Anytime a head-coaching job opens in the SEC, the athletic director at that school stands at the podium and promises his fans with conviction that he’s going to go out and hire a proven winner.
Sometimes that’s a difficult promise to keep, especially when three other schools in your league are coach-shopping at the same time.
But say this for Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long: He delivered on bringing a guy to the Ozarks whose record needs no deciphering.
Bret Bielema was 68-24 (.739) in seven seasons as Wisconsin’s head coach, the ninth-highest winning percentage among active coaches in the NCAA with at least five years of experience. He guided the Badgers to their third consecutive Big Ten championship this season, and they became the first team to represent the Big Ten in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan in 1976-78.
Over the past four years, Wisconsin has won 40 games, which is tied for the most of any four-year stretch in school history.
Long wanted a proven winner, and he got one.
But winning in the Big Ten and winning in the SEC are two different worlds. That’s not a slight against Bielema. It’s just the way it is.
The fact that Bielema would leave Wisconsin was stunning to a lot of people there. Clearly, though, he’s not afraid of a challenge.
He’ll get a daunting one at Arkansas, which plays in the toughest division (SEC West) in all of college football and doesn’t have the luxury of producing the kind of homegrown talent most of the SEC states do.
Moreover, going into the state of Texas and getting players will be harder than ever with Texas A&M making the kind of splash it did in its first season in the SEC.
The biggest question Bielema will have to answer is whether or not he can recruit at a high level in the SEC. He’s smart enough that he’ll hire guys who know the Hogs' key recruiting territories, but the head coach has to be a good closer in this league.
As successful as Bielema has been at Wisconsin, the proof will be in the pudding as to whether he can score big on the recruiting trail.
But when it comes to coaching and developing hard-nosed football teams committed to running the ball and playing sound defense, Bielema has cornered the market on that brand of football in the Big Ten.
It just so happens to be the same brand that wins championships in the SEC.
Bobby Petrino got the Hogs within striking distance of a championship and took them to a BCS bowl before it all came crashing down with that ill-fated motorcycle ride last April.
Bielema will take his shot at finishing what Petrino started.