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Badger Bret? Bielema still hasn't won over fans

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Michael Hunt
October 20, 2010

So what do you think of Bret Bielema now?


Granted, it's not the most important question here at a fairly crucial juncture of the season, the midpoint between Wisconsin's victory against No. 1 Ohio State and another big game Saturday at Iowa, but I'm asking anyway because it's the one issue that never seems to leave the room, no matter the state of the Badgers.


When they won 12 games during his first season five years ago, the Bielema dissenters said it was because he had Barry Alvarez's players. When they lost six in 2008, they said it was because of Bielema's knuckleheaded decisions.


While it's not true that the Badgers have the most polarizing football coach in the country, it's fair to say that few with anything close to Bielema's 44-15 record elicit such conflicting emotions from the fan base.


When our UW beat writer, Jeff Potrykus, blogged on the topic after Bucky crushed Ohio State, the reaction pointed to that which has been apparent since Alvarez handpicked Bielema before the 2005 season:


No matter what Bielema does, a certain segment among the Grateful Red just isn't going to like the guy. Sure, that's the case at a number of places, but why does it seem so applicable here?


So maybe here's a better question:


What do you want from your football coach?


To be older and established like Joe Paterno? Buttoned-down and dignified like Jim Tressel? Even-mannered like Kirk Ferentz?


If it seems like we're separating personality from results, move to the head of the season-ticket line.


Paterno was 42-10-1 after five years at Penn State. Tressel was 50-13 after five at Ohio State. Ferentz was 32-28 after five at Iowa. With five games to go in his fifth season at Wisconsin, Bielema is in or beyond that company.


Bielema is also 40 and single. He has been known to enjoy his life outside the job. There were times when, reflective of the coach, the team was not sufficiently disciplined. There's that Herky the Hawkeye tattoo. He can be blunt and arrogant. But so could his boss and predecessor, although few made it an issue with Alvarez because he won and usually comported himself the way we expect a head football coach to act.


No doubt, Bielema has done and said some silly, immature things while on the clock as one of the state's highest-paid workers. All or a portion of that has a tendency to rub some people the wrong way.


I've been critical of the way Bielema has handled certain things. I didn't think he took immediate responsibility for his game-turning personal foul two years ago at Michigan State. He's thrown underlings under the bus after losses. He was wrong for trying to run up the score against Minnesota, no matter the weak explanation.


In all those scenarios, you expect more out of the football coach, especially at a place like Wisconsin. You demand stand-up, accountable behavior.


Nevertheless, you've got to give it to the man on several levels.


To me, it's apparent he's growing as a person. And if you want to measure him as a football coach—you know, beyond 44-15—he probably didn't get enough credit for Ohio State. The Badgers could not have been more prepared, more poised or more disciplined to thoroughly beat a No. 1 than they were Saturday night. The leadership exhibited by the Badgers, especially from the offensive linemen, has to start somewhere.


So if you're asking me what I want from a football coach, it is preparation, discipline, poise, leadership and citizenship from the top down, the type that came through loud and clear against a more talented opponent.


I'm not advocating a lifetime contract for Bielema in such a fluid business. What happens from Iowa onward, who can say? But for the here and now, the coach is acting the part.


Michael Hunt is a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist

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