Oh how the times have changed. There was once a day in the not-too-distant past when leading a team to three consecutive Rose Bowls was the pinnacle of college football.
Making it to the “Granddaddy of them all” was once a monumental feat, twice was considered spectacular, and thrice was akin to summiting Everest. It didn’t get much better. And it certainly ensured a lengthy coaching tenure, maybe even a statue somewhere near the stadium grounds.
Now it puts you on the short list of coaching candidates for 4-8 SEC teams.
Arkansas administrators confirmed on Tuesday that the Razorbacks have hired Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema to take over for the departing John L. Smith in Fayetteville. Smith was hired as an interim replacement for Bobby Petrino, who was fired for gross misconduct.
Bielema came seemingly out of nowhere, although Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long stated early in the process that he wanted someone who was a proven winner at the highest level. Most people assumed that meant luring someone out of the WAC, the Mountain West, or the Big East, which has become a head coach feeding ground for larger conferences.
Instead, Long came through with Bielema, who spent six successful years with the Badgers, leading the team to their first 11-win season in school history and making three straight trips to Pasadena.
The 42-year-old comes to Fayetteville with a career record of 68-24, and impressive leadership credentials. This year he returned the Badgers to the Rose Bowl despite having to replace the majority of his offensive coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who became the head coach at Pittsburgh.
By all accounts Bielema should fit into Arkansas and the SEC. He comes from a defensive background, having served as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez, who tapped Bielema to succeed him as head coach when Alvarez became the Badgers’ athletic director. And he is a no-nonsense disciplinarian who plays by the rules.
Neither Arkansas nor Bielema put out a statement as of this filing, but both should be thrilled by the hire.
The last Big Ten head coach to jump ship for the SEC was Nick Saban. That worked out pretty well for him and the conference.