Grimyser: Now the Downpour

Although fans typically overreact to every loss, Athletic Director Barry Alvarez must not do the same with his hand-picked coach. After such a disappointing season, cooler heads must prevail if Wisconsin is going to make a smart decision and get back to winning.

MADISON - There are many reasons to lose interest in the Wisconsin Badger football team. Not only being reduced to having to play in the Champ Sports Bowl, but also losing that game in embarrassing fashion rank high at the top of the list.

Of course, there are worse teams in the Big Ten but a bowl game almost a week away from New Year's Eve after the Badgers nearly finished .500 (the only saving grace was a cupcake at the end of the schedule that they almost choked on) is still not what most fans expected this year.

Coach Bret Bielema's recent track record has taken a considerable dive from 11 wins to 9 to 7 now. He won 17 of his first 18 games. He has now lost 10 of his last 21. Some fans are predicting that this last season was a sign of things to come. For example, someone has now created a firebretbielema.com Web site.

But still, Bielema must be given more time. That's because even the best coaches do not have management overreact with one embarrassing season. And certainly that's what this last season was, yet it shouldn't cause Bielema to lose his job.

After promoting the "1-0" mentality for years, whereby the team is judged by its last game and only prepares for the next game, Bielema better hope that management doesn't follow that belief – otherwise he would be out of a job because of his team's recent "7-6" season.

Most of the best coaches in every sport have been with their teams for ages. Call it the Utah Jazz or Pittsburgh Steelers approach. Joe Paterno has coached Penn State, a conference rival of the Badgers, since 1966. As of one of the best coaches ever, he has the most wins in college football history.

But interestingly enough, did you know that Paterno began his career with a 5-5 season? Or that in five seasons during his illustrious career he lost more games than he won?

Paterno is obviously a once in a lifetime coach, but if people had overreacted after one terrible season, he never would have been given a fair chance.

Along with Paterno, the man who might best understand that it takes time to develop a program is Bielema's boss, Barry Alvarez.

Alvarez almost began his coaching career at Wisconsin in the exact opposite fashion as Bielema. When Alvarez arrived in 1990, Wisconsin had no history or reputation. In fact, his first team finished with an awful 1-10 record.

If Alvarez accomplished anything at Wisconsin (which he did) he'd be labeled as the second coming (which he is). The low expectations gave Alvarez time to have some awful and remarkable seasons. He won three Rose Bowls and his teams were some of the best in the Big Ten during the last decade.

However, that all took time to develop. Alvarez did not create that overnight and begin his dynasty. Instead, he set up a foundation of pound-it-out football predicated on running the ball and playing tough defense. He tweaked and changed things up until he figured it out.

If management had overreacted, much like they are now, Alvarez would not have made Wisconsin into the program that it became. In fact, before he won his first Rose Bowl, Alvarez had three consecutive losing seasons. He only got there because he was given time to improve and work through the kinks of his system.

Bielema needs that same leniency to a degree.

That's not to say the 2008 season was acceptable. This year was disappointing, embarrassing and awful. Without Cal Poly's kicker missing three extra points, Wisconsin would have finished the season at 6-6 and probably spent the weekend in Tempe or Detroit.

This year Bielema took some risks that came to back to cost his team. But to be fair, many of his main players were hurt. Additionally, some players did not live up to expectations, and we know that certainly was the case with both starting quarterbacks.

Most importantly, Bielema must find leadership on his team. He inherited his first two leaders, quarterback John Stocco and middle linebacker Mark Zalewski, from the Alvarez years. Ever since those two moved on, the Badgers have lacked great leaders. That entirely rests on Bielema's shoulders, an issue that he must fix in a hurry.

Sports is a society quick to judge. Once fans have felt the taste of winning, they want it again and in a hurry. But that's just not how it works.

Bielema might be something special or maybe not. We don't know because it's too early to tell. As one of the youngest coaches in college football at 38 years old, he still has won nearly three-fourths of his games. Wisconsin's all-time season record for wins came under Bielema, not Alvarez.

As his self-appointed successor, Alvarez chose Bielema to follow in his footsteps. The standards were set unfairly high for Bielema. Even his nearly perfect season only two years ago cannot save Bielema from fans calling for him to be fired.

Because Bielema followed such a great coach, he had nowhere to go but down in the eyes of the fans. Alvarez was the king of Wisconsin and here came in the young pup who screws the whole thing up.

Yet, it's amazing how soon fans forget that Alvarez went through his fair share of losing.

As athletic director, Alvarez needs to show the same steady leadership he did as coach. He must find out if this season was a fluke or a prediction of seasons to come.

Fans can and should overreact, but not management and certainly not someone with Alvarez's history and understanding.


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