Bielema's previous employers are nothing to scoff at. In three previous assistant coaching stints, Bielema has worked for three Hall of Fame coaches in Iowa's Hayden Fry, Kansas State's Bill Snyder and Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez -- three head coaches that went 499-331-15 in their illustrious career. Throw in the fact that he worked three seasons for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, and it's certain that Bielema comes from an impressive coaching tree.
"Every one of those guys is a different coach," Bielema said. "Hayden Fry was the psychologist. I don't know if to this day I have ever talked x's and o's with him. He just wanted to get it done. Kirk is probably a great, great listener, teaching me to slow down and listen to people. Coach Snyder is the most detail-oriented, task-oriented coach I have ever been around and then coming here, Coach Alvarez was the whole package with a great personality, great x's and o's and great with people."
In his five-year career as Wisconsin's head coach, Bielema is 49-16 (.754), including 27-13 (.675) in Big Ten games, has made five bowl appearances, ranked in the final AP top 25 four times and made a trip to the Rose Bowl last season.
Bielema already ranks fourth in school history in career victories and in his seven seasons on UW's staff, the Badgers are 68-22 (.756), the second-best record in the Big Ten over that span. It was announced Thursday that his team would start the season ranked No. 10 in the country in the preseason coaches' poll, the highest Big Ten team in the rankings. People are expecting a lot more success from Bielema's Badgers in Madison.
Bielema: I think the fact that we open the season on a Thursday has been really nice. I know our season tickets and our student tickets sold at a record pace. I think our student tickets sold out in about eight minutes and season tickets, usually the only people that don't renew are the people that aren't with us anymore. I think people are excited. I am little bit intrigued to see where the Northern Illinois tickets are. That's an easy drive, an easy venue to get to.
Q: Junior running back Montee Ball is down to 210 pounds. After three years of answering questions about John Clay's weight, is it going to be weird to not have a 260-pound running back?
Bielema: We do have a couple big guys in there (laughing). Hopefully, (the work he's done) is just another step in the maturity process. He's pretty mature as it is, but Montee has got a tremendous amount of ability and he's physically gifted. Just to maximize his strength, he's been working with Ben Herbert and our strength and conditioning staff ... and he hasn't lost any power. We didn't do that much running, full-speed tackling (in the spring), but he looked really good when we did.
Q: Can you talk about your relationship with Aaron Henry? It seems like you guys have developed a really close relationship.
Bielema: The first time I ever met Aaron Henry, I was in Immokalee (Fla.) and I went for the linebacker, Brian Rolle, who went to Ohio State. I love Brian, he was a sophomore linebacker and I was an assistant at Wisconsin. I didn't know anything about him (Aaron) but I loved the coach (John Weber) there. I told him that Rolle was going to get a scholarship offer from Wisconsin. It was the first scholarship offer he got, but he kept pushing Aaron. I watched Aaron return punts and I was like, "Whoa, he is pretty good."
As you begin to build a relationship with, Dave Doeren was his lead recruiter, Dave kept saying 'This kid is off the charts.' (His) grandma raised him, pastor was in the home.' I remember (Henry) coming on his visit, he actually visited Iowa, too. Back when you could text, we beat Iowa down there my first year. I texted (Henry) something about, 'Hey, you don't look too good in that black and gold (Iowa colors).' He texted back, 'Coach, I've got a red T-shirt underneath.' That was an indicator of what kind of kid he was.
When he committed, we went down, it was me and Dave, it was early December and I really felt he wanted to commit. I just could feel it, but I had never met grandma, never met the pastor. You get in those situations as a head coach where you can kind of smell a decision is going to be made here.
I kind of put out some strong words about where we needed to be, he could be a leader of this group (incoming freshmen). The pastor said, 'OK, coach, can you guys leave the house?' I was like, either something really good's going to happen (or something really bad). So, we get kicked out. We're in the middle of Immokalee. You've got to be on guard a little bit, there's a lot of stuff going on in Immokalee. They were in there for about 10 to 15 minutes, (we) came back in and Aaron said he wanted to commit to us.
To come full circle, he called me and said, 'Coach, I would really like to play in an All-Star game. Can you help me get in there?' I got him in the Orlando All-Star game, pulled some connections to get him in there, and he was one of the best players. (There was) a Florida coach to it, right after they won the national championship. They decided they are going to offer him, because they offered Brian Rolle, too. So, I'm like, 'Oh boy.'
So, Dave and Aaron played a little game with me. Aaron called, he was like, 'Hey coach, Florida was in here today.' I said, 'That's good, who did they send in?' He said, 'Coach Urban Meyer was in here.' I'm like, 'Really?' He said, 'Yeah coach, they won a national championship.' I'm like, 'Aaron, I know they won a national championship.' It was like two weeks ago. He said he was a nice guy ... and right (then), I'm grabbing straws, '(Meyer) should have been in there two months ago, he should have offered you when we did, You're going to help us win championships.' I'm going a million miles. He goes, 'Coach, you know what I told him?' I said, 'I already saw the stadium I want to play in. I want to be a Badger.' My heart was beating and here I am, the guy that got him into this game.
From that point, he's been a guy, especially for me in my first class, a foundation of what I really think we can be. Phenomenal student. Phenomenal person. He's a tremendous human being and really true to what I hope we embrace as a football program.
Q: Talk about Aaron Henry as a recruiter and how important is that have players help recruit when recruits come to campus.
Bielema: I think the No. 1 advantage we have at Wisconsin is our players. I have done this everywhere I have gone, everywhere I have been a recruiting coordinator -- is bring in a young man and sit eight of our guys around him and just leave the room to let them talk and be truthful. A lot of times when players and parents come out of the meeting, they are just blown away by the kids we have. We don't have the same kids every time either. If we have an Ohio kid, each one of our Ohio kids wants to be involved. That's the best thing we have going for us.
In terms of Aaron, he, Russell and I had lunch together on the last day of his visit. Aaron is a tremendous kid of faith and Russell is very faith-oriented. I wanted to hear what kids on our program thought. I am going to mention him as one of our program's best recruiters.
Q: You have so much positive feedback since winning the Big Ten and heading to the Rose Bowl. What has been the biggest benefit to you? Has it been the recruiting? The attention the program has got? Something else?
Bielema: I don't worry one bit about the exposure factor unless it's exposure for our program. That's the only time I'll agree to do something on a national basis if it brings exposure to our program and it doesn't hurt what we are trying to do. Without a doubt, I have done more interviews, had more requests that it's been off the charts. In recruiting, we've had kids call us from the West Coast, East Coast, areas we don't even recruit that want to say they are interested. Kids that (are) good students and are truly interested in both athletics and academics.
Q: Has it been hard to evaluate all these kids because your 2012 recruiting class isn't big on numbers?
Bielema: It's been good because we've been able to prioritize. For example, at a certain position, we go into a meeting and we like these six guys. Who do we want to offer? On one day, we offer three guys and say its first come, first serve, because we are going to offer three guys tomorrow. Sometimes it comes down to GPA (grade point average). It was amazing because boom, boom, boom and they're gone. It's been fun, but you have to guard yourself.
Q: Can you talk about recruiting Florida? What are the important areas for your program to recruit in order to be successful?
Bielema: Everybody's formula is a little different but for us at Wisconsin, we have to own our state. If anybody comes and starts pulling kids out of our state that we truly want, we're going to have problems. Our surrounding areas of Illinois and Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan fall into that category a little bit, we have to do well in. The only areas that we travel outside our areas to see are Florida and Jersey. I know the No. 1 roster state for us is Wisconsin, and it will always be that way. The next highest roster area goes back and forth between Florida and Ohio. We're strong there and now nationally with the Leaders Division, it has a more eastern theme, which helps us out even more.
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