October 23, 2008
There is a 'Fire Bret Bielema' blog. There may be several of them, or several 'Fire Bret Bielema' communities within other Badger blogs and/or message boards, but that's the one I know about. This is not news because, as I mentioned earlier in the week and Brian Cook has succinctly demonstrated, there are "Fire Coach X" sites for almost every coach who has ever coached since Al Gore invented the Internet, if you care to look. The premature "Fire Coach X" is something of a young Web tradition, especially if it matures and blossoms into a hub of discontent that actually helps get the coach fired, like the inimitable "Fire Ron Zook" (sadly defunct, though not without its Illinoisan admirers) or Fire Karl Dorrell, which carried the hate torch across the finish line in its reincarnation as Bruins Nation. They're so plentiful, in fact, that inevitable domains like 'Fire Kirk Ferentz' and 'Fire Rick Neuheisel' have been appropriated for vastly different purposes.
The Bielema site, though -- which is legit, run by a Madison law student, and not a marketing opportunity -- piqued my attention because I'd been unapologetically on the Badger bandwagon in the preseason and through two Saturdays ago I'd considered Bielema one of the better, more underrated coaches in the country. There was the whole Erin Andrews thing. Suddenly Wisconsin has been blown out two weeks in a row, is sitting at 0-4 in the Big Ten with losses to Michigan and Iowa, Bielema is figuring prominently on "Coaches Hot Seat,' commenters are poking fun at his weight, reporters are starting to ask Bielema about the buzz and columnists are calling for godfather Barry Alvarez to publicly defend his chosen successor.
Premature? For a guy who went 21-5 his first two seasons, no doubt. But where there's smoke, there's at least a little fire, so to gauge exactly how hot the seat is in Madison as even a middling bowl bid drifts further into the distance, I hit up a couple sane Wisconsin media types who responded with considered, well thought-out, logical arguments that of course reach complete opposite conclusions:
Bruce Ciskie, of Duluth radio, AOL FanHouse and The Ciskie Blog: Basically, my take on Bielema is simple: I'm beginning to believe they hired the wrong guy. It's nothing against Bielema, as I think he's a pretty good defensive coach. But this team is looking more and more like a mess the further away we get from having a team built around Barry Alvarez recruits. Bielema is an okay motivator, but he hasn't proven anything to me as a recruiter, and the fact that a defensive head coach is watching idly as his defense gets consistently shredded is just too much for me to stomach.
The quarterback position has never been adequately addressed. The talent at wide receiver is undeveloped and seems to be inadequate, again.
Defense, Bielema's background, is a joke. They have talented linebackers who consistently misread plays and take poor angles. The secondary is okay, but with no real pass-rush threat on the line outside of [defensive end Matt] Shaughnessy, they're asked to do too much.
I haven't heard any specific rumblings about Bielema's job status, outside of the usual fan griping. I don't put much stock into that, but it doesn't seem like there's been a lot. Not sure if this fan base is just too patient, or if Bielema really bought some time with these people by getting to two straight New Year's Day bowls.
As for his expanding waistline, well duh. He lives in Madison. He doesn't have any other choice.
String him up! I mean, wait a second:
Mike Lucas, of the Capital Times in Madison: There is no hot seat as far as the administration given that Bielema was Barry's hand-picked successor.Nor should there be a hot seat.
To my thinking, nobody was ready to enshrine Bielema into the college football hall of fame after his first two seasons during which his record (21-5) matched Jim Tressel's first two years. In fact, only one coach in the history of the Big Ten has posted a higher winning percentage after his first two years than Bielema and Tressel. That was Fielding Yost.
So if there was no rush to judgement to get Bielema elected to the Hall of Fame, there should be none now to pass judgement after seven games in his third season.
That's my perspective.
The fans? The zealots are everywhere today.
And there's no silencing them.Especially because they have greater access than ever before, and less accoutability, I might add.
Such is the landscape.
It's interesting that the more impatient observer doesn't see much credible fan unrest, while the Bielema defender senses "the zealots are everywhere." I suppose the answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.
At any rate, unless Wisconsin blows the rest of its Big Ten games and/or the finale against I-AA Cal Poly -- which, hey, has a I-AA win this year, over San Diego State in the opener -- Bielema is probably working with a pretty long leash, although he might be walking on glass if 2009 doesn't look any better (there's still no adequate quarterback, dontcha know). Who would have thought two years ago that, among the Big Ten's alarmingly young, crew-cutted, ex-linebacker new coaches, Pat Fitzgerald would ever be the one jockeying for a January bowl while Bielema struggling to stay out of the cellar?