Bielema to follow Alvarez’s lead as top dog

first_imgM. SPENCER GREEN/Associated PressAlmost one year ago to the day, Bret Bielema, then-defensive coordinator for the Badgers, was hand-picked by University of Wisconsin athletic director and coaching legend Barry Alvarez to take over the reins of UW football team in 2006, ending the 16-year Alvarez dynasty that represents the most successful period in the history of the program.So how does Bielema replace a legend?”Can I talk about replacing Barry Alvarez? It’s probably something that would take a lot more than 15 minutes,” Bielema said. “Coach Alvarez came to the University of Wisconsin and put the program at a level that obviously a lot of people didn’t think it could be at.”It doesn’t feel as if Bielema is making his first rounds through a Big Ten season as head coach, to either the casual observer or to Bielema himself, and that is just how Alvarez designed it.”The timing [Alvarez] made the announcement a year ago was right before this meeting,” Bielema said. “That was set up in a way so that I could understand and fully comprehend the roles that he had, not just the X’s and O’s, but the recruiting, administration and all thelittle things that go on behind closed doors.”Indeed, Bielema was a full-fledged apprentice in 2005, and has, since January, assumed all the duties as head coach. The experience of learning the depth of a head coach’s responsibilities for a full season has left him feeling like a properly-seasoned coach.At 36, Bielema was set to become the youngest sideline stomper in Division I-A this season, until 31-year-old Pat Fitzgerald was thrust into the role of replacing Randy Walker at Northwestern following Walker’s sudden death.”I told Pat, ‘You already beat me once,'” Bielema joked. “I was the youngest head coach in the country for about four months and then he got me.”It’s also nice to have someone in the coaching fraternity that knows the same songs and movies that I did growing up. That’s a good thing.” Though Bielema speaks in jest about his age, he truly believes it is a non-issue when it comes to his ability to lead Wisconsin in the upcoming season.”I don’t think my age is a factor, I really don’t, though I know a lot of people make note of it,” Bielema explained. “Age is just a number. The older people are, the more they try to look younger; and the younger people are, the more they try to look older. So I guess I’m right in the middle at 36. I don’t know what I’m trying to do.”So what will change at UW this year? According to Bielema, not too much at all.”I do know this: I’d much rather take over a program that is on a level of success and then just keep the ball rolling,” Bielema said. “Obviously, there will be some changes, some subtle changes.”The biggest changes will probably be seen in the personnel, as Bielema will have to replace eight starters on offense, including all-conference back Brian Calhoun, along with almost the entire receiving corps, as no player on the roster caught more than a single pass in 2005.”Offensively, we lost a lot of good players,” Bielema said. “We lost eight [starters] and have three returning… you may not know a lot of their names now, but you’ll know them by the end of the season.”Another notable personnel change will be the absence of troubled players Booker Stanley, Gino Cruse and Antonio Freeman, all of whom were asked to leave the program since Bielema took control as the first-year coach cleaned house.However, not everything has changed. The defense brings back all but three starters, three starters that Bielema jokes he “was trying to get rid of all year, anyway.”Returning will be the entire defensive front, which was ravaged last year by injuries but consequently grew very deep as almost every player saw significant playing time in 2005.”I’d expect that to be a strong point for us,” Bielema said of his defensive line. “I do feel strongly about our defense, our defensive line in particular.”The linebacking corps, led by all-conference candidate Mark Zalewski, will be undoubtedly the fastest and most athletic in school history, as Bielema boasted all three of his starting linebackers — DeAndre Levy, Jonathan Casillas and Zalewski — run the 40-yard dash under 4.7 seconds.Also back will be junior All-American candidate Ken DeBauche as the team’s punter.”We have Kenny DeBauche back, who I feel was the best punter in the country last season,” Bielema said.Losses and gains all considered, Bielema believes he has the players necessary to continue Wisconsin’s recent run of success and can again be in the running for a conference crown.”The more you tell the people from Wisconsin that they can’t do something, the more they think they can,” Bielema said. “If we players continue to understand our philosophy — play hard and have a little bit of fun — we’ll win ballgames.”But make no mistake about it, although Alvarez’s office is only a few steps away from Bielema’s, and he has said his “door is always open,” this is Bielema’s team. “He’s really had a hands-off approach and allowed me to be myself,” Bielema said. “He’s always told me to be my own coach, and I plan to be.”last_img

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