Bret Bielema Was on Our Radar

Most certainly, if you cast wide enough of a net, you’ll cover all of the possibilities that reasonably exist and can claim victory, but that’s what this post is here to refute.

Bret Bielema was on our radar for the next Arkansas head coach, and we’re not sure anyone else can claim that he was on their list.

Was he the only coach? Certainly not, but no one else had only one coaching possibility either. The truth be known, with the exception of Bielema, we were looking at the same current coaches as everyone else.

Regardless of how Bielema  came to be hired from the University of Wisconsin, he was a logical, analytical choice from the beginning.  We first identified him on October 15, 2012, through basic work in Arkansas Coaching Search — Top 10 Coaches which did the basic task of looking at A.P. Top 10 Final Poll for the last 10 years and identifying what coaches guided teams into the final A.P. Top 10. But we didn’t stop there. The post went through the process of eliminating many of the 38 coaches who were identified leaving a list of 12 coaches. That’s still a fairly wide net. However, the last paragraph noted Bielema:

“The remaining list is intriguing. Although Charlie Weis and Mike Shula may not be so great, Bret Bielema from Wisconsin, former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, and Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy rarely hit anyone’s lists for consideration despite running winning programs.”

What happened next was not published in a formal post.  We began work on contracts for a few of the final 12 coaches with the main names plus Bielema being considered. Off that list we scrapped Pete Carroll as a pipe dream and didn’t bother with Weis or Shula, and there was no coaching contract to be had for Mike Bellotti.  Brian Kelly at Notre Dame should have been eliminated earlier in the post.  Tedford and Whittingham were there but not of much interest.   Nothing about this is surprising, we would think.

In April we had already looked at Tommy Tuberville’s contract and potential issues with him and separately his wife.  While a personal lawsuit that Tuberville was involved in was of some concern, his wife’s matter ultimately turned out to be a non-issue. He had a contract whose buyout scaled downward significantly under $1M.  We did quite a bit of work on trying to figure out Patterson’s contract, which, because TCU is a private institution, had to be pieced together from media reports, assuming that they were all accurate.  In a 2011 radio interview, Patterson said that he didn’t have a buyout clause in his contract and later reports of a contract extension didn’t include a report of a buyout later.   Patterson’s money was in the $3.2M range and reported to be guaranteed through 2016.  The main issue it seemed with Mike Gundy’s contract was a $3,000,000 buyout clause. He was making in the neighborhood of $3,000,000 per year.   I was skeptical of the Petersen information that he was earning $1.7M per year at Boise as found on coacheshotseat.com, but it would have taken a while to dig for it further.  Bret Bielema’s contract was in the $2.7M range per year with no guarantees and a buyout of $1,000,000.

My posts, when they are well-cited and have a lot of information, take time.  The above is a thumbnail sketch of what I would have considered and tends to hit the high points that we were concerned about, but it’s difficult to know what other things that could be huge which were hiding in those contracts.   Somebody probably needed to look, right?  To be honest, I have about 8-9 posts that I’ve started this season which were never finished.  I rarely say anything about myself because I’m not the story. The Arkansas Razorbacks and college sports are the stories.  Writing is a fairly serious hobby, almost a third job, but it takes a backseat to my own personal matters which about 1/2 of the married people will go through.  Things are fine and thankfully amicable, but the personal investment of  long, involved posts have had to wait this season.  Instead, the outlet which I used was twitter and admittedly reached only 1,600 people or so.  Nothing gets too complex in 140 characters.

Tubs was attractive as being the only active coach with a winning SEC record against Nick Saban and his salary and buyouts were right, but he has plenty of detractors and would be one of those polarizing coaches.  Patterson’s guaranteed money is truly a bird-in-the-hand for him.  Doing nothing more, he earns $12,000,000 or so at TCU.  The University of Arkansas was likely looking at guaranteed money and a lot more of it for Patterson.  To get Gundy to jump, it would have taken $3M up front to OSU and then guessing $3.5M per year for the next 4 years or a total outlay of  $17,000,000 over 4 years.  The net outlay would be in the range of $4.25M per year (estimated) meaning that Arkansas would be paying about Top 5 money for a coach.  Admittedly we never got into Petersen’s contract.  Although no school had turned his head, it was Jeff Long’s job to try.  Who knows what he was offered or if he was?  If he didn’t want to move to  Arkansas, I could understand.  All things being equal, I don’t want to live in Boise.  A lot of money can change someone’s mind, but it’s not as likely if Petersen is happy and  already has more than what he needs.

It was then that we realized that Bret Bielema seemed like an obvious inclusion in the top tier.  He had 3 A.P. Top 10 finishes in the last 6 years and lead Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl the two previous years (and ended up doing so this year).  His compensation looked very reachable.  His teams played defense, and mainly, the talent he had was less than what Arkansas had as I had learned in Arkansas Football & Star Players: The Recruits. He was a more with less coach which is a must in Arkansas.

Can it get any more obvious that a call to Bielema should have been on the things-to-do list for Jeff Long?

After the work above was done, Bielema was an analytical choice but ABSOLUTELY NO ONE publicly or privately had mentioned him. Who knows who reads my tweets? I wasn’t going to spend 15 hours on a post so I tweeted on November 19, 2012:

On November 21 I tweeted again:

When asked about who I thought would be the next coach:

There was still no one mentioning Bielema, in twitter-speak… *crickets*. I went on to look at the coaches on the list and see what information we could gather. Looking for any information on Petersen, we did a little flight tracking and got lucky. Simultaneous with the first report @W00PIGS000IE and @WallShark84 and I figured out that a private jet headed from Fayetteville to Moscow, Idaho, was Paul Petrino meaning that he was likely hired at Idaho. It played out on my facebook page if you care to look.

Bielema wasn’t far out of my mind. In all seriousness, nothing about the first tier of coaches was certain, but more, the set nagged me. Long came up with a set of three main targets (Petersen, Patterson & Gundy) in 8 months when the Top Tier could have reasonably been bigger with Bielema in the mix?

On December 2, 2012, two days before Bielema was hired I posted on HogFans.net:

“Bo” refers to Bo Pelini whom Les Miles kindly suggested as a possible Arkansas Head Coach. Thanks, Les.

When discussing coaches as “backup plans,” I touted Bielema again on HogFans.net on December 2, 2012:

A short time latter I tweeted:

How Bret Bielema came to be hired at the University of Arkansas is a developing story. The first version will be told and then more details added as time goes on.

However, one lesson is clear when trying to anticipate some decision that Jeff Long makes. Media and Fans cannot ignore the logical criteria which everyone expects to be used to make the decision. Don’t shoot the messenger but the same analysis applied when Long tapped John L. Smith to head the Razorbacks in very similar circumstances. In Triangulating Arkansas’ Next Head Coach I came to the conclusion that the interim head coach had to be Tim Horton but immediately followed it with:

The only person other than Bobby Petrino with head coaching experience in a Petrino-style system is John L. Smith, and he has not been on Arkansas’ radar to return after returning to his home state to take a job with conceivably fewer demands. Garrick McGee has been out of consideration for a few days now for whatever reasons — too much change, already committed to UAB, wouldn’t want to leave UAB in a lurch, etc. Paul Haynes hasn’t been here that long, and Taver Johnson has been here even less time.

I did not elaborate on the well-documented and understood history between John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino and that they had worked for one another made him a logical choice along with the fact that he was the only one out of the group with DI head coach experience.  But NO ONE was talking about him, and we bought the silence.

For the Bielema hire, the noise was always Gruden, Patterson, Petersen, and Gundy with second tier “what-if” coaches following.  However, someone like Jeff Long typically thinks further down the road than essentially three college coaches. Bielema made sense.

It’s the common sense of a man in his position.  The problem is that it’s not common.

 

 

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SharpTusk is a featured blogger on Hog Database. He won "2009 Blog Of The Year" as voted by members of SportingNews.com and has posts referenced by local and national sports writers. Sharp began writing about Arkansas Razorbacks Football during the coaching change in 2007 and hasn't stopped. He has an eye for interesting stats, and an occasional penchant for creative writing. He's sure to keep you coming back for more.

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