Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Clues lead to Bielema escaping Alvarez’s reach
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, left, celebrates with athletic director Barry Alvarez after Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 70-31 to win the Big Ten dhampionship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
LITTLE ROCK Some people may call them red flags, but in this case, they were more like clues as to what was going on in Madison, Wis.
The first clue that perhaps everything wasn’t polka perfect was that Bret Bielema didn’t talk to Athletic Director Barry Alvarez before interviewing for the Arkansas job.
What that means is he wasn’t interested in seeking a raise for himself. He wasn’t playing one school against the other ... and December is open season for agents to secure new and extended contracts for coaches.
When Bielema accepted the job at Arkansas, which everyone outside of Wisconsin sees as a step up the career ladder, he still had not talked with Alvarez.
The next clue that maybe Alvarez had become increasingly difficult to work for was when he immediately named himself as the interim head coach for the Rose Bowl.
That was a slap in the face of every one of Bielema’s assistant coaches.
Of course, the biggest clue that everything was not peachy keen — and don’t expect them to go public with any complaints — was last week when Alvarez tried to hire former Wisconsin coaches who had signed letters to come to Arkansas.
That was before Alvarez named Gary Andersen as the new head football coach.
How Andersen, a really good coach, feels about that is known only to him, but from the outside looking in, it appears Alvarez might have a problem with micromanaging.
He certainly would not be the first who went from popular head football coach to athletic director who had trouble letting go of what he perceives as “his” program.
Frank Broyles did 100 times more good things for Arkansas than he ever made mistakes, but he had trouble letting go. It was fine while he was away on Saturdays being a great ambassador for the state as ABC’s analyst for its Game of the Week.
Once that gig was over, it didn’t take long for Ken Hatfield to pack his bags and take a job at Clemson without ever visiting the campus.
Obviously, Broyles was not the only one. The football history book is full of similar stories because it may be easy to leave the sidelines, but it isn’t always easy to quit coaching.
Darrell Royal was one of the few who realized it and stepped as far away from the game as he could two years after his retirement as head coach.
As for Alvarez, his career role models were Bob Devaney, Hayden Fry and Lou Holtz.
All were known as sticklers for detail and control.
They were CEO-type coaches and no one crossed them, at least not more than once.
Alvarez coached Wisconsin for 16 seasons, had a 118-73-4 record and his teams played so hard it was easy to become a Badgers fan.
Make no mistake, he made Wisconsin a good program and a good job.
He handpicked the 35-year-old Bielema as his successor, but perhaps that was a small clue, too. Maybe he wanted someone young enough, someone indebted enough, who would listen every time Alvarez felt a need to whistle.
Any up-and-coming coach would agree to that, for a while, just not forever. No one would do that forever.
It has been written that Bielema was upset about losing assistants to other programs because he couldn’t get them raises. Wouldn’t those raises have come from the athletic director?
The final clue that Bielema might not have been happy may have been the letter he wrote to Jeff Long commending him on his actions in the Bobby Petrino firing. The letter was written in September, after football had started, not last April when the firing occurred.
That means Bielema is smart. Maybe he had a plan; he knew the time was coming when he needed to be free to run his own program, and at Arkansas he gets that chance.
Sports, Pages 25 on 12/23/2012