Bielema Opens Up at Press Conference

In a whimsical, revealing and emotional press conference the day before the 97th Rose Bowl, Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema is taking everything in stride as No.4 Wisconsin prepares for No.3 TCU.

Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema -


THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome head coach Bret Bielema a. If you could make a quick opening statement, and we'll turn it over for questions. Welcome.

COACH BIELEMA: Thank you. It's an absolute privilege to be here as a head coach, to represent us here. One thing that I've stressed about our guys from the day one when we got the opportunity to get this selection. We were in a tie with Ohio State and Michigan State, two very good football teams.

We faced both of them on the field, and lost one and won one. The thing that I've tried to stress all along, not only playing for Wisconsin, the university our state, but also representing the Big Ten Conference.

Because of the opponent we're playing, TCU, we're obviously representing the BCS and all that goes into that as well.

It's been a tremendous opportunity for us to come out here and get exposure. I've is really tried to stress to our kids all week to enjoy every opportunity that comes with the selection of being out here, from the Bowl games and the opportunity to be in front of the media, to the opportunity to play in front of the Rose Bowl. It's just a special week.

For me to come full circle, I played in 1991 Rose Bowl. You don't have to check the stats. I didn't play until the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand, but to come full circle. I told my dad, I bought him a Rose Bowl watch, and they came in on the 29th. I left a little note in his room for him, and I said some things to him. But on the PS, I said sorry it took me 20 years to get you a new watch. I gave him the 1991 Rose Bowl watch, I got and he's worn it every day since then. To give him one 20 years later was pretty special.

Lot of cool things this had week. For yesterday to have Coach Fry, I'm sure some of you went to that event. Hayden Fry, I played for Coach Fry a long time ago. He was the first man that believed in me in this profession. Gave me an opportunity to be a scholarship player. I walked on to his program and earned a scholarship, and later became a captain, and he later hired me as a coach. The first guy that gave me the opportunity in this profession.

So it's been a neat week for me overall, and hopefully we'll cap it off on Saturday with an opportunity to go out and play a very good football team. Coach Patterson is an unbelievable football coach whose team plays just the way he coaches them to.

They're very well coached, very athletic. Play extremely hard for four quarters. Anybody that's had the record they've had over the last several years obviously does things right, it doesn't happen by chance.

So it will be a great opportunity for us. With that, open it up for any easy questions.

Q. You talked a little about your own personal experience in losing the Rose Bowl that you came out here for. For this team and how it will define the season, what is the difference between winning and losing the Rose Bowl game?

COACH BIELEMA: Well, it's a lot of memories that come with this week, but those memories will never be the same if it doesn't have a win behind it. Coach Alvarez set the standard for the University of Wisconsin coming out here three times, winning three times in the same decade has never been done before in our conference. So for him to do that, when I took over the job, I knew that record and what it all meant. We've hopefully done things right along the way. He's been a great mentor. We've done a lot of things similar to what he did, but on the same account, it's kind of a different day and different age with the BCS and requirements and all that this game brings. But I think just to cap it off the way we need to, it defines the season.

Q. Just what were your impressions of what TCU has done over the past few years coming from where they've come from with a chip on their shoulder getting to the point they are now as a non-AQ, and being here now and your thoughts on what they've accomplished?

COACH BIELEMA: Unbelievable. I know how hard it is in this profession to win football games. I don't know a lot about the leagues they've come from. I spent some time in the Big 12 conference at Kansas State. That's where I first met Coach Patterson.

But it's not easy to win. For them to do it the way they have consecutively year in and year out is unprecedented and something that has a lot of respect from my guys.

Q. What does that trophy to the right of you mean to you?

COACH BIELEMA: Well, it would look good in Madison, I know that. But it's something that Coach Lasorda came out the other day and told a story about a sailor that was a thousand yards out from shore and it was foggy out and his boat capsized and he knew the only thing he needed to do was start swimming.

So he swam 997 yards. At that point it was still foggy and he couldn't see shore, he gave up and drowned. He was three yards from shore. Why did you swim the 997 yards? This is the cap to the season. It is an opportunity for us. We did what we needed to do to get here. We went through a road bump at Michigan State, but battled back and played extremely well down the stretch. The reward was the opportunity to come here, and how we capitalize on it will be determined on Saturday.

Q. You talked about the Big 10 representing the Big 10. How much do you play that up with the players and how important will your performance be in terms of shaping the league's National perception?

COACH BIELEMA: I think it's a very important thing, that's why I've stressed it all along from our guys. Hopefully, they were able to relay that to you along the way. We're part of a conference that maybe took some body blows over the last couple of years. I always used to get frustrated. I remember my first year five years ago we played Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl, and Arkansas is in the SEC Conference. Everybody was telling us how bad we were going to get beat. We went out there and put a whooping on them, and nobody said anything about that.

Well, because a couple days later, the Big 10 was in a couple BCS games and didn't fare very well. So I realized the BCS is where everybody looks and everybody talks about. So this is the opportunity for us. Obviously us and Ohio State. And I know Coach Tressel and that football team, so my guess is they're going to have the same approach and hopefully we can make our conference stand tall.

Q. Coach Bielema, just talk about a victory tomorrow for Wisconsin. With the success that Barry had winning three Rose Bowls, for Bret Bielema, is this a new chapter for Wisconsin football to start a new legacy for this university?

COACH BIELEMA: I get it. I understand why people say that and why that would come about. When I took this job, the reason I came to Wisconsin, I didn't know I was going to be the head coach. I took this job because I wanted to be under Coach Alvarez. I saw the legacy that he had provided so many coaches out there in this profession that share the same title I have. I really came for that reason.

When he asked me about the opportunity to become the head coach I had never in one day since that day or any day since then ever thought I could match what Coach Alvarez did or tried to. That's not the goal. Because what he did is unprecedented as far as where he came in and where he is today. I've said this several times over the last three or four weeks, there is nobody more excited about us being here and an opportunity to play TCU in this Bowl game than Coach Alvarez. In his own way, if you know Coach Alvarez, he's tired of hearing about '94, '99 and 2000. He wants to hear about 2011.

Q. If J.J. makes a career decision some point after this game, besides his football skills, what will you miss about him the most?

COACH BIELEMA: I'll miss J.J. Watt. He's a kid that represents a lot about Wisconsin. Wisconsin, we're maybe not the most sexy school, but we go to work, we play hard, we give it our all, and I think that's a little bit of what makes J.J. good. He really is -- you know, if he comes back, he's going to probably be a first round draft pick prosecute what everybody's told me. But J.J. is J.J. because of what he is 365 days a year. To not coach him again would be a tough thing to take.

Q. You brought up your first season and how well you all did. At that point, did you think it would be this long before you got here? What is the biggest lesson you've learned about being a head coach at that time?

COACH BIELEMA: Lloyd Carr has been a guy that I've admired ever since I've been in this profession. I remember my first year as an assistant coach I walked into the high school in St. Paul, Minnesota. There were a bunch of coaches in there, and Coach Carr came over and started talking to me right away. Had a huge influence on me the way I handled my business, to come full circle almost 15 years later.

I walked into my first Big 10 meeting after my first season, and Coach Carr looked at me and said, boy, did you screw up? I said, what do you mean? He said, you won 12 ballgames your first year, they're going to expect that every year. At that time, I just chuckled. I didn't expect every season to be like that. But obviously we just did what we did. I went with my instincts on where we were and what we were doing. But it's very, very hard to win in this profession.

A couple years later I remember during the '07-'06 campaign. We were rolling, did really well. Beat Fresno on the road, and went to Michigan and got beat, then went on a little bit of a skid. That's when all the experts come out and everybody has their opinions on what's going on.

I'll never forget we beat Illinois at home, and Coach Alvarez and I have a little tradition after the game. I'll try to find him in the media conference room or somewhere. I looked back and he wasn't there that day.

So I went down in the locker room and I remember by this time everybody was gone, and he came in the locker room where I was at and he basically said, hey, congrats. Today you grew up as a head coach.

Because it's easy to win when you're winning, but when things aren't going well to make that trend reverse is very, very difficult. Since that point we really haven't looked back.

I think last year we ran into a couple speed bumps a long the way with back-to-back games at Ohio State and Iowa. I remember writing a lot of notes about preparation and things how they happen during the course of the game. Then this year I really believe in the locker room, if there's one point where I felt this team could win a championship -- I knew going in we had really a lot of combined parts that could be very, very good football team.

But when we left the locker room at Michigan State I made a point to our guys. There are two ways we can go here. We can have this be the start of a losing streak or reverse this trend and never let it happen again. Thankfully, they took the second option.

I think going into that game, guys thought they were pretty g but they didn't know how good they were. When we were walking out of that locker room, we realized that was a team that was a very good football team. For them to finish with only one loss as well, but it's a team we could have beaten.

But we didn't play the way we needed to. That really made a statement to me, because it was a group of kids that said, you know what, if we handle our business and play a four-quarter game, we can play with anybody in this country, and that's what they've done.

Q. If you were on the outside looking in, what would you fear more, TCU's defense or the Badgers offense? Then, two, you kind of showed some emotion there when you were talking about J.J. Watt. Talk about the emotional attachment you have to every player on this team, especially the senior class?

COACH BIELEMA: First off, I've seen the Badger offense every day. They don't scare me anymore. I've got them pretty much figured out. I would say TCU's defense, I'm a defensive coach by nature. I played on defense, I coached on defense my entire life. The way those kids play and the passion they play with really is fun to watch. I think one of the things that I remember, I met Coach Patterson a couple weeks back. We bumped into each other in New York at the College Football Hall of Fame.

At that point, both of us had only seen a little of each other on film. The thing about TCU is they carry themselves and play themselves the same way we do at Wisconsin. They play very hard, and I'm not just saying that. You watch it, it's awesome.

I have a lot of respect, and our kids have a lot of respect about the way they play and especially on the defensive side of the ball. I didn't want to get emotional. I love J.J. and where he is. There are just a lot of thing that's go into this. Like I said, to come back 20 years ago to have my head coach. I flew out here last year and watched Coach Alvarez get inducted into the Hall of Fame. People have different things. I walked in and had no idea Keith Jackson was going to be the master of ceremonies at that luncheon last year. Keith Jackson is the first guy that ever said my name on National TV. And I remember my buddies saying, Keith Jackson said your name on TV. I was a freshman. I missed a sack, but to hear him. Yesterday I couldn't go to the luncheon, and two of my best friends in the world went to see Coach Fry get inducted. I'm trying to have Coach Fry talk to my team.

Last night I'm sitting down and I have a tradition, a Thursday night meeting with my players where it's just me and my players. I don't let any coaches in there whatsoever. And I text Dave Doeren, I said if you want to come to the meeting I'd love to have you. I think it's one of the best things we do in this program, because Dave's leaving us.

After a got done texting it, I started crying because I was writing the notes for my meeting. I'm like, I'm a single guy. I'm a bachelor for 40 years, and I invited my girlfriend on this trip. She came and she's like what are you crying about? And I said just go in the other room.

I keep a lot of things in, but at certain times you realize how golden of an opportunity this is and what it means. For us at Wisconsin, one of the things that since the first press conference, coach, can you win a National Championship here? And right now we're knocking on that door. We're right there. Some things that happened in front of us. If the year had been a little different in college football, maybe our game would be meaning that reward.

For us right now to play TCU, one of three teams undefeated in college football, is unbelievable. The group of kids that I have -- this is my first class. This is my first class of fifth-year seniors. To see guys like Culmer St. Jean, and from Culmer to Niles, to Gabe Carimi, Scott Tolzien, Lance Kendricks, and Jay Valai, and Sorensen, and Gilreath.

I sat in every one of those homes. I remember the first time I met them when they were 17 and 16, in some cases, they have never shaved in their lives. Just nappy heads. I've been pissed at a lot of them too. You get mad at them along the way. To see the smiles and rewards of giving them a Big 10 Championship is pretty cool.

Q. You mentioned before your message to the team after the Michigan State loss, and you hang your hat on that 1-0 mentality. Tomorrow being the ultimate 1-0, what will your message be to the team in the locker room before they head out to the game?

COACH BIELEMA: First, they have to not get consumed by the moment. It's so breathtaking to walk into that stadium. Because of all of this, all the media -- right when we landed on Saturday first thing I did is take them to the stadium. I wanted them to see it empty.

I wanted them to see the field painted. Then we'll come back today, and take a picture. There will be a lot of media around and things going on. But when you walk in there on Saturday, if you let it, it can consume you and you can be taken back by it.

So I want them to focus on the game, and I really think they will. We got to this point. We take great pride saying we're the least penalized team in college football. We don't give the ball away. We're one of the nation's best in that regard. And that's, to me, that's playing as a headsy football player.

At Wisconsin we have a great school. For us kids to achieve academically what they do, they've got to be smart, and they are. I need us to play that way.

We've got to be smart with the football and stick to what got us here. Coach Fry, just to quote him, he always said if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We found a recipe to have success, so we're not going to tweak it.

Q. On a typical Friday morning before a game in the regular season, what are you usually doing at 8:30 in the morning?

COACH BIELEMA: Having a cup of coffee (laughing). You get into your routines. On Friday morning, a lot of time I let my coaches take their kids to school. When you're an assistant coach and you have three little kids that never see you during the course of the week, we tend to come into the office a little later on Friday mornings.

I love coffee, and one of the things I always tell the local media where I come from, is every day when I'm driving into work I love that coffee. I'll be listening to some reggae driving into work, and I'll say what in the world is going to happen today that I have no idea is going to happen. Because as a head coach, that is just the world you live in.

Q. TCU has talked a lot about having a chip on their shoulder and playing for the non-AQ schools and all of that. What do you have to match that level of intensity or motivation, I guess?

COACH BIELEMA: First off, I think we have to put our priorities in order what we're trying to get accomplished. I think from going back before the season started to where we are today, one thing that we've talked about is playing our best football.

I do believe we're the underdog, at least in some people's eyes, and we should be. They're an undefeated football team. They've done something we haven't.

I can't really respond to what TCU's motivation is. But I know this: Our kids really believe that this is a culmination to something special. There is a difference in that ring if it says Rose Bowl champions or just says a Rose Bowl that you played in. So that's a big deal for our guys.

Q. Five years ago had you been sitting here, would you have allowed yourself to be this emotional?

COACH BIELEMA: I don't know. I don't think so just because I think about that group of seniors. Joe Thomas, I love that guy. I love him, and John Stocco, the guys who were big parts of that team. But I didn't sit in their homes and recruit them. Stocco was a little different. I tried to recruit him, but he didn't come. But there were a lot of players there that I thought the world of and stuff.

But when you travel the journey you have. A lot of you guys sit in this room as parents and by no means am I trying to be my fifth year seniors parents, but you've been with them. You know their parents were crying on Senior Day because of what happened, not because of how bad it was. They were excited how good it had been and it was ending. But I think that's part of just me being me.

Q. A couple years ago O'Brien Schofield came out of nowhere and started in a Bowl game. Is there another player that maybe had a smaller role this year that you could envision having a major impact in this game?

COACH BIELEMA: Can I say J.J. Watt, just because I want him to come back (laughing). I told J.J. yesterday, all those people, 30, 40 thousands people after he got introduced, everybody started yelling one more year. I couldn't see where he was at. I walked down and saw his mom in the front row.

I said to J.J., did you see your mom? He said, yeah. I said did you see her chanting one more year (laughing)? I do. I've kind of challenged Nick too. To me, Lance Kendricks, last year, I agree with you a couple years back.

But Lance Kendricks had seven catches in the Miami game and rolled them into this year. If there's a guy on our football team that's made as big a jump -- and he was a good football player last year. Nick's a good player for us now.

But he could take a step forward on the offensive side of the ball at least.

On the defensive side of the ball, I think it's Patrick Butrym. Aaron Henry is playing good too. But some of these juniors, we're going to be a good football team next year. I feel regardless what happens in this game, and I know it hinges on that a little bit.

We have a pretty good football team. If J.J. does stay with us or leaves us, I'm saying one of the things you guys know, one of our Top 5 players is Chris Borland who never had an impact on the season other than the first game.

So I think those guys in particular could be big reasons we jump forward next year.

Q. Did Keith Jackson pronounce your name correctly?

COACH BIELEMA: Absolutely. That's what I was impressed with. I've been bulimia, every eating disorder known to man, so he nailed it.

Q. I've heard a lot about Gabe. I wondered if I could draw you out on maybe a thumbnail on each of the other four guys in that unit. When they're playing this well and together, what is happening when they're on the roll that they're on?

COACH BIELEMA: I think two things that separates our offensive line, and Gabe leads the cause more than other teams that we play. It's twofold. First off, they're very big. There is no denying that. I'm a bigger guy, and I feel like a midget when I get among those guys. They're really, really big.

The thing that separates them is they stay on their feet. I've never been around a group that is as big as these guys are and as athletic and block guys as far as they are down field. I tell this story all the time. Ted Thompson with the Green Bay Packers, Ted was in town. He was watching film. He comes down and says, Bret, I know I got to talk to you about 68 and 74, which is Gabe and John, our two seniors on the left side. But he said who is 66? Peter Konz our center. He snapped the ball and blocked the right corner on the same play. That just doesn't happen a lot.

Two guys that don't get talked a lot about, Kevin Claxton our right guard who is from Wisconsin, and Ricky Wagner, our right tackle who is from Wisconsin, and Pete Konz, our center from Wisconsin, those guys are playing pretty good football. It kind of gets overshadowed.

Because Kevin Zeitler, nobody plays harder on our football team than Kevin Zeitler. Kevin is a competitor and works very hard. I always joke he has more conversations with himself before noon than most people have all day. He's always talking to himself. It's just fun to watch him. Ricky Wagner, Ricky I believe we list him at 6'6", 320 pounds whatever. He was a 6'5", 225-pound walk-on tight end. He started putting on weight. About midway through the season he went from 225 to about 255. I said hey, big boy, just keep doing what you're doing. We'll get you where we need you to be. Then he was 285 in spring ball.

Next year he was 310 pounds. He's only going to be a red shirt junior. Right now as a sophomore who has played as little football as he has at that position is absolutely amazing. If you didn't know who is who in our group, you would probably say Ricky Wagner is playing as good as anybody on our line.

Q. Speaking of J.J., he's quite a prolific tweeter. I don't know if you know that. He's got 6,000 followers this week. This was not a problem when you played in the Rose Bowl in '91. Do you tell him watch what you say, do you follow him? Do you get word about what he's tweeting about? What are your thoughts on that?

COACH BIELEMA: Yes, I'm not a follower of the tweets, but I do know J.J. is a prolific tweeter. He has gotten himself into a little bit of a jam a couple times. Not with me, but with the NCAA. I can't comment on it now, but it's kind of an amazing story. Sorry to lead you up to the cliff and not tell you what it is, but I can't comment on it.

But, J.J., all of his intentions are good. It's been amazing to me. There are certain things that can get you in trouble, and you don't even know they're doing it. The NCAA, from last year leaving our locker room, we were leaving after beating Miami, and we were obviously the Bowl championship. But I really felt that locker room was the catapult to where we are today.

I told our seniors who I love a lot. I said we didn't win a championship this year in our conference, but I really felt this group, that the seniors had laid the foundation. I said I tell what you, when we do win a championship that is on our near horizon, I'll buy everybody in this room, all these seniors a ring. I thought I could do that. This year we won a championship. So now the head coach's mouth, put your money where your mouth is. And I went to order and buy these guys, even if I couldn't buy them a ring, I could buy them a watch. But the NCAA says I can't. To me that makes no sense.

To me, that's stupid. They're done. There's no promise. I didn't say to those guys you come and I'll buy you a ring after you leave. That makes no sense. But they said I couldn't do it. So there are a lot of things out there.

But J.J., you know what, J.J.'s not looking for notoriety. He's a young man that is in college football that has a foundation that is trying to raise money to let kids that don't have the privilege of playing collegiate or competitive basketball provide that opportunity for them because he felt it's important for him.

To see him, we did three community service things the other day. We went to Five Acres, Boys & Girls Club, and we went to a Children's Hospital. The Rose Bowl wanted us to go to two, but I know our kids love it.

So I gave the option for the two, if they didn't want to do it, they didn't have to do it. And J.J. said right away I want to do it. Aaron Henry, and we had a bunch of them. That's just J.J. being J.J.

Q. A decade ago, Barry was standing up there with sweat running under his nose and not giving the media anything. How are you having so much fun 24 hours before arguably the biggest game of your career?

COACH BIELEMA: Embrace the moment. If you interview our guys, whatever the situation is, you have to embrace it. If you don't, you're just in denial. So when we went to Iowa, I told the kids, hey, it's going to be loud. They're going to be yelling obscenities. I graduated from there, and they're going to be yelling stuff at me you shouldn't repeat.

But you're here, why don't you have fun with it. One of the first things I say when I come into the locker room before the game a lot of times everybody will tell you, let's have some fun today. First time they played the game on my coaching staff or my locker room, it wasn't because there were 90,000 people or on National TV.

It was because your dad, your uncle, your brother, your mother, your sister rolled the ball on the field and said, hey, let's play. I think we've kind of kept that going forward.

Growing up as a kid, my brothers and I had these two neighbors down the road, and we had a big yard. When we got bigger, it wasn't big enough, so we started playing football on our knees in the.

In the middle of our big lawn there was a 20-yard patch that was dirt. There wasn't any grass because we had worn it out on our knees playing football. I go back to those days quite a bit.

Q. Yesterday at the pure chance I talked to Ron Dayne, and I said what do you remember most from that game? He said the fans and it was Camp Randall West. Do you look at that, or do your kids look at this and say tomorrow 50,000 Badger fans, how important is that for this team?

COACH BIELEMA: It's very important. I think this game is a reward for a lot of people. I remember when things began to come our way, and we ultimately won a championship. I've had so many people, emails, letters, notes, walk through an airport and people grabbing me. It's not the greatest world out there right now in our economy and all that goes with it.

For us in Wisconsin, there are a lot of people that take a lot of pride in watching the Badgers on Saturday and live through their success vicariously.

To walk out to the pier yesterday and I don't think all those people came to California to go to the pier. That was a by product of coming to our games. So I think we'll have a lot out there. I met with the team last night. The 70 guys involved in the game on the hotel roster, I want them to be locked in. But I told the other 40 guys, your job is to get those people into this game and be active with the crowd. So it means a lot.

I haven't referred to it as Camp Randall West. Lot of my guys wouldn't be able to figure that out. They're not geography majors. But it's something that I'm sure we'll be out there and we'll embrace it when it does happen.

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