Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why Arkansas?

Seeing Bret go was not nearly as shocking as where he went. A coach with as much success as he had was bound to get better opportunities. I guess when I imagined him leaving, it was for a better job than Arkansas. Perhaps that is why some fans felt so scorned. If your girlfriend leaves you for someone who is better looking, younger, and makes more money it hurts, but at least it makes sense. Had Bielema gone to a school like Florida I would have understood. Hurt, but not hurt and confused.

Arkansas is a good program and has several advantages over UW. They have more money being number one. Arkansas has an alumni donor base including the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that will throw money into the program. That means Bielema gets over a million more per year, and he can pay his assistants much more than UW would pay. That money also allows for top notch facilities that can be constantly updated due to the never ending flow of cash. UW is not a poor school when it comes to football. Bielema probably could have got a new contract from UW for more money after 3 Rose Bowls, and UW just finished a new locker room and upgrades to the facilities. Still, money is an advantage.

Recruiting may be easier there as well. Arkansas is not a state that produces tons of in-state talent. ESPN's recruiting site shows that both WI and AR have about the same number of recruits that get 2-4 stars, about 15 this year. The schools Arkansas will be competing against like Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia all have more than 15 players who are 4 and 5 star recruits in-state, and dozens more 2-3 star kids. Perhaps proximity is an advantage. Arkansas is closer to the hotbed of southern talent than WI, so they may be able to pull in some of that top tier talent from those states UW never had a chance at. Playing in the SEC, which will soon claim the conferences 7th straight national championship, can't hurt recruiting either.

When Bielema talked to his players about leaving, they said he was leaving because he wanted to win a national championship. This was taken as a slight against UW by some of his players and certainly by Alvarez who responded by saying that UW was arguably 2 hail mary plays from being in the national championship game last year. UW has also had 4 other seasons with only one regular season loss in 1993, 1998, 2006, and 2010. Now, a win in any of those seasons wouldn't necessarily have got UW into national championship consideration, but it shows UW wasn't that far either.

As an aside, I hear fans criticize UW sometimes about not going for a national championship. For example they criticize UW for not scheduling better non-conference opponents because UW will not have a good enough strength of schedule to make the BCS championship playing patsies. These people are idiots. UW is not Ohio State, Alabama, or USC. Just look at the stats about in-state recruits and you can see UW does not have the natural resources to compete for a championship year in and year out. Why schedule Alabama when you may be struggling to make 4-4 in the Big Ten. It's also impossible for UW to predict when they are going to have a chance to make a national championship run. Many of their great runs have come when they started the year unranked. It's not that UW won't ever win a National Championship, (the coming playoff system gives them a better chance) but they should not be judged by that level of success, nor should they base their program around that goal. I would argue that UW has had the level of success it has had because they have created a system for success within their limitations, and not shooting for the stars. More on this another time.

So why did he go? Money? Championship? Maybe some of both?

I think he'll find them, but not at Arkansas. I am predicting that Bielema will not finish his contract out at Arkansas, and this will be a stepping stone job until he can get a job at a big time program. He gets to take over a talented but underachieving 4-8 team at a school that has been pretty good over the last decade. He gets out from under the shadow of Barry Alvarez, and can prove he can win without him. If he has a couple 10 win seasons and pulls an upset or 2 against LSU or Alabama, he will be moving on to a Florida State type program and 5 million a year if the NFL doesn't lure him in.

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