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By Matt McCoy
Remember last winter when Urban Meyer became Buckeye coach and lured Wisconsin committment Kyle Dodson to Ohio State? Shortly thereafter Badger coach Bret Bielema was outspoken about Meyer and Ohio State's recruiting tactics, even accusing the Buckeyes of "illegal" recruiting. There was talk of breaking gentelmen's agreements and Bielema said he didn't want the Big Ten to become like the SEC.
Apparently, he's changed his tune.
After seven seasons at Wisconsin, Bielema shocked the college football world by agreeing to become the new head coach at Arkansas. According to multiple reports, Bielema will get a 6-year deal worth $3-point-2 million per season.
"I'm surprised in the sense that he was hand-picked by Barry," 610 WTVN football analyst and former Buckeye coach Earle Bruce said. (Click HERE: Earle to listen to Coach Bruce discuss Bret Bielema's departure from Wisconsin and the Big 10.)
"Barry" is former Badger coach Barry Alvarez, who retired in 2005 to become Wisconsin's athletic director. Bielema was his defensive coordinator before ascending to head coach. In seven seasons, Bielema was 68-24 and has led the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls, although it's doubtful now that he'll coach in the third. Reports are he would like to, but Alvarez is considering coaching the game himself.
"He did a great job at Wisconsin," Bruce said. "I thought he would end his career there but obviously it's time to move on for him and he's looking for different waters to tread in."
No matter what your opinion is of Bielema, his record speaks for itself and at age 42, he's considered an excellent young coach, who preaches power football. And if you wonder if his Wisconsin, power football style be successful in the SEC, "It has been for Alabama," Bruce said.
Bielema is a guy, with a Big Ten background, not only as a coach at Wisconsin but as a player at Iowa. For him to leave one of the top programs in the league to take the job at a mid-to-upper level SEC program is all you need to know about the state of Big Ten football.
Is Wisconsin a stepping stone for Arkansas? It shouldn't be, but in the eyes and the wallet of Bret Bielema, it is. That perception is another blow to a conference that's been a national punching bag this year.
An Urban Meyer-Bret Bielema rivalry could have been good for Ohio State, good for Wisconsin and good for the Big Ten but instead Bielema heads to the league that Meyer left.
"I see something happening (that's not good)," Bruce said. "Is the Big Ten changing? Is it going to get better with Rutgers and Maryland? They're no powerhouses...They haven't been powerhouses in the East. I think maybe (Bielema thought) it's time to get out and go to a league that is bustling with good football and good football players."
And good football money. The Bielema salary at Arkansas is roughly $500,000 more per year than he made with the Badgers.
So now the Wisconsin job is open. Already there are rumors that Alvarez will not only coach the Rose Bowl, but stay out of retirement and return to coaching like Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Pittsburgh coach Paul Cryst, a former Wisconsin player and offensive coordinator is also being mentioned.
What you won't see is a coach from a high-level SEC school come north to the Badgers. That's a one-way road.