That intensity could be ratcheted up a notch Saturday, when he returns to Iowa City, where he spent four years as a player and nine as an assistant coach with the Hawkeyes.
"It's the first time I've visited there as a visitor, so that's going to bring back a whole tidal wave of emotions I think after the game," Bielema said. "I'm really not feeling anything before it. There's one thing I try to understand is that the only way you get to where you want to be is by focusing on what's in front of you. The only thing that's in front of us right now is the game on Saturday. It just happens to be against the team I used to coach for."
After working his way onto the team as a walk-on, Bielema went on to earn four letters at Iowa. He was a part of the Hawkeye squad that captured the 1990 Big Ten Championship and was selected as a co-captain as a senior in 1992.
"Obviously as a player, we won a lot of games there," Bielema said. "That means a lot to you as you get together with a lot of your former teammates, players and all the people you grew up in college with."
When his playing days came to an end at Iowa, Bielema's coaching career began. After starting out as an undergraduate student assistant, he climbed the coaching ladder until he was a full-fledged Hawkeye assistant. Bielema spent six years coaching the Iowa linebackers before moving on to Kansas State in 2002, where he became a co-defensive coordinator.
"As a coach I worked on two different staffs and experienced a lot of victories on Saturdays that stay in your mind and also a lot of heartache," Bielema said. "There's a lot of different things that go into it. The biggest thing is trying to get the ‘W' on Saturday."
Now the Badgers' defensive coordinator, Bielema will take in the view from Kinnick Stadium's visiting sideline for the very first time.
"I'm sure it'll be emotional for Bret," said Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez, another former Hawkeye assistant. "I think he has seven of those guys on the defense that he recruited, a number of the staff, the majority of that staff he coached with. You know, he had a good relationship. He was in Iowa City for a long time. So I'm sure that…he'll reminisce when he goes back and it'll be very different. It'll be much like the first time I went back there."
As if Bielema needed any extra motivation for this or any other game, his Badger defense is coming off its worst performance of the season. Last week, Wisconsin was torched for 551 yards of total offense by the Michigan State Spartans.
"Bielema's always fired up," cornerback Scott Starks said. "He's always ready to go. I'm interested to see just how fired up he can get. We are still playing for a lot and this is his alma mater. We want to go out there and just compete hard."
While he knows his players are aware of the meaning Saturday holds for him personally, Bielema will continue to focus on getting a win and keeping UW's Rose Bowl hopes alive.
"I think they understand, they give me a lot of heat once in a while about where I'm from," Bielema said. "I think the one thing our kids pride themselves on is trying to do the best with every opportunity they get. That's all they're going to try to do on Saturday."