A long while back -- say, a season or two before Wisconsin began this recent "going to Rose Bowls" business -- I heard a story about someone's friend of a friend's buddy who happened to chance upon Bret Bielema, somewhere, and begin to give the big man a piece of his mind. This person was several sheets to the wind and asked Wisconsin's head coach how the team was going to do the next season.
"We're certainly going to do our best to make Wisconsin fans happy this Fall," Bielema said.
"You better," said drunken idiot. "I'm used to going to Rose Bowls, Coach. Don't disappoint me again."
Bielema scowled, rightfully, and didn't knock the lights out of whoever this guy thought he was. I assume they just turned away from each other knowing they were both on the verge of doing something they'd really regret. Or perhaps the guy just made the whole thing up. But anyway ...
I like the story because 1) it was spoken in the same hushed build-to-climax tone of every survived bear encounter ever told and 2) it represents a quaint time when, even after a hot start to his career, a lot of fans really didn't like Bielema. Not that he's above fault now, but this site certainly isn't above the occasional open love note following successful 2010 and 2011 campaigns. Up until a few weeks ago, nor was anyone in Badger Nation.
This season is off to a sour start, and it's time to remind ourselves that Bielema is in a lot of ways still a raw head coach. He built the program up to high heights using players he and his staff groomed themselves, and is now dealing with the real possibility of precipitous disappointment for the first time in his career. He has made one radical decision and is about to make a second, starting Joel Stave over Danny O'Brien for this Saturday's game against UTEP. These moves could fail, badly.
Or they could be the spur Wisconsin needs to get back on track. One thing I would caution Bielema (and I hope I don't come across as that guy) is that winnowing away the problem people will eventually leave you alone, standing as the only thing left to blame if blame comes to pass. This season's win-loss record will be used as a direct referendum on the job you did. It will open up a flood of appraisal, good or bad. You've always seemed to invite that sort of thing so you maybe you know this already, but the pressure could be even greater now that you've given fans their taste of Pasadena.
I certainly don't envy it.
Sorry about that, here's some links:
Happy days! Jared Abbrederis returned to no-contact practice Tuesday and has been cleared to play against UTEP.
Bielema puts gag order on QBs.
Jeff Potrykus on Wisconsin's substandard blocking from tight ends and fullbacks.
Journal Sentinel feature on 2013 DL recruits Chikwe Obasih and Alec James.
ICYMI, 2014 Sun Prairie DT Craig Evans committed to Wisconsin Tuesday night.
The State Journal on Mike Price's redemption tour.
Tom Oates says that the defense will need to be the driving force if Wisconsin has success this season.
Matt Hinton officially declares Wisconsin's offense a disaster area.
OTE pegs Wisconsin in the Gator Bowl going up against Tennessee.