Bret Bielema: Appreciate all you guys coming. Yesterday, one of the things I wanted to do was give Russell Wilson the opportunity to speak on his own terms. When you get to know him a little bit, he's a very serious, very dedicated and on task with everything he does. I have learned that the last couple months recruiting him and talking with him and the people around him. I wanted to give yesterday to him to speak his voice, speak his opinion, which is why I stayed away from anything other than our comment. We're very excited to have him in our program. A lot of people are going to have certain perceptions of what they think happened during the recruiting process. One thing that I was very clear with him the first time that we talked when he was here on campus and going into the last couple days into his decision, he's going to come in, he's going to be a part of a team, he's going to buy into what we're doing and bring his skill set, his personality, his demeanor and his leadership skills and see how it blends in here at Wisconsin.
He wasn't promised the starting job, but I told him as a guy with one year of eligibility, I am not bringing you in with the intention of seeing how you sit on the bench. He's going to come in, try to earn the starting job. I was very cautious with the way our current quarterbacks and our current players, and he was very well received on the short visit he was here. I think he'll be a nice fit once he's here full time.
What can you do with him in terms of working with before fall camp opens? What are the rules?
Bret Bielema: Basically, this is a frustrating time for coaches because your players are on campus, they are involved in classes, they are in our workouts but we can't have anything from a coaching perspective to talk to them about. Obviously once he gets on campus, our players will be the best coaches. Scott Tolzien, a guy that has been in the program, has been asking me questions. We were at the same event yesterday and he said ‘anything he can do to help.' We'll be very cautious with that. The part I learned about him is that he is a very quick learning. He learns things quickly not only from a … obviously graduating in three years at N.C. State, but also I think it will carry over to the football field very easily.
How important do you think this month will be getting him ready for camp and how much can he learn?
Bret Bielema: That was the part that jumped out to me. When I was first starting to be aware of the situation and I am trying to build a relationship, I didn't want to push the envelope as far as, ‘Hey, what's your timeline? What are you thinking?' When he was here on his visit, I kind of laid out three different maps that could take him on his path to be a part of Wisconsin football. My ambition one was come back right after the Fourth of July, have a week here to get acclimated, summer school second session starts July 11, he could pop into that, take a couple classes, get acclimated with our kids and the environment. The last one was coming basically sometime in July, basically whenever he felt ready.
Last year when he did this, he didn't go back to N.C. State until August 1. It felt he didn't have himself prepared, and I think he learned from that a year ago and knew he needed to get here ahead of that, so that's what we are doing.
What do you think the biggest challenge will be in grasping your offense coming off three years at N.C. State?
Bret Bielema: You are going to naturally try to mold those two together, but N.C. State verbage and Paul Chryst verbage are two entirely different things. Football language takes on unique language each place you go. A power here is a panther here, and our football kids know that, but it's just a way of communicating. The transition will go quicker than you think, especially when you are dealing with Russell. His challenge will be in the locker room, getting to know guys for the first time. He's got a fiancé, so he's a little more mature in life. It'll be interesting to see how he handles it.
Every person that I've talked to, I visited with his fiancé, I visited with his brother, I visited with his high school coaches, his baseball agent…everyone just talks about how well he blends with everything he's been in to.
When can he grasp just by having the playbook in hand?
Bret Bielema: Terminology. You are always guarded when he's learning the playbook and none of the coaches are around. You want to make sure he's learning the right way. The path that we teach here at Wisconsin, kind of lay it out here in front of us. The good thing with fall camp, true freshmen have come in here and played in this system. Not a quarterback, but guys can grasp it once they understand the concepts pretty easily.
What was Jon Budmayr's reaction when this became official?
Bret Bielema: I haven't talked to Jon yet. Yesterday when I came in the office at 8 o'clock in the morning, it was a fiasco and a half. I had prepared the scholarship papers last week because I thought the decision was coming and I wanted to have them ready. When I left the office last Friday, I thought I had placed them in the middle of my desk. I had taken them home with me. I came in here to fax them, I can't find them, I had to shoot him an email because we couldn't talk and basically said that I left them on my kitchen counter and I have to go back and get them. He's like, ‘Coach, you've got to be better prepared than that.' That's how he is.
But when I first came into the office and opened my door, my quarterbacks were walking down. They had just gotten done with a workout, so I haven't had a chance to visit with them since the announcement. Both Paul and I have a conversation with them when this was going on and I loved Jon's reaction. He goes, ‘Whatever happens, it's not going to change the way I prepare for this upcoming season.' I really think that's how he'll handle it.
What makes (Russell) a good fit for your offense?
Bret Bielema: Obviously there is a maturity factor with a guy that has started so many games, played in environments, played in big games. I love the fact that he's graduated in three years while playing football and baseball. For someone to do that in three years at the level he did, that's pretty impressive and the way he handled everything … if you do a little background on his history you'll find out that he lost a father about a year ago. To see the way he's responded from that and the way he talks about that, obviously a young man of tremendous faith, anytime I've been around that (faith) when kids are sincere … my first was probably Luke Swan, my next one was Chris Maragos, Aaron Henry is very much like that … the more I've been around that, there's this presence, this faith that goes beyond football. That's the stuff that you can't put a price tag on.
Will he compete in summer conditioning at all?
Bret Bielema: Oh yeah. Once he clears his physical, he'll be just like an incoming freshman. He'll actually get here probably sometime … he's trying to get here tomorrow, but I encouraged him to take some time, spend some time at home with the family because once he gets here, it'll be basically be until all this is done. I know he's very interested in taking classes on July 11 so once he gets his physical done, sometime early next week, he'll be able to start running.
How different was this recruiting process against all the other ones?
Bret Bielema: One hundred percent the most unique situation ever. A, because he's playing pro baseball. He literally had two days off; one in May when he went to go visit Auburn and one day off in June when he came here. The set of rules that applied to him, it's basically like recruiting a high school kid that's in the recruiting stage, but you can't go see him. It was very frustrating for me because when you are recruiting a young man, you get to know the family, you get to go to their home. I actually put in an appeal to the NCAA, he had to sign off to him, where we tried to get special legislation passed, an emergency, where I could go see his mom. His mom still has a daughter in the home and she couldn't travel up here on his official visit. So I wanted to at least go see mom.
I worked with our Big Ten people, here at compliance and also the NCAA people. I went in front of the committee and they rejected it. My point was that this was such a unique recruiting process, you can't apply high school rules to this situation. As soon as I got the transfer and we started deciding that we wanted to go down this road, I wanted to send a coach to go get an on-site evaluation, and they wouldn't allow that because it was a professional environment. One thing that we did do which I felt was a good move on our part was send Paul Chryst to (Wilson's) old high school, kind of gather as much information on the person he was. I don't think anybody else in the country did that. Paul spent a day there, which was neat because he learned a lot about him, just from visiting his school when he wasn't there.
Did you have any reservations about doing this when it started?
Bret Bielema: As soon as I got the release, I knew the name. I had seen the kid play and being a college football fan, I believe he was on a couple Thursday night games, I really didn't know a lot about him, didn't recruit him in high school obviously. The first thing we did was reach out to the coaches we knew at N.C. State, find out what the situation was there, a couple of my coaches knew their coaches well. Once the whole thing started to happen, got his cell phone number, called him, he called me back right away, but you are dealing with one phone call a week at that time so there was a lot of email communication from our end.
One of things I always try to talk about was who is in your ‘circle of trust,' not to quote a movie, but I want to find out all the time in recruiting who is in your ‘circle of trust.' It's a unique situation with the passing of his father that it was him by himself. He's got a brother that lives in Chicago that is a pharmaceutical, so he was able to join us on his visit. That's kind of neat for him and you can see him and his brother have a special relationship. It was unique.
Do you try to match like personalities when he was on campus from your team?
Bret Bielema: No, I thought it was important for him to realize that he was going to be a part of a group of players offensively and as a team, that have to play well together. His official host was Nick Toon, which some of you may have read about that (laughter). Nick did a great job building a relationship with him, but we bring what we call ‘player panel,' allowing our players to sit down and our coaches leave the room and they ask him all kinds of questions. I ran back in there after about an hour or so because we wanted to visit with him as coaches and they are all in their whooping it up and hollering. It's the Ohio State game. They were watching a replay of that, the TV version, and they were kind of explaining what the plays were, how they were set up and why they were called in a certain way. It was great ...
Was that panel with members of each of your classes?
Bret Bielema: All skill players. Both my tailbacks – Bradie Ewing and James White – were in there, Jacob Pedersen, Jake Byrne, Nick Toon, Jared Abbrederis , and they had the opportunity to ask questions. Then in the morning, we had the opportunity to bring our offensive linemen in a room and visit with them. He made a comment to me that he was really looking forward to playing behind an offensive line of our stature. I think that was the moment where it is a different game here with the guys we have walking in the room. The one thing we really believe in recruiting here is our players our best ambassadors, our best salesmen to let them sell on why you should come here. And I wanted them to understand what they are dealing with. Him and Aaron (Henry) actually had an opportunity to get to know each other and I think Aaron did a great job. He's obviously on the other side of the ball, but Aaron is a tremendous man of faith and related to Russell very, very well.
As you are aware, expectations have gone through the roof. Is that something you guys are going to have to deal with, you think?
Bret Bielema: I totally understand that and I know why people are going to naturally go down that path. What I've tried to do is temper not only coach's expectations, but fan's expectations. I think it's a sign of respect. They know it's an area where people are looking at as a position of weakness, but to me, it's going to becoming a position of strength because it has great competition. We're not going to change what we do. I am still back there in my office doing the exact same thing whether Russell was here or not here. We're going to approach the fall camp the exact same way. There's a competition thing we're going to have to work through. We've done that before. We wouldn't have gone down this path unless it's someone I really respected as a person that I thought could handle this situation.
From the stats, it looked like he took off running a lot. Did they do a lot of designed runs or is that something he did when things broke down?
Bret Bielema: I think when you watch Russell on film, you realize that he is a gifted athlete. He throws the ball on the move very, very well. Whether it was by design or by … (laughter) people being in his face, I think there is a little bit of a combination in both. He made reference to that. I think he's excited and I think the part that I think is going to be a great fit is that he's shown that he can play in that type of offense, but our offense is a little bit different. Now you have the play action and run action that's going on in combination with the skills he can bring as a thrower. It's pretty special.
He talked about his day-to-day approach. Do you think that there is a baseball influence having played professional baseball? Is there some benefits to that?
Bret Bielema: You know, I was the last kid picked every time in gym class. I don't understand baseball and every day, I'd get on and check on how he did the night before. Sometimes it was 0-for-3, one time it was 3-for-4. He's definitely a task-oriented individual. Everything is kind of on a check list and you can tell that he's very guarded, very reserved and he's opened up more and more as we've gone forward. You can tell that he's a guy that liked to have a plan out in front of him and laid out in a way he knows he can follow.
What do you think it says about your program that has been known for running the football to get such a talented transfer quarterback?
Bret Bielema: I had to battle that because that's all he kept throwing in my face and other skills were using that against us, that we are a run-oriented school. We're an offense-oriented school. I understand, I get it, we've got good running backs, but there have not been a lot of people in college football, especially the last couple years, that are balanced as we are. That's the part that we are ultimately selling to him that you have a chance to come here and not do it on your own. I believe some other people were selling him on you can come in here, you're going to be the man, win the Heisman and we'll win the national championship. My plan was this is what we are and if you want to fit into this, you can be tremendously successful. It's been a good awakening for me that we can compete with anybody.
Because of that balance, do you think you are changing that perception?
Bret Bielema: No. Ron Dayne, P.J. Hill, Brian Calhoun, before the Dayne there were several others with Coach Alvarez. One thing we can do here is recruit tight ends, o-line and running backs. That's not a problem for us. It's exciting, but it's the reality. I don't want to replace what the image is of Wisconsin. It is what it is but I think the more we can sneak up on people a little bit, it helps us.
The SEC has banned these one-year transfers. What do you think of schools that allow graduates to play right away?
Bret Bielema: Everybody's recruiting story and everybody's career history is unique. This helped a kid out in this situation. He's a young man that was told by his coach that if he wasn't going to give up baseball, he wasn't going to be the starter in the fall, and it gave this kid an option to do this. Zach Brown, who I just lost to Pittsburgh, I didn't want to see Zach Brown go, but I called every program that he wanted me to call. He had an official visit to Miami, Pittsburgh, Miami (OH), several other schools reached out to me. If that's what Zach wants, I want to provide that for him.
I think it's a unique thing. I am glad the SEC is taking such a leading role in NCAA proposals (laugher). That's a very entertaining thing for me to watch. I hope it doesn't change. There are abuses to it, using it in a way where the NCAA can still monitor a certain way so a kid isn't using it just to jump schools. But for situations like this, I think it's a great thing.
Despite the way it ended, did their coaches speak highly of him at N.C. State?
Bret Bielema The highest levels of compliments. I don't think he has any ill will toward them and the same thing. There coaches, glowing recommendations and even people just emailing me and sending out messages, you can tell that he was truly loved there.
Going back to what you said before, Scott Tolzien is still working out on campus?
Bret Bielema We've got a great thing going on right now because of this lockout thing. You go downstairs and you can watch Jim Leonard, Joe Thomas, all those NFL players come back to Madison and work out. Isaac Anderson is down there, I saw John Clay down there last week, so we let them use our facilities.
So he's volunteered to help?
Bret Bielema He said whatever he could do. We had to check what the rules will be there to with a former player, but Scotty, that's how he is.
Because you have such limited contact, does strength coach Ben Herbert become a pretty big guy in the next month?
Bret Bielema Huge. Ben Herbert, Jamil Walker, Brian Bott, a couple other assistants down there, it's all in their hands. I kind of keep updated on thoughts but by NCAA rules, we are hands off. Herbs has done a tremendous job in the past two years and it really shows up. We've been very successful as of late in recruiting and I can't tell you how many times the parent or the kid has told me Herbert is the best. They've been all over the conference and the country and our strength staff is the best they've visited with. I think that's really apparent now.
Does it remain to be seen that all this was worth the effort?
Bret Bielema Well, yeah. The proof is in the pudding in the end. As far as getting a great kid in the program that helps bolster our competition, it's worth every minute of it. For two months, Paul and I have been intense in this process. It's good for us because it looks like a situation for us that could be very helpful to our program.