Not that Mason was shocked to hear from Bielema. But when Bielema called to offer his recommendation for the Gophers' next secondary coach, Mason was not expecting to hear the name of then-30-year-old Kerry Cooks.
"I said just bring him up for an interview and you'll see what I'm talking about," Bielema said.
Mason did bring in Cooks for an interview and hired him as the Gophers' secondary coach.
"The thing that (Bielema) told Mason, if I'm correct, is that the only way that you lose this guy is if I'm able to hire him," Cooks said.
It took less than a year for Bielema to do just that.
Thursday, 11 months after Mason heeded Bielema's advice and brought Cooks to Minnesota, Bielema officially hired Cooks, 31, to coach the Badgers' secondary in 2006.
"I know it was hard for Kerry to leave (Minnesota)," said Bielema, who has assumed UW's head coaching duties, though he does not formally take over for Barry Alvarez until Jan. 30. "I'm very excited to have him a part of my family now."
For Cooks and Bielema, Thursday was a reunion, not an introduction. Cooks has had a close relationship with Bielema since the fall of 1993. Back then Cooks was redshirting at the University of Iowa and Bielema was a Hawkeye graduate assistant coach.
"He worked with the linebackers but we had a pretty close relationship," Cooks said.
Cooks would go on to start at strong safety for two years at Iowa, before playing three seasons in the NFL. He was a captain and an All-Big Ten selection as a Hawkeye senior.
Bielema became Iowa's linebackers coach, providing Cooks with first-hand knowledge of the former's ability to relate to student athletes, one of the primary reasons Alvarez cited for naming Bielema his successor. Cooks had another opportunity in 2003 when Bielema, then the co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State, hired Cooks as a graduate assistant.
"The rapport that Barry talked about that (Bielema) had with the players here, I mean he's always had that," Cooks said. "It's just his nature, just the kind of character guy he is."
While Cooks' hiring was formally announced Thursday, he has been recruiting for Wisconsin for close to two weeks. His recruiting territory will be the greater Dallas and greater Houston areas, covering the same schools he recruited as secondary coach at Minnesota (2005) and Western Illinois (2004).
Convincing high school football players to come from Texas to the Midwest can be a difficult sell. But prior to taking the Wisconsin job, Cooks, himself a native of Irving, Texas, secured two verbal commitments from Texas preps for the Gophers.
"I'm not going to touch those kids," Cooks said.
NCAA rules prohibit coaches from directly discussing prospects prior to the signing of a national letter of intent. However, Scout.com has reported that the Badgers are bringing in two of Cooks' recruits for official visits this weekend: quarterback/cornerback Maurice Moore of Everman, Texas; and cornerback Jay Valai of Colleyville, Texas, who has verbally committed to Iowa.
"Starting back in May I built relationships with kids and obviously those kids are still in the process of making their decisions," Cooks said. "I'm fortunate enough they haven't committed to Minnesota. It's a competitive world. So they're open game. I'm here at Wisconsin now and this is where my loyalty is."
Because of the close bond they share, Bielema said he could foresee coaching alongside Cooks for a long time.
"I know he has great passion for the game of football," Bielema said. "And that transcends into the way that he coaches, the way he recruits and the way he deals with people. That's what brought us here."
Coaching staff a work in progress
Cooks is just the second member of Bielema's staff to be formally hired, joining incumbent wide receivers coach Henry Mason. Bielema is also expected to retain co-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who will likely become the Badgers' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Bielema said that from Sunday through Wednesday, while he was attending the American Football Coaches Association convention in Dallas, he interviewed more than 15 potential coaches.
"You wouldn't ever be able to do that if you were just sitting here on campus bringing people in," Bielema said. "It was a great process for us down there and hopefully we'll reap the rewards of that in the days to come."
Bielema declined comment on potential assistants, other than to acknowledge that he wanted to retain offensive line coach Jim Hueber, who the Minnesota Vikings hired Thursday to work with their offensive line.
Bielema stressed the time sensitive nature of recruiting coaches when the Feb. 1 national signing day for high school prospects is fast approaching. He was in similar situation three years ago, when he knew he would be taking the defensive coordinator's job at Wisconsin, but then-Kansas State coach Bill Snyder asked him to keep it quiet until after signing day.
"My only goal in life for us right now is to bring the best coaches and recruits in these final two weeks as possible," Bielema said.