October 21, 2008

Bielema not accustomed to losing

MADISON, Wis. - He has had success everywhere he has been. In his time as a graduate assistant and linebackers coach at Iowa, the Hawkeyes had .500 seasons or better in five of his eight seasons on board.

Then, once promoted to co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State, he saw back-to-back 11 win-seasons capped with a Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Since he joined the staff at Wisconsin as defensive coordinator in 2004, he has never seen UW win less than nine games in any season. As head coach, he became just the third rookie lead man to guide his team to 12 wins. It's that pattern of success that makes the current 3-4 overall start to 2008 so damaging for third year head coach Bret Bielema.

"This is my life," Bielema said at his weekly press conference Monday afternoon. "This is what I live every day, 365 days a year. I know that I have to stick probably to what I believe in more so than ever before, and that is the only way that, you know, gets us to where we need to be in the end."

Bielema has lead his team to two straight January 1 bowl games in his first two seasons at the helm. In total, the Badgers have played in four straight New Year's bowl games making them one of three teams in all of college football to claim that feat.

But still, without securing a single win midway through the conference schedule, and now falling under .500 with only five games to play, January seems to be an afterthought for this UW squad. Considering the remaining schedule, it will be hard enough for Wisconsin to become bowl eligible, let alone rallying off enough wins to garner attention for a Florida bowl.

With the advent of the losing streak, UW's worst since 1996, many fans have begun their collective attempts for finding some answers. Some, although probably still a minority, want Bielema relieved of his duties.

Meanwhile, on a lesser scale, some are calling for the end of something as miniscule as his superstitious red windbreaker. Anything that will change the direction this team is headed.

"It was made reference that, a couple comments were that people don't like my windbreaker on the sideline," Bielema said. " I thought back to my freshman year when I was told by the merchandising people that they couldn't keep enough windbreakers in stock.

"It just goes to show when you're winning, everybody agrees with what you're doing. When you're losing, everybody's got all the answers, because the right answer isn't out there. So I appreciate that, and thank God we have fans that care."

At the beginning of the season, this Badger team had lofty expectations. They were ranked in the top 15 in national polls, had a multitude of seniors returning at key positions and had arguably their toughest games at home, two of which under the lights. Following a second half collapse to a bad Michigan team, UW has not gotten back on track, getting blown out in two of their following three games.

As a head coach losing hurts on multiple levels, but some maybe more than others. In their losing streak, UW has made some changes, most notably at quarterback. Allan Evridge, a senior, was replaced midway through his last collegiate season. It hurts both the coaches and players when goals aren't lived up to, particularly the seniors.

"You know, I heard a great one a week ago in the teleconference when Jim Tressel made a comment. You know, when they're evaluating their players, he said they're evaluating the performance, not evaluating the performer. Don't take it personal.

"I thought that was a great way of kind of expressing to the kids, you know, that, hey, we weren't being critical about the way you're playing. We're not being critical of you as a person. But on the same account, to see their eyes, to see the disappointment, that hurts a long, long time."

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