Most people tuning in to see Bret Bielema speak at the University of Arkansas' introductory press conference expected a typical one that was full of optimism for the future of the Razorbacks program. While that happened at some points today, there was also an awful lot of looking back that was done and most of it was layered in rich irony that shouldn't be lost on Badger nation.
Bielema took time to answer a mixed bag of questions and rather than politely answer the questions about Wisconsin and move on, he found ways to delve deep into his own issues at Wisconsin and then some. However, before doing that, he tried to soften the blow a bit by lobbing a few words of praise back to the university that gave him his first shot as a head coach.
With those nice formalities out the way Bielema then decided to dive into the deep end of the questions about why he left Wisconsin. Reasons included everything from his wife's needs to his hope to "spread his wings" and "chase his dreams." But perhaps the reason that stuck out most was the fact that according to Bielema Wisconsin wasn't offering him enough in support of his assistant coaches.
O.K., that information alone would've sufficed, but this is where the press conference began to spiral out of control and made him look bitter more so than anxious about what's to come at Arkansas.
Instead of using a blanket statement and quickly moving on to his excitement to coach at Arkansas, Bielema chose to take a swipe at Wisconsin. He talked about the specific dollar amounts and how Wisconsin was struggling to be able to keep up with the Joneses ,and we all know the Joneses in this case are the SEC.
"So this year, as soon as we won that game (the B1G Championship), I had three coaches come to me the day after the game," Bielema said. "They had been contacted by other schools. We are talking money I can’t bring them at Wisconsin. Wisconsin isn’t wired to do that at this point. And I just felt for me and for my future and my wife and what I wanted to accomplish in the world of college football I needed to have that ability to do that. And thankfully I found that here at Arkansas."
There are few ways to take that statement. You can say he's simply telling the truth and that point is one I won't quibble with, but you can also say it comes off not only as bitter, but as ungrateful to a university and an athletics director that gave you nearly every single thing a coach could possibly want.
There were stadium improvements and roughly $80 million dollars worth of other improvements for academics and athletics that put the Badgers on par with just about anything the Big Ten can offer outside of Nebraska, Michigan, and Ohio State.
But things were just getting started for Bielema as the press conference turned from a retrospective into a series of ironic contradictions.
First up in what was a decent list of ironic contradictions was his stated purpose for moving from Wisconsin to Arkansas – his want to "chase a dream." What exactly that dream was is where the irony really comes in.
"When I said to chase a dream – I understand reporters all the time put words in your mouth," Bielema said. "I didn’t say that. I said I came here to chase a dream. By that, if what I want to chase (has) a byproduct of winning a national championship, that’s awesome. I have never been to a place where I can give them something that they have never had. I just won three in a row at Wisconsin. Three Big Ten championships. Never been done. It hadn’t been done, I believe, in almost 35 years. So we did something you cannot put a price tag on that. But by the same account it’s been done. At Arkansas it’s never been done. We have never won an SEC title. Been in the game three times. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you win the SEC title, you might be playing in the big one. Especially after 2014. That is what a dream is all about."
I'll just let the fact that in one breath he says he didn't say chase a dream (i.e. the national championship) and then talk about the national championship being part of that dream in the next breath sink in for a second…. Done? Let's continue on then.
So, let's get this straight. In one breath of the same answer you talk about giving a school something they've never done before (go to three straight Rose Bowl games at Wisconsin), but then say it's been done before. Then you move on to talking about doing something that's never been done at Arkansas – win an SEC championship.
O.K., so let's deconstruct that logic for a second, if you'll indulge me. I know, it's hard to follow.
Bielema's goal as a coach is to do something at the school he's coaching at that's never been done before, thus making it and him "uncommon." He then goes on to say winning three Big Ten titles in a row has never been done at Wisconsin and in the very next breath talks about how it has been done before. Huh?
My amazing powers of deduction tell me that means he's talking about it being done by someone else in the conference and he's right, but it's something that has never been done by a school not named Michigan or Ohio State and isn't exactly commonplace as it hasn't happened in over 30 years and only twice ever.
Now, let's apply that same logic to what he says about Arkansas. He talks about giving the Razorbacks their first ever SEC title, so that qualifies as "uncommon" by team standards, but here's the part I'm failing to understand – how exactly is winning an SEC title uncommon in the S-E-C? It happens every year if I'm not mistaken, right? Otherwise we all just imagined watching Alabama play Georgia for the SEC CHAMPIONSHIP.
Maybe I'm the one confused by something here? Nah, that can't be… Perhaps it's Bielema and his true motives that need some fact checking. Wisconsin fans and players deserve a straight answer as to why he left and honesty from any coach in this situation would have been breath of fresh air to college football fans everywhere. Just come out and say it – you don't think you could win a national championship at Wisconsin and by coaching an SEC school you think you'd have a leg up on winning one.
Is that so hard to do coach Bielema? I don't think you would've been telling fans anything they don't already know.
The tough pill to swallow in all of that Bielema logic is how exactly a program competing with Alabama, LSU, and now Texas A&M (and that's just in your own division) on an annual basis gives you a better chance at winning a national title than staying at a program that's in the national picture more now than ever and was just two plays away from playing for a national title just one season ago?
For a man talking talking about wanting to build a program of "uncommon men" Bielema's words and actions proved he is anything but "uncommon," he's just like the rest of the coaches out there, in it for his own personal gain and all other things be damned and that's just sad in my opinion.
The looking back and ironic amnesia by Bielema on Tuesday only served to leave Badgers fans with an even more bitter feeling towards him than some, if not most, already had. Perhaps what we witnessed was a glimpse of some of his frustrations with the school and the fanbase itself coming out and if that was the case than maybe, just maybe the University of Wisconsin is better off moving forward without Bielema at the helm of the program.
That's not to diminish what he accomplished at Wisconsin, but as Bielema said he's about "chasing the dream," and that dream apparently doesn't include winning Rose Bowls or perhaps a national title one day at the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers ultimately need a head coach that doesn't see this as a stepping stone to something greater, but a destination they hope to hang on to and "chase the dream" at.
For more of Andy's thoughts on the Badgers and college sports in general follow him on Twitter @andycoppens.