Bielema at the mic: Talking Big in Chicago

Coach Bielema takes on the media at the 2006 Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. He tackles questions regarding the depth chart, scheduling, being 36, and Coach Alvarez.

Opening Statement: (followed Northwestern HC Pat Fitzgerald on the stand) I have been talking with Pat over the past few weeks. Everything they have gone through, it is certainly an unfortunate circumstance. He is a young guy and will do a good job. It is also nice to have someone in the coaching fraternity that knows the same songs and movies that I did growing up. I have now come full circle, having been here as a senior (at Iowa). I got to meet Kirk Herbstreit for the first time. When I got back, I told the other (Iowa) players that the Big Ten media event is something you will always remember. Little did I know that I would come back 15 years later as the head coach of Wisconsin. It is definitely an event, and one that I am proud to be here and represent the University of Wisconsin.

The season ahead of us, we have a lot of great players returning. Offensively, we lost eight players, but have three returning. That is highlighted, of course, by our All-American candidate Joe Thomas, our left tackle, who had an unfortunate injury at the end of last year but has returned 100 percent. Also returning is three-year starter at quarterback, John Stocco. The rest of the positions will be determined in the next couple of weeks. We have a lot of great players for a program that develops them. You may not know their names now, but you will know them at the end of the season. Defensively, we have got eight of 11 coming back. The three guys we lost, one was injured for the most part of the season and was a senior captain for us last year. We also lost two linebackers, but have two guys who will move in and replace them. During the entire season, we actually had eight guys who started on the defensive line for us. They all return so I expect that to be a strong point for us.

On Special Teams, we have Ken DeBauche back, who I think was the best punter in the country last year. He is able to down the ball for us when we ask him to. He is also able to get us out of the jailed/backed up situations, and does a great job of managing the game as it was presented to him. Also, Taylor Mehlhaff returns for us, who is our kickoff man and field goal kicker for us a year ago. We feel with another year to develop, who can really concentrate as he brings forth elements to the game that we are excited to use. Also, our long snapper, Steve Johnson, returns to help us out with all those long snaps like he did a year ago.

So, we have our work cut out for us. I am excited for the opportunity. Our kids even going back to last year's Capital One Bowl game, when people tell them that kids from Wisconsin can't do something they show you they can. I am excited about this group and looking forward to see how they will run through our schedule.

Can you talk about replacing Barry Alvarez?

Can I talk about replacing Coach Alvarez? It is probably something I will need more than 15 minutes to do. Coach came to the University of Wisconsin and brought the program to the level where people did not think they could be at one point. He was able to do things within the community and help develop the fanatic fanfare that they have from coast to coast. For me to be in the program with him for two years and at the time of the announcement which was essentially about this time one year ago, it was set up to show me the role he had to go through. Not just from an X's and O's standpoint, but recruiting, administration, fund raising, and all the little things that go on behind closed doors. Usually, the things happen after a coach is fired, or after four seasons, with one great one, and they just move on to another opportunity. It is something that I will always thank him for. From a football standpoint, he is just down the hallway. Actually, it is a couple steps down and then you walk about 100 yards. He is just a phone call away. He has really had a hands-off approach, which is allowing me to do what I needed to do.

Last year the defense had a ‘down' year. How have the Auburn game and spring practice got you thinking towards this year's defensive squad?

I do feel very strongly about our defense. The defensive line, like I said, is very, very good. If you look at the last half of the Auburn game, we lost three starters – but I was trying to get rid of those guys the whole year anyway. We put ourselves in a position, with the guys that replaced them, particularly DeAndre Levy, who has really come on as a football player. Jonathan Casillas will be the other starter at linebacker, along with inside linebacker Mark Zalewski. You need athletes out on the field now because teams throw the football all over. I think the record (for linebackers) in the history of Wisconsin football for the 40-yard dash was something like 4.78 seconds. All three of these starters (for this season) broke that record in spring testing. That shows you a little bit of how the game has evolved, and the speed that is on the field.

With both of your talented wide receivers graduating, how important is it for you to have a senior quarterback?

That is very important. Last year we lost three wide receivers, and all three of them are in the NFL. We wish them the best. That is probably the biggest question mark on our team. Marcus Randle-El might be the only guy who has a catch going into this season. Then we bring in Paul Hubbard, a guy who came to us from the track team. He is a big guy, but once in a while acts like a track guy so we have to get him thinking about football. We recruited six freshman wide receivers last season, and at least three of them will be playing for us this season. The NCAA has got my hands held because I cannot watch them during the summer to see how they are doing.

Can you replace Brian Calhoun with one guy or a group of guys?

We signed a running back last year in Lance Smith and we are going to give him every opportunity to show us what he can do. Brian Calhoun had special talents. He not only was able to run

In 2004, the defense stayed strong and the offense was down. Last season it was the offense that was strong. What are you going to do to find balance on both sides?

You are going to have up years and down years, but the key is having horses in the stable. You want to develop a recruiting base so you can have a consistency year in and year out. The true determinant of how you are going to do in a season is how well your two-deeps are looking. Obviously, there are some positions where there is a dramatic drop off.

Can you describe what "Brett Ball" is going to be like?

Well, "Barry Ball" was a rush first type offense, and everybody remembers the back-to-back Big Ten championships and Rose Bowl victories with Ron Dayne. But when you look back, we have put a lot of receivers into the NFL. Chris Chambers and Lee Evans may be two of the better receivers in the league. One thing that happened is that Paul Chryst was hired a year ago as our co-Offensive Coordinator. He and Barry were making you guess who would call the plays, Paul called the plays the whole year. We spread the ball out a bit more and threw the ball on first and second down. Paul has a great mind and a great way of executing. He does a great job of finding player's strengths and an offense's strength. This year we are going to have better players with different strengths so we are going to have to capitalize on them.

What are the advantages of being so close to your playing career?

If I keep doing more lunches like this, I will start to weigh like I did during my college days. I hope people say the same things at 46 and 56 as they do now (that I am 36). Age is just a number and I say that all the time. The older people are, the younger they try to look. The younger people are, the older they try and look. I am right in the middle and do not know what I should do. But, I think players just want to identify people they can trust. Society is trying to take down a path that they don't know if they can trust the person that is trying to take them there. Just because they put the word "Coach" on our shirts does not mean they have to trust us.

Can you comment on the fact that your out of conference schedule does not have any teams from a BCS conference?

First of all, when the NCAA went to 12 games you had about 120 Division I schools into a frenzy to try and get 12 games. I have been at Wisconsin for two years, and they have lost one (home) ball game. Camp Randall is not a friendly place to visit for people who do not have a better than average chance of winning, which includes some of the more "sexy schools". What we do is try and go out to get the best game we could. Western Illinois is a Division-IAA opponent. We have San Diego State the following week, and they are going through a transition with a new coach there. Then we end up the season with Buffalo. The Big Ten Conference has a tough enough schedule on its own. In time, we will get some people on there that will satisfy some question marks that people like to bring up. The bottom line is that people enjoy coming to Camp Randall and enjoy the game day environment. One of the first things I talked about with Coach Alvarez was scheduling. I thought we would be talking like three or four years out, but we start up talking about the year 2016. I just hope to be there because that is so far in advance. It is kind of tough to comprehend that.

Do you feel a different pressure since you have inherited a football team?

Well, it is my first time as a head coach. I would much rather take over a program who is on the level of success that can keep that thing rolling. As I took over this job, a lot of people are asking about the pressure on the field. I will try and draw on things from the past. A very wise man once told me "Pressure is something that comes from within – you bring it upon yourself." All I know is if I get the right staff in place, and the players understand our philosophy, we will win ball games and that is what it is all about.

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