Grimyser: Being Bielema

It seems that only Bret Bielema's reputation has suffered more than Wisconsin's recent football record. Fans are disappointed and are vehemently expressing themselves. However, the question of whether this criticism is deserved has a complex answer, just like the game against Minnesota on Saturday.

MADISON - Bret Bielema has experienced his share of highs and lows as Wisconsin's football coach over his tenure. He came in as the country's youngest coach while replacing the legendary Barry Alvarez. Amongst those pressures, his team surprisingly produced early on.

In his first year, Bielema went 12-1 and captured the best record in school history. Then, he followed in 2007 with a slightly disappointing 9-4 record but still guided his team to a January Bowl game. Finally, his team had a modest 5-5 record coming into Saturday's game against Minnesota.

All in all, it's been up and down ride for Bielema.

The most common criticism of Bielema is he's living off his predecessor's system and players. Meaning his record has gotten worse because the surplus of players and coaches that Alvarez provided are running dry, and Bielema has increasingly had to rely on his own.

That's just not fair to say. Every single coach inherits much from the previous staff, no matter if the team was undefeated or winless.

Yet, it seems Bielema's first-year success is being held against him. It's almost become a detriment to his current status and the standard by which his teams must play every year. That would be next to impossible – no coach goes 12-1 every year. With the recent losses piling up for Wisconsin, people are starting to complain.

"We've heard some of our fans voice their displeasure," said Bielema. "We would all like to be sitting in a position where we had more wins than we do."

The head coach does deserve some blame for this year. The worst decisions include sticking with failing quarterback Allan Evridge for far too long, playing incumbent P.J. Hill more than the explosive John Clay and not correctly biting his tongue when faced with a confrontation with an official at Michigan State.

On Saturday, it seemed to be getting worse. The first half against Minnesota was difficult to watch because of three turnovers, a 14-point deficit and wide receiver Kyle Jefferson carted off the field in an ambulance.

Fortunately for Bielema, his team responded in the second half with an incredible comeback that lead to a 35-32 win.

"Nothing comes easy with this group," said Bielema. "We knew we were gonna be able to score some points and withstand the storm. We had to have a positive response in the second half."

Look, Bielema is not solely responsible for the Badgers' wins and losses. He has coordinators to call the plays, position coaches who give daily instructions and a staff to help bring in new recruits. That's not even mentioning the player's responsibilities, which by far outweighs anything a coach could contribute to.

However, what does fall under Bielema's direct control is the "state" of the team. Does the team project confidence? Are they capable of responding to challenges?

Wisconsin certainly showed heart and resiliency on Saturday. It's difficult to recover from a disheartening injury and enormous deficit. Bielema, who did what any coach would do, made a speech at halftime to gather the troops.

"It was a spirited conversation and I told them they will remember this game," said Bielema. "We made a big, big point of being able to start off the second half in the right way."

If the speech saved this game, then that does not reflect well on the players. Bielema undoubtedly gives a speech at every halftime, whether up or down by four touchdowns. This time, he reflects on his speech to his team.

"Everyone talks, but people like men of action better. [I told them] your actions in the second half determine who you are," said Bielema.

That's just the point. The players are always more responsible than coaches. Isn't it possible that Bielema is a good coach but the players haven't performed well this year?

That makes much of the criticism towards Bielema undeserved. He is partly responsible, but not nearly at the level to be calling for him to being fired. On the flip side, fans would be wise to not place all of Saturday's glory on an incredible halftime speech.

"People kind of wanna bury you when you're down," said Bielema, "It's the way [the players] just kept fighting today."

Well said.

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