Say this: New coach knows hogs, winning

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Bret Bielema (left) was named Arkansas' head coach on Tuesday.
Photo by The Associated Press
Bret Bielema (left) was named Arkansas' head coach on Tuesday.

— If President Obama needs someone to run the CIA or FBI or a covert action, he needs to hire Jeff Long.

For more weeks than anyone knows Long, the University of Arkansas athletic director, has been conducting his search for a new head football coach like he was locked down in a situation room.

Names have flown around the internet, some wild, and there was much debate among the faithful Razorbacks Nation.

The front runner seemed to be making a move down the stretch, but Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy’s race was only in the media. Gundy may have been talked to but was never made an offer by the UA.

No one in the media ever hinted that Bret Bielema, who learned his work ethic growing up on a hog farm in Prophetstown, Ill., might be a candidate.

All we really knew about the Wisconsin head coach was that he beat the Razorbacks 17-14 in a boring Capital One Bowl back in January 2007, when the Hogs imploded in the second half.

He has a reputation for utilizing big, bruising backs, smash-mouth football with man coverage in the secondary.

And for winning. Consistently.

Wisconsin is 68-24 overall, 37-19 in Big Ten play, since Bielema took over for Barry Alvarez.

In other words, the Badger Nation has done the polka — it’s referred to as the fifth quarter, during which the band entertains fans at Camp Randall Stadium after each home game — often during the past seven seasons. Bielema has never had a losing season as a head coach. His worst finish was 7-6 in 2008, but he bounced back with seasons of 10-3, 11-2 and 11-3. This season the Badgers are 8-5 but are headed to their third consecutive Rose Bowl.

Maybe Bielema, who is 42 and played nose guard at Iowa, was tired of playing in the bowl known as the Granddaddy of Them All and wanted some red beans and rice.

There is a touching story about how he met his wife Jen in a Las Vegas casino in 2008. They didn’t talk again for five months and then started talking every day. He married the former model last March.

They dated for several months before she knew he was Wisconsin’s head football coach.

While that story has probably been read by tens of thousands, they tell people they met on vacation. But Bielema admits they won at the tables that night and have ever since.

One stretch of a connection Bielema has to Arkansas is that he played for Hayden Fry at Iowa. Fry was an assistant coach for Frank Broyles at Arkansas in 1961.

It is probably a little different now.

Bielema will receive a mixed reception from the fans. He has a reputation of winning because he is a tireless worker, yet some will wonder where he is going to recruit.

A quick look at the Wisconsin roster shows mostly Wisconsin, but he’s signed 5 players from Texas, 11 from Florida, 2 from North Carolina and 1 from Tennessee, plus a few from California.

Only time will tell how that translates to competing in the SEC, especially against Alabama, LSU and now Auburn, too (it doesn’t appear Gus Malzahn was ever on the Razorbacks’ radar).

Bielema has won consistently in what is perhaps the nation’s second-toughest football conference. He isn’t well known in the South, but he’s obviously not afraid of a challenge. Plus, he wears the same windbreaker for every game, and it is red.

Not a bad start for a guy who deserves a chance.

Sports, Pages 19 on 12/05/2012