Tuesday former Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema stunned the college football world by accepting the same job with the Arkansas Razorbacks. I have not heard a word from Bielema on why he accepted the job in Arkansas, so I’ll use speculation on that point until I do.
Here are two things I do know, Wisconsin is a better coaching job than Arkansas and Bielema has a better chance of winning in Arkansas than he did at Wisconsin.
You might be saying, “Damien has lost it!” Truth is, it’s been gone for a long time anyway. Read on.
There are two reasons why people leave one job for another, they really like money (who doesn’t?) or they think the grass is greener on the other side. Sometimes, but rarely is it both.
Bielema was in a good job coaching in a conference where he played football (walk-on at Iowa). He was taking his team to their third Rose Bowl appearance in a row and was arguably in the midst of the best four or five years of football Wisconsin had ever seen.
To my second point, why does Bielema have a better chance of winning in the SEC than he does in the Big Ten? Easy, the talent pool is better and closer to Arkansas is versus Wisconsin. Bielema has no recruiting ties to Arkansas, Alabama, Florida or Texas, but he will hire people that do, and that is what good managers do, hire people who can do things you cannot do.
Is the SEC West now the toughest division in college football? You bet, but that also means that any given year any team can win that division and if one had to pick a winner, year over year, a division that would win the conference, it will be the SEC West representative.
At Wisconsin, Bielema faced two schools that will always have better recruits because of their brand and reach. The local football talent in Wisconsin is nil compared to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Alabama and Texas.
Recruiting in Arkansas will likely be the same as recruiting in Wisconsin despite the talent pool, but one thing Bielema has proved is that he is able to find diamonds in the rough and turn them into stars. It doesn’t always lead division or conference championships, but it lead to six seasons of eight or more wins. That is something people in Arkansas are likely to enjoy and are willing to pay a large amount of money to see happen.
Which leads to the next question about money. Who doesn’t want more money? Even Warren Buffett needs money. There is no such thing as having too much money. I say that to say yes, Bielema could have stayed in Wisconsin and partially filled his bank account with $2.2 million per year, or he could go to a school that receives a large share of BCS and TV money that’s willing to pay him to be either good or decent for the next five years.
Bielema’s contract details have been released. He will earn $3.2 million annually for six years. He also has the opportunity to earn up to $700,000 in various bonuses through athletic and academic escalators. His buyout should he decide to leave varies from $3 million in 2013 to $500,000 in 2018.
For those keeping track, his salary at Wisconsin was $2.2 million and included a buyout of only $1 million which Arkansas will pay for.
That Wisconsin only set Bielema’s buyout so low is an indication they had no idea he would leave Wisconsin anytime soon. It was revealed this week that Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, whom will coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl, knew of Bielema’s impending departure as early as the Thursday preceding the Big Ten Championship Game.
Know what happens if it does not work out for Bielema? Yes, he will go back to the Big Ten. The conference will happily take their prodigal son back with open arms. Any clue where he might end up? I would guess if he has moderate success he could end up at Iowa. Kirk Ferentz has a contract through eternity, but Hawkeye Nation will happily dump Ferentz for their lost son.
This is likely the first time a big name Big Ten coach has left, mid contract, for another high profile school. This is something that could be repeated again. Schools are getting more amounts of money from BCS and television payouts and coaches want to feel their salaries gain.
Many athletic programs throughout the country are self-supporting, meaning they do no ask for any student fees from the university, but rely only on revenue generated from football or basketball to maintain their budgets. If the trend of higher coaches’ salaries continue, and conferences are forced to split television and bowl revenues in multiple directions the number of self-sustaining athletic programs could decline significantly.
While I wish Bret Bielema luck at Arkansas the trend is troubling. One bright spot this week, unless you are a Tennessee fan, is that Charlie Strong ignored the massive amounts of money Tennessee was throwing at him and decided to honor his contract at Louisville.