Last weekend I talked about coming close not being good enough anymore and here we are less than 24 hours removed from another, close but no cigar moment in the 2012 season. I still stand by the fact that if Wisconsin wants to take the next step and become a year in and year out nationally relevant football team those are games they must find ways to win more often than not. However, it also showed me why we all may be too reactionary to the here and now. Perhaps we need to step out and take a bigger picture look at Coach Bielema and his actual history as the head coach at the University of Wisconsin.
Why do I say that? Well, as fans and writers we sometimes dwell on the negative of the situation at hand (I know, shocking right?) and tend to lose sight of the true facts at hand.
For one Bret Bielema actually has a winning record in games decided by 7 points or fewer in his career. That record stands at 18-15 including Saturday's loss. That's right, in Bielema's 90 games at the helm of the Badgers program 36% of games have come down to 7 points or less and Bielema has a winning record.
Now, it's true that as of late that record hasn't been all that great, with all five of the Badgers losses this season coming by that dreaded one score or less margin. Also, Wisconsin is just 3-8 in those games over the past two seasons and that can be a bit alarming. However, it's not as if the man hasn't been able to coach a team to a victory in a close game during his tenure at Wisconsin.
But what I find even a bit more alarming is the trend of this fanbase to be calling for Bret Bielema's head anytime it loses or doesn't blow the doors off of every opponent it plays. It took all of 30 seconds from the loss yesterday for our Twitter feed to blow up with people calling for the Badgers to fire Bret Bielema.
There's no doubt I understand and sympathize with the frustration felt of a season that could've been just 5 touchdowns away from a perfect regular season, but to those folks I have a few questions to ask of you.
What was Barry Alvarez's record in one score football games? Bet you can't even come close.
He was 34-26 in those type of games for a .566 winning percentage – that's less that .02 percent better than Bielema's record. He even had back-to-back losses by 7 points or less as well. Heck, coach Alvarez was just 10-8 in 1 score games in his coaching career just 3 years removed from the first Rose Bowl birth.
So, following the fire Bielema crowd's logic coach Alvarez should've been fired because he couldn't win enough one score football games.
The point being, no coach is great in one score football games – those are risky propositions for any football team and coach no matter what. Sometimes it's luck and sometimes it's skill that wins you those games. It's the coaches job to put players in a position to be there at the end.
Ultimately it comes down the players on the field making the necessary plays to win those games instead of lose them and that's where this 2012 team comes up short, more so than in the coaching department if you ask me.
Again, that's not to say things in that area are perfect because they aren't, but to be in position to arguably win every game you play in says a lot about a coach and his staff as well and you can't say Wisconsin hasn't had a chance to win every single football game it's played in this season, now can you?
Sure, it would be nice to not have an entire season full of those kind of close losses but let's also be realistic about this football team. The 2012 Badgers team is going to go down as the team that overcame more than they were defeated by their circumstances. I don't know of any football team that can survive three quarterback changes, an early season coaching change and be a team standing one win away from the Rose Bowl, do you?
As for my 2nd question to the fire Bielema crowd let me also ask you this one – how many 10 win football seasons did Barry Alvarez have at Wisconsin?
The answer is 4. Yes, coach Alvarez had four 10 win seasons in his 16 years at the helm of the Badgers program. Now how many 10 win seasons does Bret Bielema have? You guessed it right – 4. The exact same number as coach Alvarez had and Bielema has done it in 10 fewer years already.
Once again, using the fire Bielema crowd's logic coach Alvarez should've been let go a long time before his tenure was up. Yes, circumstances were different to start the Alvarez era, but the fact remains that Of those 10 win seasons only one of them came in the last six seasons under Alvarez and just two years removed from back to back Rose Bowl births the Badgers had a losing record. So, he had to be gone, right fire Bielema guy?
Are you starting to see my point yet? There's a difference between quibbling with how a coach calls a game on Saturday and calling for his head because the end results aren't there and that seems to be exactly what we've run into with most of the fire Bielema crowd. They don't like his style, but let me ask you another simple question if you are in that crowd. Who do you hire that's better?
As the saying goes – I'll take the devil I know versus the devil I don't know, especially if the results of the devil we do know produced back-to-back Rose Bowls in the past two seasons.
We are living in a what have you done for me lately world – just take a look at what's going down in Auburn, but historically speaking at Wisconsin Bret Bielema's results have nearly no equal. Only one head coach in the history of the program has a better winning percentage and you have to go all the way back to the turn of the 20th century to find that man. His name is Phillip King and he went 66-11-1 in two coaching tenures at Wisconsin 91896-1902, 1905). In the modern era Bielema has no equal, it's not even close. Bielema has a .736 winning percentage in his tenure at Wisconsin, which bests any coach by nearly a full 10% in the modern era.
That brings up my 3rd question to the fire Bielema crowd. What happens if Bielema wins over Nebraska on Saturday in Indianapolis and gets Wisconsin to it's 3rd straight Rose Bowl? Are you going to still want to fire him?
Last time I checked no team in Big Ten history not named Michigan or Ohio State has ever accomplished that feat. Sure you can argue that there's an asterisk behind it with Ohio State and Penn State not eligible, but that's hardly Wisconsin's fault either. It would still remain they won the games they had to to get there.
Finally, I'd ask you to take a look at what's coming down the pipeline in terms of recruiting and again tell me why this athletic department should fire Bielema? Wisconsin's 2012 recruiting class is poised to contribute early in their Badgers careers and the 2013 class looks like it will be the most talented one on paper in school history. He's not Ron Zook, you know able to recruit players but can't coach. He's shown he can coach good talent, now he's adding great talent to the roster.
Of course those are all hypothetical situations and what not, but the point in this little exercise is to point out that while there is room for improvement under Bret Bielema there's also a fine line between calling for improvement and calling for him to be fired and this writer isn't willing to cross that line just yet. Until the results of more than just one season bare out that things aren't changing and are actually getting worse there's zero reason we should be calling for a historically great Badgers football coach to be fired.
Unless the ghost of Knute Rockne or today's greatest coach, Nick Saban, are walking through the door of the Badgers facility there's no other coach you could point to that could produce more with what Wisconsin has than what Bielema has done, so he's earned some latitude in my mind. The fire Bielema talk needs to stop, it's just historically off base.