Given the rumors flying around today, the Arkansas coaching search was so easy to make fun of. Mike Gundy was leaving Oklahoma State to head to Fayetteville, only then he wasn’t, only he both was and wasn’t, and so on. The whole thing was so ridiculous that I getting tempted to (badly) Photoshop a headset on this guy and suggest he be the next Arkansas coach.
And then… Arkansas actually pulled off a shocker.
It didn’t involve Gundy, though. Rather, Yahoo’s Pat Forde reported that the Razorbacks hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, and others quickly confirmed that yes, that was indeed happening.
And that wasn’t all – just as everyone was catching their breath over the Bielema news, reports emerged that another of the highest-profile open head coaching positions got filled, as Auburn reportedly hired Gus Malzahn away from Arkansas State. While not nearly the blockbuster that was Bielema’s hiring, it did create a giant conflagration of college football coaching carousel news. And with that blinding blaze comes many questions, so let’s try to answer a few.
UPDATE: One more we should add here: according to SI’s Pete Thamel, Boston College filled its coaching vacancy too, hiring Steve Addazio away from Temple. While Florida fans might not have the fondest memories of Addazio, he did have a solid first season at Temple, going 9-4 in 2011. The Owls’ Big East return this year, though, didn’t go so hot; the team went 4-7. Overall, this strikes us as a pretty underwhelming hire, though BC’s firmly entrenched in “things can’t get much worse” territory, so Addazio may well improve things, if not to a great extent.
The rest of the original post is below.
First, Bielema. Is this hire surprising? Why or why not?
It’s beyond surprising. Forde’s initial report called it a “stunning coup.” Why? Well, a lot of names were mentioned in connection with the Arkansas job (even after discounting the Jon Gruden pipe dream), and Bielema’s was never among them. And why would it have been? Bielema’s never been a head coach anywhere but at Wisconsin, and he’s never been a coach, period, anywhere but the Midwest. He was born in Illinois. He went to school at Iowa. To Bielema, the SEC is entirely uncharted territory.
Not to mention he’s got a good thing going at Wisconsin. He’s never had a losing season, and despite the Badgers having their worst season since 2008 this year, they’re still going to the Rose Bowl (thanks to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for postseason play, and – to Wisconsin’s credit – a thrashing of Nebraska in the Big 10 title game).
This Rose Bowl will be the Badgers’ third straight, so clearly he’s got the program in a pretty good spot and knows the job he has right now affords him the opportunity to compete on a national stage. Given how long he’d already been at Wisconsin – he was an assistant there for two years before being promoted to the top job – we wouldn’t have been surprised to see him make like his predecessor Barry Alvarez and coach the Badgers until he decided he was done coaching.
So why would he leave?
We’ll find out a bit more on this when Bielema inevitably addresses this topic at his introductory press conference, but our guesses are: 1) he decided he wanted a new challenge, and he wanted that challenge to entail competing against college football’s best. The SEC is where college football’s best is generally thought to reside, and with that comes more respect for your program when it does well: Bielema twice had one-loss regular seasons at Wisconsin. That got those teams into the Capital One and Rose Bowls, respectively. A one-loss regular season at Arkansas would, more often than not, put you in prime national championship position. That has to be enticing.
Oh, and also – money. Like, truckloads full of it. Bielema made nearly $3 million annually at Wisconsin. That number’s about to take a jump up. We’re curious to see exactly what the figure will be. As a reference point, Arkansas paid Bobby Petrino about $3.5 million a year, so something around there – and perhaps even pushing the $4 million annual mark – wouldn’t be a shock.
Either way – big investment by Arkansas. Is it guaranteed to pay off?
Nope. On the one hand, Bielema’s career head coaching record (68-24, 37-19 in Big 10 play) indicates he’s very good at what he does. On the other – again, he’s a Midwestern guy through and through. His Wisconsin teams recruit mostly Midwestern guys. He’s never coached in the SEC. It’s a different beast. He has recruited Florida pretty significantly, which is a start, but he’s probably going to have to bring in some guys with connections to areas where he hasn’t recruited much before (like perhaps Texas, and any other state in SEC territory besides Florida).
Not to mention, Arkansas is a tough place to win for anyone, even someone with robust SEC connections. You’re in a division with Alabama and LSU, and you’ve got the likes of Florida and Georgia in the other division. All these other programs have richer natural recruiting bases. Bobby Petrino was starting to make winning with the Razorbacks look pretty easy (and he couldn’t beat Alabama or LSU either), but as this past season showed, it’s anything but. Bielema’s got a tough task ahead of him. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether he can perform it.
Got it. As for the Rose Bowl he was slated to coach in…
Bielema apparently still wants to coach in it. It’s unknown whether he’ll get permission. Count us as expecting he won’t get his wish.
What does Wisconsin do now?
Not sure. Too early to tell, but Bielema’s former right-hand man, Paul Chryst, is the head coach at Pitt now. He could be a natural choice.
If Chryst goes to Wisconsin, Pitt will have to hire what will be its FIFTH head coach in four years. What would your reaction be, if that came to pass?
You can quote me on this: “lolololololololololololololololol”
(Also, I’d feel kind of bad for Pitt. That would be some atrocious luck.)
Final question on Bielema: does he look like a jerk football coach stock character from a movie/Friday Night Lights episode?
On to Malzahn. Is that hire surprising?
Not at all. This one made perfect sense – Malzahn has not only SEC connections but deep ties to Auburn itself, having served as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator for three seasons (including the national championship season of 2010). He knows the lay of the land. Additionally, he has head coaching experience, serving as this past year as head man at Arkansas State. It was a good season, too – the Red Wolves went 9-3 and won the Sun Belt.
Malzahn was arguably ready for this job even before getting a taste of head coaching this year, and Auburn, it appears, was all too happy to give it to him. Everybody wins: Auburn hires a hot name who’s also something of a safe choice, given his history at the school and knowledge of the program, and Malzahn gets a huge upgrade the SEC head coaching gig everyone figured he was destined to land eventually. Also, in comparison to Auburn’s nightmarish 2012, almost anything is destined to look like an improvement, so Malzahn might have a bit of a honeymoon period not typically afforded someone at a place like Auburn.
So it’s sensible hire that everyone sort of saw coming. Sounds boring.
That’s one way to look at it, we guess.
Anything you could do to liven it up?
How about a link to that weird interview Malzahn’s wife gave last year that was rumored to have hurt her husband’s candidacy for a prime head coaching gig?
Yeah, that should do it.
Glad we could help.
Photos via Getty