But because of unavoidable setbacks, the Badgers again are the talk of the college football landscape after O'Brien – the former Maryland quarterbacks with career numbers of 342-for- 603 (56.7 percent) for 4,086 yards and 29 touchdowns with 18 interceptions – signed with the Badgers Wednesday and will have two years of eligibility remaining when he steps foot on campus in June.
On Thursday, Bielema addressed the media for the first time on the O'Brien signing.
Bielema: A guy that probably contacted us about two months ago after he got things settled with Maryland. Another unique recruiting process. (I) had a little bit experience from Russell (Wilson)'s situation, but two different kids, two different scenarios. Obviously Danny coming in with two years of eligibility is a little bit unique. From my perspective, if you go way back at the Russell situation when I lost James Stallons and Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr, that led us to russell's decision to bring him in.
This year some people had inquired, but we really didn't get fully engaged until the situation came with Danny because of Jon's situation getting complicated, Curt's situation and the surgery to our incoming freshman Bart Houston led us to get in this scenario once again. Obviously it had good results. I am excited about Danny. The best thing is on his visit he really blended in well without guys. I think the overall exposure to them ended up being the difference.
Bielema: Before we even got into this, we sat down with those guys one-on-one back in December when Paul (Chryst) was here because there was another situation that popped up that didn't materialize to its fullest (former Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist visited UW before ultimately picking Kansas and his former head coach). This time with Danny, I talked to the quarterbacks first and then to the entire team. The message was the same. Because of the quarterback situation, it's going to draw a lot of interest, a lot of media attention from everybody but bottom line, I don't' want to leverage the well being of our football based on a catastrophic amount of injuries to one specific position. It just happened to be the quarterback position. I would do the same thing if it was the safety position, tailback, defensive end, defensive tackle … it's just because of the situation we're in.
Even with what you just told us in the injury situation that somewhere along the recruiting trail, maybe (offensive coordinator Matt Canada) is going to have questions asked of him with the pattern?
Bielema: Absolutely. Anytime you have newsworthy information it draws questions. I think the information we are able to provide is always the truth. One thing we always say in this program that, ‘If you always speak the truth, you never have to remember what you said.' We're speaking the truth. Because of the injuries we've had, it's brought us to the scenario two times in a row. I think people think it's going to affect the recruiting of a high school senior now. It really can't be any better because you can sell to a high school senior quarterback the fact that a guy is going to be in here, possibly a two-year starter if he does earn that position, you have a chance to come in, redshirt for a year, watch a guy play and then come in.
Do you think there will be another backlash with you signing a transfer quarterback because you did hear some last year with Russell?
Bielema: I didn't hear one word because I didn't listen. I understand people talk and I think it's great for everyone to have conversations and things to write about, but it didn't pertain to anything I was making decisions on. So, it didn't matter.
You often talk in recruiting about finding a Midwest kid in a non-Midwest place. Does that apply to O'Brien in your eyes?
Bielema: He was born in Minneapolis and believed lived there to his early teenager years. When down to North Carolina, went to school there and then went to school in Maryland. We do always say try to find a Wisconsin kid in another part of the country. That's a message we really used in recruiting before Russell Wilson and before O'Brien. If the kid didn't fit, if I got any type of feeling during the recruiting process that he wasn't going to fit or any feeling while he was on campus, we wouldn't have gone down this road. We just felt really comfortable, especially from our players.
It takes a special player to come in and earn the respect of the players after coming in two years later. What do you see it him that will allow him to do that?
Bielema: The things that we found out about him not only at his time in Maryland, but his high school coach. Just the way he worked and the way he found success. It wasn't just handed to him. He worked for it every day. A big student of the game so anytime you have that approach and that idea, kids are going to respect that. We'll have a conversation before he actually hits the ground running here and just emphasize some of the things we shared with Russell - show up, do your business, show the kids that you are willing to work and willing to work with others and good things with happen.
He talked about his appetite for film study and his coach talked about his football IQ but physically when you evaluated him, what stood out?
Bielema: I think you can go back to even his freshman year when it was in more of an offense like we'll run here. Obviously is ability to make decisions and make the throws, he's got a good size in the pocket. He's more along the lines of more what you saw with (Scott Tolzien) more so than what you immediately saw last year with Russell. The part that is intriguing to me is he was much more engaged into what we were going to do as a complete package – run game, how that affects the passing game and all that goes into it. I know him and Montee got to spend some time together, he got to spend some time with the offensive linemen, got to spend a lot of time with the receivers and the tight ends during practice. I think that picture came to light when he was here. I didn't see that side of him until he got here on campus.
How do you think he'll handle the pressure following Russell?
Bielema: I know him and Russell tweeted back and forth. I know we couldn't by NCAA rules do anything, but I can't stop the tweet world. They had that going on. I think it naturally is going to be there with the whole conference and the transfer. I have never tried to pigeonhole a guy into a situation, but I think it's inevitable. What I've learned of Danny is he is just going to line up and do his business, no matter what other people say.
What was the word of the other quarterbacks when they got word he was coming?
Bielema: I haven't seen them. Danny wanted to be able tell the people we were involved in the recruiting process instead of by media. I believe I got the fax Tuesday afternoon, but he didn't want to tell anybody until Wednesday. I just kept it quiet and let him do it on his own. I really haven't talked to the team since it became official. I'll announce it today and say he hasn't been promised anything, just like any other player in our program. These guys were heavily involved in the recruiting process. I mentioned before he came to campus that he was going to be on campus. We don't try to put an elephant in the room. We just try to be honest and up front.
Russell had one month to get ready and Danny will have two. Do you think that will help him?
Bielema: I think it will help. As coaches, we aren't around much in June and July. I think it's going to be on our other players but the benefit is it's a system they have just learned for the first time as far as verbage, communication and the way things are done. I think it won't be as steep of curve because of time and also because it's not an ingrained system.
Did you FedEx the playbook to him?
Bielema: Can't by NCAA rules. We can't really give out the playbooks until the fall. They are pretty specific rules. One thing that has changed so much and it's kind of silly with the NCAA rules, we have a video playbook that is accessible 24-7. Everybody does. It's all the plays we have ever ran on film. Kids go up and do independent film studies all the time … We can't line it up and we can't be in the room of him … The last 10 years with the birth of advanced filming … one of the proposals to me this year was that we weren't going to have playbooks. We were going to have an iPad. There are a lot of schools and NFL organizations that have gone to that, but I am not in that iPad world yet. I still have to have that little binder.
When Russell was on his visit, Aaron Henry played a factor. With Danny, were there any players that spent time with him?
Bielema: I had Chris Borland spend time with him the first night. He went to dinner with all my offensive coaches. Friday when he got here was all academics. I had him visit with all the programs he might be involved in with a graduate student program. Really dosed him in that and then him, his mom and his stepfather, Steve, really just did a lot of academic orientation and all that goes into it. Him and Matt came over after dinner and did film study till I don't know when. On Saturday, he had a panel with the offensive line and then had lunch with all the offensive linemen in the cafeteria where we had every training table meal at. Then on Saturday, Ryan Groy (was his host). Actually had dinner at my house. By NCAA rules you can do that. I didn't cook. I think it was another experience for him to get a feel what everybody is about.
Do you think having two years will relax him a little bit?
Bielema: Yeah, but I don't see Danny get flustered all that much. The things that came back from coaches that were with him at Maryland as well as his high school coach and people that have been around him of late, he just has a business-like approach. It's something you've heard of before, but it seems to be the way he's gotten through to where he is today.
Your track record of getting transfers here is pretty good. Are there any downfalls moving forward?
Bielema: We're a program that teaches and talks about development. I've never signed a junior college kid since I've been here (Editor's note: Bielema signed junior college defensive tackle Dan Moore in 2008). There's a lot of programs that fill their roster with junior college kids and I just haven't really done that. I am not saying that I never will, but I've never pursued that option. Now when these kids are coming in and graduating in (three) years, they are exceptional students and fit in to the way they do things around here. If you have a kid that is concerned or raises any questions, which I can understand why there could be, if you just explain the situation and the scenario, it's pretty easy to put down on paper that I have lost four quarterbacks out of the last six that I have signed due to injury. That's pretty significant.
How much will the playbook be installed in spring camp
Bielema: We wanted to get through these four practices. These first four practices were scripted out before we ever did a day of practice. We tweaked a little bit of day. I've been blown away with the way our kids have executed offensively and defensively. Part of the reason I kept the media out was I wanted to see myself. I don't like displaying things that aren't proven first. I wanted to give our coaches and players the ability to adjust these first four practices and see where we are at. Our players have kind of said it to you but I've been amazed. To move forward, we'll probably accelerate things more than what we had planned to do just because the kids have grasped it and done very well.
Will the 11 practices after spring break create some ground for Danny to have to make up?
Bielema: Danny is going to be handled when Danny comes in. I am planning right now to play out spring ball like we have. The quarterbacks that are competing – Joe and Joey – have been real nice surprises in my opinion. Curt getting in there as much as he can, I know he's probably frustrated because he wants to get in there full go. All three of them are ahead of where I thought they were or going to be. I've been very excited.
Does this impact what you do with Curt next year and applying for a sixth year of eligibility?
Bielema: By NCAA rules, a sixth year can only be granted after the season. There are two guys really in the same situation with Curt Phillips and Brendan Kelly. Both have to process through their fifth year before getting a sixth year.