Like it is:

Alvarez restrained in support of Bielema

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez speaks during a news conference in the UW Field House media room near Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. Head football coach Gary Andersen announced Wednesday he was leaving to become the coach at Oregon State. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King)
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez speaks during a news conference in the UW Field House media room near Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. Head football coach Gary Andersen announced Wednesday he was leaving to become the coach at Oregon State. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King)

A crowd of about 300 showed up for Monday's Little Rock Touchdown Club meeting to hear Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez.

Most were hoping for insight as to why Bret Bielema was so successful (68-24 overall, 37-19 in Big Ten) as the Badgers head coach but not so much at Arkansas, where he is 26-28, 10-23 in SEC play.

Alvarez was subtle -- not as veiled as Tommy Tuberville a week ago, who said Bielema is a good coach but in a different place now -- and revealing.

Alvarez, who handpicked and groomed Bielema for the Wisconsin job, said what they do up there is different because 300-pound guys are everywhere and playing power football is a natural.

In the SEC, there is a need for speed.

Those weren't his exact words, but then he said the Big Ten has improved because Michigan and Ohio State are recruiting more speed.

Bielema has emphasized size over speed. The offensive linemen sit in first class on the team flights. Winners of foot races don't get the luxury seats.

Asked if geography really made that big of a difference in recruiting, Alvarez quipped: "Doesn't seem to be hurting Nick [Saban]."

Saban coached at Michigan State before becoming the head coach at LSU, but some time after the move south Saban realized he was stepping into a league where speed is critical.

It is not like Bielema has gone stubborn and refused to consider finding faster receivers and defensive backs. He's tried, with the likes of Jo Jo Robinson and Dominique Reed.

But Robinson couldn't stay on the field because he coudn't follow the rules before transferring, and Reed was injury prone.

On Saturday, though, it was obvious that no Razorback was close to being as fast as Texas A&M's Christian Kirk, who on a third and 6 got open and went 81 yards for the Aggies' first touchdown. He was pulling away from everyone in the last 40 yards.

In the fourth quarter, Kirk snatched an Arkansas lead away with 5:21 to play when he took a kickoff at the goal line, made one move to the left and raced untouched for a 100-yard touchdown. The scoreboard clock read 5:10 when he scored, meaning he ran 100 yards in full pads in 11 seconds. That kind of speed is rare.

Part of the issue, though, was how the first A&M touchdown, plus two more, came on third downs. That doesn't bode well for the defense, and that's one of the questions Razorbacks fans want answered.

Alvarez was asked whether he liked to have one coach in charge of special teams or do it by committee. He said they have one guy at Wisconsin, and all he does is coach special teams.

Alvarez admitted he was hurt when Bielema, who was like a son to him, resigned to go to Arkansas, and he took a hint of credit for Wisconsin's football record during his 15 years as athletic director, mentioning how the Badgers have averaged 9 or 10 victories a season.

That's because Alvarez was a coach, so he understands the challenges coaches face. He meets with them and teaches them how to handle situations so they can be successful. He said when Bielema worked for him, "We met three or four times every week."

Alvarez said time has healed the wounds caused by Bielema's abrupt departure, and he and Bielema talk now. But he also explained why the departure left Bielema so unpopular in Wisconsin.

"Never in history has anyone resigned after going to two Rose Bowls and was invited to the next one, no one ever has done that," he said.

The lunch bunch was entertained with some funny stories, mostly about Lou Holtz; got a glimpse of a guy, Alvarez, who is the last of his kind, a coach turned AD; and was left with a subtle reminder that the Razorbacks need more speed to compete in the SEC.

Sports on 09/26/2017

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