Following the hiring of new head coach Gary Andersen on Wednesday, I had the chance to talk to Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, about Bret Bielema leaving and how that will affect this year’s recruiting, as well as if Gary Andersen will be able to bring in the players necessary to continue the current success of the program.
B5Q: First off let me ask you, do you actually believe that Bret Bielema has a better chance of winning a National Championship in Arkansas rather than Wisconsin?
MF: No, no. I mean at least one SEC team goes to the National Championship game every year, this was supposed to be the year that it wasn’t going to happen and look what happened, so I get that. But the path to it is easier in the Big Ten; it’s not a slap to the Big Ten, that’s just the way it is. The SEC is a minefield, even Alabama this year is a remarkable football team, even if you go undefeated you can get frozen out. Normally I get what he’s saying, the SEC’s where it’s at, it’s where all the National Championships are won, but the path to a potential undefeated season, which is the way to get into the National Championship game is back in Wisconsin.
B5Q: Have there been any recruits that you have spoken to or you’ve heard of that are going to follow Bielema to Arkansas or explore other options now that he’s gone? Or is the school loyalty still existent?
MF: Well, Wisconsin just hired a guy that the kids aren’t really familiar with, the coach from Utah State, who has coached his entire life in Utah. I’m not sure they’re ready to go with Bielema, the difference between Wisconsin and Arkansas is pretty stark.
Kids chose Wisconsin for a lot of the reasons they chose it for, very good academic school, beautiful countryside, the chance to run the type of offense that they’re comfortable with. I don’t think that there are many that are going to follow, and I don’t think he (Bielema) is going to recruit as much up North as people might think. If they want to win, he’s gotta recruit the home state first, then go into Texas and be successful, and he’s gotta hit Louisiana and the Deep South, I also think Tennessee and Oklahoma are important as well. If he’s looking to recruit north than he might as well have stayed in the Big Ten.
B5Q: So you feel like the recruits are going to stay there than?
MF: Well, I think they were all in kind of a holding pattern. Now, I don’t know of any recruits that are going to follow, but I feel like they are more open to it now, but I feel like that will calm down once they get the chance to meet with the new coach. We obviously talked to a lot of the kids today (Wednesday), getting their reactions and all that, they weren’t really aware of who this guy is, "Utah State, what do they do?" that type of thing. I think once they get to know Gary Andersen, and start to fill out a staff, and they really did lose a lot of staff members, I think most of that class will stay together.
B5Q: Are there any obvious schools in the Big Ten that are going to benefit from this? I mean, Ohio State and Nebraska seem like the obvious choices. Are there any other "dark horses" that may benefit from the coaching changes in Wisconsin?
MF: I think prior to Urban Meyer being hired, Wisconsin was a thorn in their side. I mean Tressel was a great coach obviously. But Urban Meyer is going to have no problem recruiting against anybody, stealing Kyle Dodson back last year from Wisconsin, he can go head to head against anybody. I think that Nebraska will benefit from this; it’s the middle league schools that are going to possibly benefit from Wisconsin not being as powerful and as strong as they were, and that’s a big assumption. They might go on with Andersen and continue to go to Rose Bowls. It’s not like they were world beaters this year. I would say that one school would be Nebraska, they would benefit the most.
B5Q: How do you feel Barry Alvarez has handled this whole situation?
MF: I think he’s done fine, I mean he’s been there and done that. He was a guy courted extensively while he was at Wisconsin, was offered other jobs. I think the one thing that Wisconsin fans are a little upset about is that he hired a coach that runs a Spread, and telling him we’re going to do it the "Wisconsin Way." Not that Wisconsin fan is dying to go to a spread offense but a spread's been pretty successful in college football. So it’s an antiquated view, that the only way to do things is the "Wisconsin Way" on offense. I think that’s the only area. If you’re going to hire a guy to run a Wisconsin offense, don’t hire someone that’s been running a spread for the past 20 years.
B5Q: You touched earlier on Gary Andersen coming to Wisconsin. How do you feel that’s going to affect recruiting going forward? Obviously there is a big difference between Utah State and Wisconsin.
MF: It’s going to be difficult, there’s pros and cons. The con being, the guy's coached in Utah pretty much most of his life, Utah is not close in the recruiting territory for Wisconsin. Wisconsin is going to have to head east to be successful. The good part about it is, they’re getting a coach that is a good recruiter, he’s a very good talent evaluator, he got kids that no one wanted at Utah State and turned them into very good football players. It’s not like Wisconsin goes out and lands 4 and 5 star recruits every time they get a commitment, they talent evaluate with the best of them. They find kids to fit their system, they coach them up and they make them great players. If this were Ohio State, or Michigan, or a program like that, which has a tremendous recruiting history I think there would be a lot of problems. But going to Wisconsin, you can be kind of an unknown guy and recruit to the same level that Wisconsin is used to, the biggest issue is, Can he coach them up like Bielema or Alvarez and those guys have done?
B5Q: Was there ever a real chance for Wisconsin to hire Chris Petersen?
MF: I don’t think anybody’s going to hire Chris Petersen; I don’t think he’s going anywhere. He’s one of those guys who are mentioned a lot but I don’t think he has any interest in going anywhere. You know what? Hats off to him, it’s a lot of respect for him, sometimes you need to know what’s good. That doesn’t mean that in the next 2-3 years he’s not going to look for a new challenge, but he’s being very selective. I compare him to the Butler basketball coach (Brad Stevens), who led his team to back to back Final Fours, had every offer in the world, and he was happy where he was. It needs to be the perfect situation before I can leave, and if it’s not…. I’m staying, and that’s how Chris Petersen is. I don’t know what his dream job is, but I knew it wasn’t going to be Cal, it wasn’t going to be Wisconsin or even Tennessee, and it wasn’t going to be any of the schools that he was linked to in the early rumors.
B5Q: Do you feel like Gary Andersen is going to be able to keep up with recruiting to keep Wisconsin competitive, or did the Badgers drop the ball in not going for a bigger name?
MF: I think they wanted to, obviously if they had a choice, they would have had Chris Petersen, I mean everyone wants that guy. When you have a coaching opening there are certain names that you hear all the time -- Petersen being one of them, Jon Gruden being another one -- I mean the same names over and over again. Al Golden is another one always linked to open jobs. I don’t think that coach Andersen was their first choice. The loss of the assistants is what is more worrisome. They lost quite a few assistants, and those are the guys that keep the class together. Now that being said, I still think the Wisconsin class will stick together. It’s not a super highly-rated class, it’s not loaded with 4- and 5-star guys. Right now, four 4-star recruits and everyone else is a three or a two, but I think he can keep this together. I think going forward he’s going to have to match what Bielema and Alvarez did when it came to evaluating talent and make sure they get the right fit.
The big questions coming out of it are, "Will Bret Bielema run Wisconsin’s offensive football in the SEC?" and "Will Andersen run Utah State’s offense in Wisconsin?" I think we already have the answer to the second one: he’s not going to be allowed to run Utah State’s offense at Wisconsin. Barry Alvarez already said that "We’re going to be running Wisconsin football." I don’t think that Bielema can be successful running what he ran in Wisconsin at Arkansas. So this might be one of those things that we look back in a few years and say, "Bielema should have never left, and Andersen should have never been hired." I could definitely see that scenario playing out.