Just when you thought it was safe to mention Wisconsin football without using Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema in the same sentence, well, think again.
It turns out Ohio State president Gordon Gee, who already was under fire for taking jabs at Notre Dame and the SEC, also had a few unflattering remarks for former Wisconsin football coach Bielema and his relationship with Alvarez, the school’s athletic director.
Gee made his remarks during a meeting with Ohio State’s Athletic Council on Dec. 5. On Friday, SI.com posted the entire recording after obtaining the audio through an open records request.
“Someone was saying to me, well, you know, Bret Bielema leaving … that was a blessing for Wisconsin and they knew it,” Gee said. “Because he was under tremendous pressure. They didn’t like him. Barry Alvarez thought he was a thug. And he left just ahead of the sheriff.”
Gee added during that December recording that he had spoken recently with Alvarez at a Big Ten function.
“I didn’t talk to him about Bielema, but you could just see there was a lot of unhappiness,” Gee said. “He did not leave for a necessarily better job. He left ahead of the sheriff. Now, I don’t know who they’re going to hire, but I would not want to have Barry Alvarez as my athletic director. I happen to like Barry a lot as a person. But a guy who’s kind of bigger than life and knows how to run a football program better than a football coach, that must be difficult for them up there, right?”
Bielema served as defensive coordinator on Alvarez’s staff in 2004 and 2005 and was the handpicked successor to Alvarez in 2006. From 1990-2005, Alvarez turned around a moribund program and went 118-73-4 with three Rose Bowl victories.
Bielema was Wisconsin’s head coach for seven years and left Dec. 4 for the same position at Arkansas — just three days after Wisconsin drubbed Nebraska 70-31 to win the Big Ten championship and reach a third consecutive Rose Bowl. Bielema went 68-24 during his tenure at Wisconsin, including 2-4 in bowl games.
Wisconsin would go on to hire former Utah State coach Gary Andersen on Dec. 21. ”Gordon Gee called me to apologize last week regarding comments he knew would be made public,” Alvarez said Friday in a statement released through the university. “I have never said that about Bret, nor had those feelings towards him. I accepted Gordon’s apology and consider the matter closed.”
On Friday night, Bielema tweeted a picture of an email he received from Gee apologizing for his comments. Gee called his remarks “entirely unfounded and speculative” about Bielema’s relationship with Alvarez at Wisconsin.
“My comments were unfair, inaccurate and wholly wrongheaded,” Gee wrote. “To be sure, you have a remarkable record of accomplishment with student-athletes both on the field and in the classroom. I am deeply sorry for my comments and for any and all pain they have caused.”
Bielema posted on Twitter: “It’s a start from Mr. Gee. Will take his apology and phone call soon.”
During the recording of Gee, which lasts nearly 28 minutes, Gee slammed the SEC and Notre Dame, among others. A counsel member asked how he would respond to SEC fans that said the Big Ten couldn’t count because it now had 14 members.
“You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we’re doing,” Gee said.
Gee, a Mormon, also disparaged Notre Dame, which was recently courted to join the Big Ten.
“The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” Gee said. “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that.”
Ohio State’s trustees wrote a March 11 letter to Gee, obtained Friday by the Associated Press, stating Gee’s comments had embarrassed and divided the university.