Steven M. Sipple: On second thought, Bielema is similar to Bo

2012-12-10T23:45:00Z 2012-12-15T17:12:05Z Steven M. Sipple: On second thought, Bielema is similar to Bo JournalStar.com

The college football coaching carousel is slowly grinding to a halt.

Almost all the high-profile jobs are filled.

What have we learned? What was reinforced?

1. We learned it is still crazy out there. Bret Bielema to Arkansas? Nobody saw it coming, not even his athletic director. Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati? That makes about as much sense as Bo Pelini to California. Think about Bo in Berkeley. It would never happen.

2. Tennessee football isn't what it used to be. Volunteers athletic director Dave Hart was turned down by Louisville coach Charlie Strong and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. Jon Gruden wasn't interested. (I'm unsure if Pelini was ever prominent in the picture). The search lasted nearly three weeks. What in the name of Steve Pederson is going on in Knoxville?

3. Pelini and Bielema are more similar than I thought.

I heard a few folks make the Pelini-Bielema comparison in the days leading to the Dec. 1 Big Ten Championship Game. I didn't buy it. But I was wrong. Guess I didn't know enough about Bielema.

In researching Bielema's move to Arkansas, I found he actually does remind me of Pelini in a few ways. Bielema is brash. His outspokenness can rub people the wrong way. Like Pelini, he's a 40-something go-getter who marches to his own beat.

Bielema told ESPN.com that "at the age of 42, I felt I was at a point in my life where I'd had some success, obviously with the three straight Big Ten championships, but I wanted to see if there were some bigger things out there for my coaching career." Makes sense.

Pelini and Bielema have enjoyed ample success -- Bielema more so, obviously -- yet hear their share of criticism. According to columnist Tom Oates of Madison.com, the criticism hasn't sat well with Bielema.

Pelini and Bielema are both former defensive coordinators who are deeply rooted in the Big Ten. Bielema grew up on an Illinois hog farm and has a Hawkeye tattoo on his calf. Pelini was a rugged Ohio State safety, raised in Youngstown, Ohio.

Pelini and Bielema's styles of play have similarities. They obviously preach rugged defense and want their teams to run the ball well -- though Bielema puts stronger emphasis on the power running game. The Badgers have run the ball 68.2 percent of the time this season compared with 63.5 percent for the Huskers.

Playing sound defense and running the ball well is what the SEC is all about. At Wisconsin, Bielema followed the blueprint of his predecessor, Barry Alvarez: Recruit the "big palookas" to pave the way for the power running attack. Many of those palookas are Wisconsin natives. The formula fits the region. What formula will Bielema use at Arkansas?

This much is certain: He takes over at a place where expectations -- at least in the short term -- won't be as high as his previous place of employment. Alvarez and Bielema set an extremely high ceiling at UW, and perhaps Bielema realized he might spend the next few years bumping his head against it.

Pelini also deals with high standards. Many Nebraska fans are tired of nine- and 10-win seasons, even though it's not as if a coach rolls out of bed in the morning and produces 10 wins. Even if your favorite program has all the money and support it needs to win big, you still don't take 10 wins for granted because, well, check out Tennessee's win totals the past eight seasons: five (this season), five, six, seven, five, 10, nine, five.

Tennessee this season finished below .500 for the fourth time in the last five years. So, Butch Jones, the new Vols' coach, gets a fat raise (six-year deal worth $18.2 million) and manageable expectations -- at least in the short term.

In the current high-pressure, win-now-or-else climate, it's often better to leave a couple years too soon than stay a couple years too long. 

I have no evidence that Pelini was interested in the Tennessee job. In fact, my evidence points to the contrary. But if he was interested, could you really blame him, at least from a business standpoint?

Perhaps Tuberville saw the writing on the wall at Texas Tech and bolted for safer ground in Cincy -- although he's never been a head coach at an urban school.

As for Bielema, he gave Wisconsin seven good years. Now he gets a fresh start. A new challenge. A substantial raise. All the resources he needs. The more I think about his move, the less surprising it gets.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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