Tunnel vision

Bret Bielema's attention is centered on being UW's defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator

Bret Bielema is resolutely focused on his duties as defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. Yes, he is the University of Wisconsin's head-football-coach-in-training. Bielema, though, wants his transition on the back burner and the Badgers' 2005 season in the spotlight.

"I'm trying to move forward from the standpoint of my only responsibilities right now are the defensive coordinator and to oversee recruiting for the forthcoming year," Bielema said. "I don't want to concentrate on anything else but that."

One of the reasons UW's current head coach, Barry Alvarez, said he chose Bielema as his successor was that he saw how thoroughly and efficiently Bielema accomplished his tasks as the Badgers' first-year defensive coordinator last season.

Do not expect Bielema to cut himself any slack as defensive coordinator just because he has added recruiting coordinator and future head coach to his portfolio. There are times, however, when the defensive coordinator's hat comes off, and the head-coach-to-be hat comes on.

"Obviously there's a lot of things that go through your mind and a lot of things that I do in my personal time to make sure that transition is as good as it can be, but I don't want to dwell on the past," Bielema said, ‘the past' being the July 28 press conference UW held to announce the transition plan. "I will dwell on the future when I get there."

Bielema does not want the myriad questions about his forthcoming tenure at the Badgers' helm, which will begin some time after the conclusion of the 2005 season, billowing up in the public eye.

"The thing that I'm aware of and am cautious of is there are a lot of ideas, questions, thoughts in the general public," he said. "And those ideas and questions and thoughts will get addressed at a certain point in time but right now my main focus is on being the defensive coordinator with a transition to head coach when that takes place."

The principal queries left on the table regard the composition of Bielema's coaching staff—which current assistant coaches will be retained?—and which type of offense will this defensive coach employ? There are an abundance of additional questions, from the esoteric—motivational techniques, coaching philosophies—to the mundane, meticulous details, everything from the minutia of practice plans to the delineation of staff duties.

But publicly all that will have to wait at least until the transition takes place.

Said Bielema: "The things that I'm excited about right now is another year to work under coach Alvarez…. to be able to learn the details of what this university, the things that he knows inside and out, the people of the community… that's going to be the biggest benefit to me to try and have this thing be as successful as possible."

The timing of Alvarez's decision was centered on ensuring as a smooth a transition as possible. And Alvarez liked the idea of taking Bielema under his wing; just as Pat Richter took Alvarez under his wing two years ago to show him the ropes as he prepped to take over for Richter as athletics director.

"I think there will be some things that I will show Bret as we go through the year so that he won't be ambushed… and most guys don't have that luxury," Alvarez said. "You take a job and you jump in with both feet and you learn by your mistakes."

When the head-coach-in-training hat comes on, Bielema will be ready to soak in what Alvarez has to show him.

"Well there's certain things that he might bring up to me or I can ask him during the course of the season as to why we are doing certain things in a certain way," Bielema said.

After the transition Alvarez is staying at UW as athletics director; his office will remain a short walk from Bielema's next fall. But part of the process this year is ensuring that Alvarez does not need to glance over his successor's shoulder in the future.

"I'm going to let Bret coach," Alvarez said. "That's the way I operate… I'm a guy that lays out the plan, tells people what their job is, makes it very clear what it is. I'm open for communications… (But) I'm hiring him as a head football coach and I expect him to do it."

In one capacity, Bielema is already an acting head coach. He has taken the lead in recruiting. Technically, UW has not had a formal recruiting coordinator since former tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello left UW to take a position at Notre Dame last January. But Bielema effectively has the title now and is the point man for recruiting decisions. He determines which student athletes receive scholarship offers and what the Badgers' focus is in recruiting.

"Now I can send those (recruiting) letters out in care of my name, the recruiting coordinator and future Badger head coach," Bielema said. "And everything that we go into in the recruiting process: the kids that are on campus visiting now, the people that are visiting on official visits in the future, before the transition, will definitely refer to me."

Recruiting is also the reason that Alvarez will likely remain the head coach until shortly before letter of intent signing day in February. Under NCAA rules, a prospect can only receive an off campus visit from a head coach during one calendar day. But a school's assistant coaches may visit a student-athlete in an off-campus setting up to six total calendar days, a clear advantage for Bielema-the-assistant.

This does, however, add another layer of responsibility for a person who is reputed to be a painstaking worker. How to balance the defensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator and head-coach-to-be tasks? It would be fair to say that Bielema, who is single, is married to his job.

"My ex-girlfriends will tell you that," Bielema said. "I think the big thing, the thing that you really got to keep in perspective is there's only so many times or hours in a day that you can actually concentrate on a job without being overkill.

"I learned that early in my career. I was doing too much. You can only rethink things too many times and out-think yourself. What coach Alvarez has really taught me is to do the work, do the time that you need to do, step away from it, maybe come back to it. You learn how to process things in a better order."

Through their first year working together, Alvarez was impressed with Bielema's time management and work ethic.

"You know, there are people that put in a lot of hours and there are people that work hard and get things done," Alvarez said.

Bielema, it seems, does both.

"The difference between head coaches and assistant coaches are assistant coaches make recommendations, head coaches make decisions," Bielema said, recalling a quote he attributed to Lou Holtz. "I know that I'm in a situation that especially with another six months of [Alvarez's] leadership, that I'll be able to make decisions and I'm not afraid to do it because that's the clear, defined role of a leader."


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