It's a pretty safe bet to say Wisconsin's 2012 season hasn't exactly gone to plan, both internally and to the fan on the outside looking in. No one saw the Badgers being 3-2 through five games and struggling in the ways they have been – running the ball and scoring points. Those struggles have led to a chorus of people clamoring for head coach Bret Bielema to be fired and a cleverly put #BlameCanada hash tag on twitter.
Trust me, I get being miffed by what we've seen from this team, but it's simply amazing how much of an instant gratification world we live in today. Those calling for Bielema to be fired either haven't been paying attention to what's been accomplished over the past two seasons or are those types who would simply dwell on the negative of any situation no matter what.
To those people I present to you a small history lesson: Wisconsin has only been to back-to-back Rose Bowls one other time in the history of the program before these past two seasons. You think that would buy your head coach a little bit of respect and little bit of rope when you're dealing with the here and now?
But, I guess we shouldn't expect anything less from a world where most can't live beyond the here and now.
For those of us old enough to remember Badger football in the 70's and/or 80's this period from 1993 to today has been a hell of a joy ride and that's why I find it so laughable that people are already calling for Bielema's head. Those that are have also either completely forgotten what it felt like to be a fan during those years or they aren't even old enough to remember the 1993 Rose Bowl and the start of the "glory years" that are still going on to this day.
If you are the latter I say please do us all a favor and ask an older sibling, father, mother, aunt, or uncle as to what it was like to truly suck as a team on a year in and year out basis. Do that and you'll never find yourself complaining about a coach who just took your team to back-to-back Rose Bowl's for one second again.
Again, to those people calling for Bielema's head, let me also remind you of one other fact since back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances aren't good enough to wet your thirst for winning all the time and winning all the time NOW – there have only been two cases of teams from the Big Ten going to back-to-back-to-back Rose Bowls: Ohio State ('73, 74, 75, 76) and Michigan (77, 78, 79).
So, barring a miracle run to the Big Ten Championship Wisconsin isn't going to meet your historically significant expectations. Hell, virtually no team ever will meet those expectations.
Blaming Bielema is one thing, and there is plenty of blame to rest on his shoulders, but calling for one of the best head coaches Wisconsin has seen in it's history to be fired just five games removed from a second straight Big Ten championship is completely off base. He's bought himself a season of regrouping or two in my book, so let's back off of that talk for the second time this season, o.k.?
Now, what about this whole movement to #BlameCanada as it's been dubbed? I say it's also time to get a bit of a historical grip on things as well.
Yes, the offense isn't putting up points like it did under Paul Chryst, especially the past two seasons (41.5ppg and 44.1ppg), but I ask you what Wisconsin offense has ever put up those kinds of points?
The answer is… NONE, not a single Wisconsin team could even touch it. Both of those seasons were history making in terms of points scored and so much more.
So, is it truly fair to be blaming Canada for an offense that isn't smashing records and making history on a nearly weekly basis? I'd say not so fast on that talk either. After all, he doesn't have Russell Wilson or Scott Tolzien walking through those doors with eligibility remaining. So he is breaking in a brand new starter or two – doesn't that deserve a bit of slack too?
But even so, let's dig a bit deeper to give you a true appreciation as to where this offense really was during and before Paul Chryst's reign at the offensive coordinator position and to show you exactly why the blame shouldn't rest on Matt Canada either.
Let's start by showing you what Wisconsin's offense did under Chryst's control for his seven seasons as OC in terms of scoring:
|Year||Points Per Game|
Now, for all you not around for the pre-Chryst Badgers party, let me also remind you of who was here before him and why Chryst was hired in the first place.
From 1999 to 2004 the offensive coordinator was Brian White and of all the ironies in this world this might be the cruelest of them all – White was named the 2004 Division 1 AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) assistant of the year. Yes, the same year he was let go in favor of Chryst.
Here is what his offenses put together in terms of scoring:
|Year||Points Per Game|
Those numbers put two things into perspective – 1) Wisconsin's offense was never meant to be some high-flying, high point total offense. It's always been about smash mouth football and controlling the clock, which usually equates to lower scoring by nature. 2) It gives us a much greater sense of appreciation as to what Chryst was able to accomplish in his tenure at Wisconsin.
These past two seasons were truly magical in terms of offensive scoring punch. During the period before Chryst and from our first Rose Bowl of the modern era (1993 season) only twice have the Badgers averaged over 30 points a game. It proves an interesting pattern – more often than not if the Badgers offense is averaging over 30 points per game we're heading to the Granddaddy of them all.
Now, you can sit here and tell me that the Badgers have basically the same pieces in players on the field for Canada to work with, highlighted by Montee Ball and Jared Abbrederis, and you'd be right, sort of. But, you're also failing to take into consideration one thing, and it's the same thing the vast majority of fans (myself included) miscalculated in all of this: Different strokes for different folks.
What do I mean by that? Simply that Matt Canada is not Paul Chryst, nor should we have expected him to be.
Some may say Bielema deserves to be fired for the coaches he hired, pointing chiefly to Mike Markuson and Canada, but I say give the guy some time. Chryst's numbers prove he's a once in a lifetime kind of offensive coordinator. Expecting Canada to be the second coming of him is completely off base. He's not Chryst, never will be, and nor should he have to be. He just needs to find his grove and the recent results indicate that a different move has helped Canada's offense more than anything – the firing of former offensive line coach Mike Markuson.
As for the Markuson hiring, well that turned out to be a mistake that I don't think anyone could've seen coming right away. All signs pointed to that being a good hire, the pedigree was there and he had knowledge of the Badgers program. Credit should go to Bielema for recognizing the issue and doing something sooner rather than later in that regard.
The results since his firing after week two point upwards for the offense. As a whole the Badgers are averaging just 22.6 points a game, but in the three games since Markuson's firing and the promotion of Bart Miller the Badgers are scoring at a 26.6 points per game clip. That's a much more respectable number and should they stick in that range it should allow them to win more often than not. It would also prove that Bielema learned a valuable lesson in managing his staff, that being to always trust your gut.
Those in the #BlameCanada crowd also point to his background in coaching spread offenses as a reason Bielema shouldn't have hired him and why the Badgers aren't succeeding on the field. While Canada does have a lot of experience in the spread offensive system, those in that group also conveniently ignore the fact that Canada also ran a traditional pro-style offense while coordinating in the past.
Sure, he may have concepts from both offenses that he's trying to work in and the adjustment period has been a bit longer than I'm sure everyone involved internally and externally would've liked, but does it mean that he should be fired on the spot? Give the guy some time. What we've seen over the past three weeks has been an offense making improvements each and every week.
To those clamoring for Canada to be gone, I also ask this important question:
Who do you turn the offense over to? Thomas Hammock? Eddie Faulkner? Guys that have never been a coordinator in their lives up to this point? Throwing either into the mix at that position nearly halfway through the season is simply foolish and potentially even more disastrous than what's already taken place.
You may be saying what about Zach Azzani? Well you've got the same issue you're talking about with Canada, he's only been a coordinator of a spread offense. So, shouldn't that disqualify him as well?
Now, lest you think I'm strictly being an apologist for Bielema and Canada I fully recognize the issues we are having and that the buck eventually stops at the top. All I am saying is that Bielema has gotten us to the promised land of the Rose Bowl two years in a row, I think he's earned the right to a little bit of slack. Let's stick this out and see what happens. If this offense isn't making significant strides by this point in time next season, I'm fully on board the get rid of Canada train.
So, if Bielema isn't to blame and Canada isn't to blame, who is? I'd say the blame rests squarely on US, the fan! Yes, I'm blaming you, your crazy friends at the tailgate, and myself.
Why? Simply put, we completely overestimated what was returning to this team on offense and completely missed just how difficult it is replacing six coaches on a coaching staff , a once in a lifetime quarterback, a stud wide receiver, and three offensive lineman all at the same time. With all of that information expecting everything to just keep on rolling down the hill like it has been shouldn't have been the talk.
As much as we'd love to sit here and wish we were in the positions of the Alabama's and LSU's to just reload every year, we aren't and probably never will be.
We should've been able to see the forest through the trees, but I'll be the first to admit I was wrong on this. I should've been cautioning against the lofty talk of 11-1 and a sure bet to the Rose Bowl. I've seen a coaching staff completely turn over right in front of me before and it takes more than a year to make that transition work and as Badger fans we've just become accustomed to the continuity that comes with the same or virtually the same staff being in place year in and year out. So, shame on me for not drawing on my past experience with major coaching staff turnover.
Changing one coach or even two coaches isn't that big of a deal. You can bring in a new coach and plug him into your way of doing things, but taking six guys and molding them all into your way of thinking takes more doing and more time.
It's not to say that Wisconsin doesn't currently have the right staff in place or that we couldn't find ourselves building our way up to being a much better program come season's end. It's just to say that we, the fan, greatly miscalculated our expectations and perhaps it's our turn to take some of the blame for heaping our misguided expectations on them without thinking things completely through. Call it Rose Bowl tainted thinking or whatever you want, we all missed it and for that we only have ourselves to blame.