Aug. 6, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- One by one, the assistant coaches trickled out of the Wisconsin football offices in Camp Randall Stadium, most of them beating the noon deadline imposed Friday by head coach Bret Bielema.
With Sunday’s reporting date and Monday’s opening of training camp, Bielema wanted to make sure his assistants got some quality time with family and friends before the grind begins anew.
So he sent everybody home.
This was the equivalent of taking a deep breath; a 48-hour hall pass; the calm before the storm.
Bielema took advantage of the furlough from football in his own way. Friday night, he cooked dinner for his mom and dad, Marilyn and Arnie, who made the 100-mile drive from Prophetstown, Ill.
His parents, who celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary in June, spent the weekend in Madison with Bret and Jen, his bride of 21 weeks and counting.
Who’s counting? Bret. But he’s only spoofing -- playing to the crowd -- maybe to break the monotony of getting asked repeatedly about his decision to abandon bachelorhood.
At the Big Ten media days in Chicago, he responded to a question on how marriage is affecting things with a countdown: “(It’s) nineteen weeks and five days that we’ve been into this relationship.’’
He then deadpanned, “It’s because I get reminded on a daily basis, not that I knew that stat.’’
Later, he said, “Hopefully it’s going to make me a smarter and wiser and more mature coach.’’
He was talking about his marriage, not his cooking, which is also a settling influence in his life.
“It does relax me, I’ve always enjoyed it,’’ he said. “I always used to help my mom in the kitchen with the cooking and I had a sister who baked and that kind of intrigued me a little bit.
“I’ve never taken a cooking class; I’ve never read a book on cooking. It’s the kind of thing where I’ve either seen something (prepared) in a restaurant or it just comes together in my mind.’’
Bielema can be quite creative with his menu, although he started Friday’s dinner with a standard lettuce wedge; blue cheese dressing and French drizzle, and some black olives.
The sides included sautéed spinach with red onion and a little bit of garlic and olive oil; and stir fry (a Bielema staple) with brown rice and peas. Marinated steak filets were the main course.
“I do like experimenting, which I’ll usually do when it’s just Jen and I,’’ he said. “I also love to turn some music on; relax and let everyone enjoy the meal as I cook and prepare.’’
On this night, Marilyn and Arnie dined with Frank Sinatra while Jen listened to Michael Buble.
Part of the routine -- the final weekend before the start of the preseason training camp routine -- is for Bret to play a round of golf with his dad on Saturday morning.
Rounding out the foursome are usually Keith May, a director in the athletic development office; and Rev. Michael Burke, the pastor who married Bret and Jen at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish.
“Father Mike got a hole-in-one when we played two years ago,’’ Bielema said, “and he claims that the last two Big Ten championships were because of it.’’
No Wisconsin team has ever won three consecutive league titles, which is part of the challenge awaiting Bielema and the 2012 Badgers, who are the favorites in the Leaders Division.
Make that consensus favorites since neither Ohio State, nor Penn State, is eligible for postseason competition, including the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
Being cast in the favorite’s role is not a burden to Bielema. “It is what it is,’’ he said. “It’s a sign of respect. It’s something that I know helps in recruiting and helps your program in other areas.’’
Despite the elevated national profile, Bielema can’t help but think about how much higher it could have been had victory not slipped through Wisconsin’s grasp against TCU and Oregon in back-to-back Rose Bowls.
“If you didn’t care who won, if you didn’t have a favorite, they were both great games to watch,’’ he said. “On the flip side, in that caliber of a BCS game, you’re playing a great team in all phases.
“You have to be prepared … on offense, defense and special teams.
“You also have to have the ball bounce your way a little bit.’’
One play, in particular, from last year’s Rose Bowl underlines that point.
Trailing 45-38, the Badgers were driving when a normally sure-handed wide receiver, Jared Abbrederis, caught a pass from quarterback Russell Wilson and fumbled on the Oregon 27.
“And the ball doesn’t move an inch,’’ Bielema lamented. “It just dies on the grass.’’
Had the football rolled out of bounds, the Badgers would have maintained possession. But they didn’t get the favorable (or any) bounce, and Oregon linebacker Michael Clay recovered the fumble.
“As a coach,’’ Bielema said, “you take every win or loss, and you try to improve.’’
Some hurt more than others; some are harder to delete from your memory.
“People always say you learn a lot more from losses than you do from wins,’’ Bielema said. “But my memory of wins is so minimal compared to my memory of losses.
“In those losses, you swear that you can count off every second in your mind.’’
Bielema’s memory bank even has a deposit from his playing days at Prophetstown High School.
“As a senior, I remember being in the locker room after our last game of the season,’’ said Bielema, who was then getting most of his snaps on offense at tight end.
“We lost a playoff game to St. Bede Academy. We had a pretty good team and I thought we could have gone further. But we met up with a really good team.’’
Sometimes that happens; the other guy is just little bit better in one phase or another. Over the last three seasons, TCU is 36-3, Oregon is 34-6 and Wisconsin is 32-8.
So is the frustration in losing partly linked to not fulfilling expectations?
“That, and they just hurt so bad,’’ Bielema said. “Obviously, we’ve won a lot of games here (UW is 60-19 over the last six seasons), but I don’t think I could be a football coach who’s 2-9 very often.
“That’s some tough stuff to live through.’’
Bielema can still remember losing to Michigan in 1992; Iowa’s only loss of the season.
“I remember we had a lead and lost and we were 10-1 going into the bowl,’’ he said. “If we would have gone undefeated, you never knew in those days about playing for a national championship.
“There’s quite a few (losses) that stick in my mind. When I was at Iowa, there was one where we had a last-second fluke play go against us in an Ohio State game.
“We’re on defense and the ball should have been knocked down but it bounces up in the air and their receiver catches it in full-stride and runs into the end zone. Things like that you don’t forget.’’
Like the heartbreaking last-second losses to Ohio State and Michigan State this past season.
“You’ve got to roll with it,’’ he stressed. “The part that I never minimize is this: As hard as I take these losses as a head coach, and as hard as our players take it, our fans take the losses as hard, as well.
“They live and die on every breath and grasp of those games.’’
Suggesting experience is always the best teacher, Bielema attributed much of his coaching maturity to “some of the things that I’ve had to go through the last five years professionally.’’
That would be true on and off the field. Clearly, the staff turnover has been noteworthy. This spring, Bielema had to break in six new assistant coaches, including an offensive coordinator.
“I’ve gotten a good base with them during spring ball and all the time we’ve spent in meetings,’’ Bielema said. “But nothing will prepare us as much as a game day will on Sept. 1.
“We just had a wives appreciation dinner and we had all the assistants and their wives together -- about 30 people around the table -- and the energy and the buzz were there, and that’s fun to see.
“Just because of all the new faces, it has kind of brought a different element. I brought these guys in and I want to see them produce and have success with their respective position groups.
“I probably have a higher excitement level than ever before (for the start of a season).’’
What was Bielema’s message to the players when they convened on Sunday?
“It’s a grind,’’ he said of training camp. “You just can’t show up and play good football on Saturdays. You have to prepare yourself to play well in practices and that isn’t an easy thing.’’
Especially in August. “Hopefully it will be 100 degrees a couple of days to make it tougher,’’ said Bielema, adding that he wants his players “to appreciate it (camp) and respect the game.’’
A common practice at this level. Interestingly, one of the books that Bielema read this summer was “Uncommon: Finding your Path to Significance’’ authored by Tony Dungy, the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and now a color analyst on NBC.
The book title relates to a quote from Cal Stoll, who coached Dungy at the University of Minnesota. “Success is uncommon,’’ Stoll said. “Therefore, not to be enjoyed by the common man.
“I’m looking for uncommon people.’’
When Dungy was a 17-year-old freshman, he said that Stoll gathered the class together and preached that those who succeeded -- and not all would -- “are going to do it with uncommon effort.’’
Dungy elaborated, “They’re going to do it with uncommon drive. And you can’t be average. You can’t desire to be average, to go with the crowd. Those people are going to fall by the wayside.’’
Greatness doesn’t just happen and talent is not the only measuring stick. “You can be faster, bigger, stronger and throw farther but that’s only going to be one percent of the world,’’ Dungy said.
Expanding on the central theme, Dungy concluded, “Most people have to be uncommon by having the desire to do things that everybody else could, but doesn’t.’’
That really falls into line with the developmental aspect of the UW program.
“Four weeks from now,’’ Bielema said of his wish list for camp, “I want our good players to have survived. You have to have a little bit of luck in the injury category and everything that goes into it.
“I also want to know at the end of four weeks who that core group is -- the 70 players that we’ll take on the road -- that will help us win games on the road as well as at home.
“We’ve probably got 50 (identified). It’s those other 20 that we have to find. Whether they’re freshmen, whether they’re guys who have been in reserve roles in the past, we’ve got to find them.’’