Worgull: Coach in a Candy Store

Some kids get excited about getting a piece of chocolate cake while other youngsters love jumping through a sprinkler in the summertime. For youngster head coach Bret Bielema, he gets excited talking about his really good football team.

CHICAGO – It was evident even before he stepped up to the podium that this was a different Bret Bielema than from a season ago. No, we are not talking about the 30-plus pounds the head coach admits to putting on in the off-season or the colossal Capital One Bowl championship ring he was sporting on his right ring finger.

What we're talking about is his swagger and huge smile created by a successful football team that stunned the outside world.

From the moment he stepped onto the main stage at the Hyatt's Chicago Regency Hotel in front of the national media and a national audience, Bielema was relishing the spotlight and anxious to entertain the masses with his brand of Wisconsin football.

"Contrary to popular belief, I will not serenade you all today," Bielema opened with, referring to his previous night's singing of Take Me Out to the Ballgame at Wrigley Field. "I am, however, going to talk about our good football team."

How could Bielema not be happy to be talking about his football team on the unofficial first day of the Big Ten season? After all, Bielema turned from a nobody into a somebody in just four months last year and put his newly inherited football team into the national spotlight – shattering school record after school record in the process.

But the real motivation behind Bielema's titanic grin is that fans and, more importantly, recruits are beginning to realize how good Wisconsin has become on a consistent basis year in and year out at home and in the Big Ten conference.

The Badgers are 23-4 in their last 27 games at home, including 18-1 since the start of the 2004 season. UW is one of only five schools in the nation, and the only one in the Big Ten, to have lost no more than one home game the past three seasons. Wisconsin had the second-youngest team in the conference in 2006, yet they set a school record for victories with 12 and conference victories with seven.

More importantly to Bielema, Wisconsin has accumulated a 31-7 record since the start of the 2004 season, the best three-year stretch of any school in the conference.

"We ask recruits who has won the most games over the past three years and, more times than not, they get it wrong," Bielema said. "It's a good little shock on our factor. We love the exposure and the University of Wisconsin is a great place this time of year."

The shock value has extended beyond the recruiting wars into the media. A year after one publication picked Wisconsin to finish 10th in the Big Ten, the Badgers are picked to finish second in conference behind Michigan and ahead of Ohio State. Not too bad for a second year head coach to break through onto the seemingly unreachable pedestal Michigan and Ohio State have stood on over the years.

"I was joking with P.J. [Hill] that we set the bar too high for ourselves," Bielema kidded. "[The good thing is] every year since I've been in the profession, I've gotten better and I want to feel the same way next year."

The reason for Bielema's continued progression is who he's surrounded himself with since coming to Wisconsin in 2004. Studying as defensive coordinator for two years under Barry Alvarez, Bielema was able to learn the process of being the head coach without having to make those quick-fire decisions at the spur of a moment. Even still, entering his fourth year, Bielema still relies on his gut to make those decisions.

"It feels good not being a freshman," Bielema said. "You go in knowing what's going to come at you. Everyday I come into work and think what's going to happen today that I am going to have no idea [how to fix]. Those are the kind of decisions that define who you are."

Every person that asked Bielema how he was doing, the sophomore coach gave the same response like clockwork.

"Steady Eddy buddy," Bielema responded with his white-tooth smile. "Happy to be here."

If Bielema relies on the extra fuel in his gut and keeps his football team "Steady Eddy" in the months to come, imagine how big his grin will be next year.

Badger Nation Top Stories