought it was a joke?" Bielema asked. "I’m not a comedian. Everything that I say is things that I truly believe in. When I go into a young man’s home to recruit a kid that’s 17-years old and you’re gonna move him halfway across the country and you say, 'I’m gonna look out for the personal well-being of your son in everything I do. It’s gonna be gameday, it’s gonna be practice, it’s gonna be in conditioning sessions. I am trusting you to give me your son to come play for me.' And if I have a son that I have brought to this campus and I don’t look for his personal well-being, then I have lied to that parent.
"All I know is this, there are times when an offensive player and a defensive player are on the field for an extended amount of time without a break. You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15. And if that exposes him to a risk of injury, then that’s my fault. And I can’t do anything about it. If you wanna play hurry-up offense, play it. I’ll play it. But it doesn’t mean I can’t try to protect my players."
This is the type of stuff that we will now miss in the Big Ten with Bielema off to the SEC. Because if he was still in the Big Ten, I would ask him if he is so concerned about player safety, why did he have Montee Ball carrying the football 39 times against Ohio State in the eleventh game of the season last year when his Badgers already had a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game wrapped up?
Or why did he have Ball carry the football 37 times against Utah State in the middle of a warm September night last year? Should we also ask why Ball picked up 27 carries in a 62-14 win at Indiana a year ago? Seems a little excessive, doesn't it?
Oh, speaking of excessive, what about the 83 points against the Hoosiers in 2010? How many safety concerns did he have when his Badgers were scoring 45 second-half points when they went to halftime with a 28-point lead?
But this is all what makes Bret Bielema so fun to be around. The contradictions bubble up like an endless fountain of half-truths and whole lies.
And I miss him.
The Big Ten needs a villain who enjoys being a villain.
Yes, I realize that 11 other fanbases are screaming at this and saying that Urban Meyer is a villain, but he's more of a corporate villain. He has no interest in getting his hands dirty. He has people for that.
Bielema, on the other hand, has no problem getting muddy. [Insert forced hog joke here.]
In Bielema's place, Wisconsin is left with a coach in Gary Andersen that by all accounts is a really nice guy. He's a former assistant under Meyer, in fact. Unfortunately, these are not the ingredients for an interesting feud. This is not Dan Mullen leaving for Mississippi State.
Without Bielema around, where do teams turn for a villain?
Pat Fitzgerald? Please, nobody hates that guy. Jim Tressel used to whip the blood out of Fitzgerald, and about the only way you could tell Fitzgerald was upset was that the post-game fruit baskets to Tressel just said "From Pat", and had no usual iambic salutations like his normal fruit baskets.
Bo Pelini? He's not so much a villain as he is an inconsistent sideshow. Tim Beckman? The only people who see him as a villain are Illinois fans.
Somebody in this conference needs to go find the next Bret Bielema. When the Big Ten holds their media days next week, the coaches are all going to talk about how much they respect each other and how they're all working for the greater good.
When Arkansas hired Bielema away from Wisconsin, the SEC took the Big Ten's version of Steve Spurrier. And now they've got two of them.
The Big Ten? Here's Darrell Hazell to talk to you about building from the ground up and winning the surest way and special teams and quality players and now I have fallen asleep.
This Big Ten needs somebody who doesn't mind trolling a fellow coach or three.
You may be reading this and thinking that I'm crazy, but when I write about the Big Ten Media Day next week and it's just quotes from coaches talking about how much they like all of the other coaches, then you'll realize that I'm right.
The Big Ten doesn't want to be like the SEC in any way, shape or form, but can't we make an exception when it comes to the quotability of its coaches?
After all, aren't we all much happier when we have something to be angry about.
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