The +/- of Bielema at Nebraska

Wisconsin beat writer Ben Worgull covered Bret Bielema for seven years at Wisconsin. The publisher breaks down why/why not Bielema might fit with Nebraska.


* Bielema’s biggest strength is defense, a position he has either played at or coached at Iowa, Kansas State and Wisconsin. The Badgers’ defensive units usually ranked in the top 20 of the country in total and scoring defense during the latter part of his tenure, despite not having those flashy highly-rated recruits. Bielema was always a big fan of finding those diamond-in-the-rough players (see linebacker Chris Borland) and developing them in his 4-3 scheme. At Wisconsin, the Badgers had a bend-but-don’t-break style of defense at times, but closing his tenure with three Big Ten championships shows it worked.

* Bret was far from an offensive/quarterback guru, but his teams could adapt to either style of a pocking passing quarterback or a dual-threat option. UW won a lot of games or championships with game-managers Joel Stave, John Stocco and Scott Tolzien or highlight-makers Tyler Donovan and Russell Wilson. He never landed a truly elite quarterback, but he didn’t need to with the power running game and beefy offensive line that UW could recruit.

* Bielema was brash, arrogant and sometimes off putting to boosters, but he could recruit with the best of them. He made big impacts in Florida, Ohio and other spots around the Midwest. He also could hit some targets in California and New Jersey. Now with his background in the SEC, Bielema has been opened to other key recruiting grounds.

At Wisconsin, Bielema evaluated the level of recruiting the new heights, something current head coach Gary Andersen has built off of.

Make no mistake about it: Bielema was a good blue-collared coach who brought hard-working players to Wisconsin. Named the conference coach of the year in his first season in 2006, Bielema was 68-24 in seven seasons at Wisconsin, won 11 or more games three times and won three straight conference championships.


* Bielema went 39-19 in Big Ten play, but against the best teams in the conference (Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State) during his tenure, he went 11-15. He also went 2-4 in bowl games, including a 1-3 mark his final four seasons with teams he considered ‘his recruits.’ For a Nebraska program who fired Pelini in part because he couldn’t win the big, meaningful games, Bielema is only marginally better.

* Additionally, Bielema wasn’t the world’s best game manager, making a number of questionable decisions that cost UW games. In his last three seasons, Bielema was 4-9 in one-possession games. Just from looking at Arkansas’ schedule this season, it appears that’s a trend that has continued with the Razorbacks being 0-4 in one-possession games.

Bottom Line: Would it be a good hire for Nebraska? Probably. Bielema’s approach and background fit better in the Big Ten than the SEC. Would it turn him into the next Todd Graham? Absolutely, especially after what that program has been through. Would Wisconsin fans, who never got a chance to say “good bye,” love to see him in Camp Randall in 2015? You can bet on it.

***Posted by Josh Harvey ***

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