Bret Bielema…. The name conjures up many emotions across Big Ten country and most of them aren't positive – even amongst those in the Wisconsin fanbase. No, it's not sour grapes either, as most will tell you he wasn't exactly a well-liked figure in the UW community. Interesting considering Bielema did something no coach outside of Michigan and Ohio State have ever done – lead their team to three or more straight Rose Bowl appearances.
However, there's a difference between admiring winning football teams and liking the coach. Nothing illustrates this more than what Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez told Dan Wolken of USA Today for a piece put together on Tuesday.
Here's exactly what Alvarez had to say:
"I've got to tell you," said athletics director and longtime Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who groomed Bielema to be his replacement, "and I'm not saying this negatively because Bret did a good job for us, but I haven't had one person say, 'Well, it's too bad Bret left' or 'We were sorry to see Bret leave' or 'Couldn't you have paid the assistants more money to keep him?' Not one."
Now, having been around the Badger program in one way, shape or form for parts of the last three years myself I can tell you Alvarez's sentiments are dead on. Personally, I have yet to hear anyone gripe about missing Bret Bielema at all.
Strange because so many would think that winning is all that matters in college football these days. Well, around Big Ten country I'd argue winning with a certain type of personality matters almost as much as the actual wins taking place. No one likes a flat out jerk and that's how Bielema came off to many outside the program and to those covering it, as well as the fanbase in general.
Credit Barry Alvarez for some of those less than stellar feelings about Bielema because he did the smart thing in hiring his polar opposite in personality – Gary Andersen.
Andersen steps into one of the best situations a new head coach could ever dream of (20 plus seniors on the roster and a three-time defending conference champion to boot) and so far, so good out of Madison. Whether it was opening up a few practices this spring, or allowing fans to attend the two scrimmages that took place this fall camp it's clear that Andersen isn't Bielema and that the fans have taken a quick liking to his style.
What was perhaps the most interesting part of Wolken's feature on Alvarez and the coaching change was what he had to say about Bielema's claim of not having enough resources to compete at the highest level.
"I think there's a misperception there," Alvarez said. "Any time somebody interviewed, Bret thought if you just throw a pile of money at them, they stay. I can't do that. We have to work on a budget. You don't just keep throwing money, because then everybody has leverage on you. All you have to do is say somebody's interested and you double their salary. You can't operate that way.
"We've done things (to improve assistants' salaries) when I think it's necessary, but not every time somebody gets contacted by somebody else. I think with the quality of life we have here, we have perks, too, and if that's all you're looking for is more money, you can go find more money. But quality of life, the type of kids you're going to coach, the type of university where you're working – all those things are important."
It's interesting considering the facility race Wisconsin launched itself into just a year ago and is now in the upper tier of the country in terms of what it can offer facilities wise. It's also interesting considering Alvarez went out and nearly doubled the money available to Andersen to hire his coordinators (OC Andy Ludwig and DC Dave Aranda).
Perhaps Bielema stoked a fire under Alvarez, or perhaps it was the fact that Wisconsin's athletic board finally gave permission to up the budget. Whatever it was it appears to have worked for UW. Of course, let us see what happens the first time Andersen and Co. go on a losing streak or fail to win a division crown before we declare Andersen a beloved figure in Badger nation.