After Bielema said the new Ohio State coach engaged in some ‘illegal' recruiting tactics during his national signing day press conference, many media members believed that the Wisconsin head coach had sour grapes for the Buckeyes securing a verbal commitment from Cleveland offensive lineman Kyle Dodson earlier in the day.
That issue was raised again Wednesday when the Badgers secured a verbal commitment from three-star cornerback and Minnesota commit Keelon Brookins, accusing Bielema of being ‘a hypocrite.' When a member of the media asked if that ‘gentlemen's agreement' issue had been settled for this year's recruiting cycle, Bielema couldn't help but smile.
"I began to realize that not everybody actually reads and follows every press conference," Bielema said on day one of Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place. "I did not say anything about a gentleman's agreement. I didn't say anything about coaches recruiting other players. It just kind of spun into that world. I've never made a comment about it or referred back to it in any way, shape or form."
It's a foolish argument to begin with. One glace at Wisconsin's roster sees at least eight current players that were at one time committed to another school, four of whom were at one time committed to another Big Ten university.
"We've had several players that are committed to our program that were committed to other schools," said Bielema. "We never refrain from recruiting players that are committed to other places if they want to be recruited. I hope that would never change. The great thing within our conference is as this recruiting process plays out year in and year out, coaches are able to let things happen as they are and realize that every kid is in charge of his own mission to where we wants to be."
On the same accord, Bielema (and Meyer) has a problem that other coaching staffs have the ability to solicit the services of Penn State players in wake of the NCAA sanctions. While Wisconsin recruited very few players that have signed letters of intent to play with the Nittany Lions, Bielema made the decision not to recruit any of those players for two reasons: 1) respect for the new coaching staff; and 2) UW's team chemistry.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach (Bill) O'Brien and everything he's going for," said Bielema. "One of the things I love and appreciate about being in this conference is there is a genuine love and respect for everybody in our league that you are a Big Ten brother.
"I have a group of 105 players that are reporting on August 5. I want them to understand and believe they can help us win another championship. To bring someone in at this point so close to the season, I just wasn't comfortable with it."
Bielema and the rest of the college football world already knew that Ohio State would be banned from postseason competition this season due to the fallout from improper benefits and the ensuing cover-up by then head coach Jim Tressel. But with the bombshell delivered by NCAA president Mark Emmert on Monday that penalized Penn State, among other things, from postseason play the next four seasons, Bielema isn't blind to the fact that Wisconsin will basically be competing in a four-team division in 2012.
While admitting it's a story, it's a decision that doesn't change his team's approach.
"Everybody's like, ‘why do you have success, why have you won championships," said Bielema. "The number one thing I believe is a ‘1-0' mentality. You take every day for what it is. We're going to take August 5, the first day we're together, and process that. Move on to August 6, move on to August 7. Take every day for what it is.
"It really doesn't change what we do because we can never skip a step to get to where we want to be, and that's in Indianapolis at the end of the year."
Smooth Transition for O'Brien
Since graduating in three years from Maryland and joining the Wisconsin program in June, junior quarterback Danny O'Brien has been getting a lot of positive praise from his fellow teammates, according to Bielema.
"Everybody has been excited about him coming through," said Bielema. "First and foremost is he's a great kid. Just the way he bonded during the recruiting process was special to see. You guys might remember that Russell (Wilson) had a pretty good year a year ago. I think that kind of played into it as well.
"The real upside to Danny's situation is we've had the emergence of Curt Phillips come off a third ACL surgery. Those two have a nice little competition going with Joel Stave. I think competition brings out the best and I know Danny is very excited for the competition to start on (August) 6."
With the Big Ten allowing head coaches to bring between 0-3 players to the two-day conference, Bielema again stuck to his role of bringing deserving seniors who have served his program.
Bielema first addressed senior linebacker and Ashwaubenon, Wis., native Mike Taylor, a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media after leading the conference with 150 tackles last season.
"He came to us as an under-recruited kid," said Bielema. "He maybe had two or three offers and has probably been one of the most premier players in our league … He's really set himself up for a great season and is up for a couple awards."
Joining them is senior left tackle and West Allis, Wis., native Ricky Wagner, a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection after starting all 14 games last season.
"Ricky came to us as a 6-5, 230-pound walk-on tight end and now he's a 6-6, 330-pounds Outland Trophy candidate that will be a three-year starter for us," said Bielema. "He's an incredible kid because he walked on from the state of Wisconsin and now he's achieving at the highest level of success. A lot of people predict him to be a top-10 pick a year from now.
"I told him when I moved him a year ago that he has big shoes to fill. Every senior left tackle that has started for me in my tenure at the University of Wisconsin has won the Outland Trophy and has been a first round draft pick. He's hopefully going to live up to the same standards."
Last but not least, Bielema brought Heisman Finalists and All-American senior tailback Montee Ball to address the media. Ball was part of a large UW Athletics campaign that kicked off Thursday, and Bielema kidded him since the senior says his first name should be pronounced ‘Mon-tay,' not ‘Mon-tee.'
"He's been really one of our greatest leaders, not just on the field but the way he practices (and) the way he compete," said Ball. "The highest level he has set for us in all facets has been truly incredible … I would love to be a head coach that coaches a Heisman winner."
While every season brings new challenges, Bielema's seventh season will be different in one big way: he'll be wearing a wedding ring on the sidelines.
"Nineteen weeks and five days that we've been into this relationship and that's because I get reminded on a daily basis … not that I knew that stat," said Bielema, drawing laughter from the room. "It's been fun for me. I go back to seven years ago when I got the job and everyone was asking me (about being) single … Hopefully it's going to make me a smarter, wiser, more mature coach."
Notes: Bielema says there are guys in the Wisconsin program on the offensive line that have never started a game who can play at a starting level for the Badgers, which would help fill the gap left by Casey Dehn "The big challenge for us is to find the right five guys" … With three new coaches in the Leaders Division, Bielema has the longest tenure in the division and second longest in the conference behind Iowa coach and Bielema mentor Kirk Ferentz … A guy who likes change, Bielema believes it'll be a fun challenge to compete against new schemes, philosophies, ideas and recruiting the new coaching staffs bring.