Nov. 22, 2010
• Watch the press conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema met with the media at his Monday news conference. He spoke about the team's senior class, handling the Big Ten title talk, Northwestern and more. A complete transcript can be found below.
Bret Bielema: On Sunday, we recognized the guys that we felt played a big part in what we were able to do up there. One of the things that you look at right away was the rushing yardage Montee [Ball] and James [White] had, but we actually gave the MVP to all five offensive linemen, the two tight ends, Lance Kendricks and Jake Byrne, as well as our fullback, Bradie Ewing. Those guys really enabled us to do what we did in the second half and be able to close that game out the way we did.
Our offensive scout did a great job for us. Jeffrey Lewis popped in for us and simulated Denard Robinson last week and did a really nice job emulating him. Our defensive scout was Kyle Costigan, second time he’s won that. So guys are doing some good things, now we’re able to move forward.
One of the nice recognitions last week also, James White was the Big Ten Freshman Player of the Week. I believe that’s his fourth time. Guy has really continued to get better every game that he’s been out there, and then also today Lance Kendricks was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, which is something special for him and hopefully he can close this out and be able to win that award. I think it would be a great honor for a kid that’s really, you guys know, you interview him, he doesn’t say boo, but just works and grinds and does all the things that he does on a daily basis to get him where he’s at. So fun to watch that.
I was excited to find out that the game was going to be at 2:30 for the fans. Our fans have been incredible this entire year. It’s been a special year for us here in Camp Randall for them to witness and see some of the things that have happened out there. I know they all like the old 1:00 games, which nobody gets anymore, so they get the 2:30, I think made everybody that much more happier and a way to kind of close out this season.
Hopefully they can be there in full effect about 2:00 to see a group of seniors get recognized on senior day that really deserve a very special sendoff, because they’ve sacrificed a bunch, been through transition here, and have really been the leading voices and leading personalities, the leading voices when no one else was around to get this team to where it is. So it should be a special day for everybody involved.
With that, I’ll open it up for questions.
QUESTION #1: Speaking of that 2:30 start, Bret, you’ll know your fate kind of with the early games. How are you going to handle that whole situation?
BIELEMA: Well, you guys know I’ve never really been one to, you can’t ignore something that’s out there in today’s technology, today’s world. We’re not going to ask the scoreboard people to keep it off the board, so it just kind of comes as it is. I think the part that’s nice for us all going into this week is we’re already in a situation where if we just handle our business, take care of what we’re supposed to, whatever happens on Saturday outside of Camp Randall is in other people’s hands. We’ll just handle our own.
QUESTION #2: Bret, given where you guys are right now, what’s to prevent you from doing this every year, from challenging for a Big Ten title and being there in the top echelon of the BCS?
BIELEMA: That’s probably something that I think as I’ve gotten more experience in the position I’m in today you can certainly hope that you know what’s out there and what’s coming, but I think you have to really have great vision to be a program that consistently does what we’re asking our kids to do. You got to be able to recruit the talent, first off, that fits your program, and then be a steady believer in the things that make us successful.
We haven’t flinched an inch from the first day I took over to where we are today, philosophy-wise, offense, defense, special teams, kind of gone through some transition. But the other thing is, I really do believe it’s easy to maybe put together a year, or a year or two, but to sustain success is very, very difficult.; if you just look at the rest of the world. There’s a very important endeavor right now for our football program and our entire athletic department with facilities, where we’re at, and that’s not a small thing. That’s a very important thing for our program to maintain and have success in the future to recruit and develop the kids we need to.
QUESTION #3: Bret, the last time that this program won a Big Ten conference title, you were here on the other sideline that day in ’99. I’m just curious what you remember from that day.
BIELEMA: I didn’t prepare for that question. I hadn’t really thought of that one. I do remember, and I think I’ve said this before, is when we were on the sidelines, and to hear the “Ron Dayne” and to see the energy and the crowd and the excitement, I remember going into a staff meeting the following morning with [Iowa head coach] Kirk [Ferentz], and Kirk basically saying if we can get to the level of what we saw yesterday in Wisconsin, basically good things are going to happen.
I do remember that vividly. I remember the way that Wisconsin played and basically imposing their will on us. I was a defensive coach, and that’s exactly what happened. I think the last two weeks I’ve been able to see that on the field, but also on film when I watch on Sunday, to realize what was happening and the way our players are playing, but also the reaction of our opponent is a very gratifying experience.
QUESTION #4: Are you surprised this game wasn’t a sellout as of recently? I don’t know if that’s changed. And what do you expect from the student section, given a lot of them could be gone on break or gone home?
BIELEMA: An interesting dynamic. This is unchartered waters to play after Thanksgiving. So my guess is that people are going to be able to get home; we actually go through classes all the way through Wednesday, so there’s going to be a number of students that probably don’t go home. Those that do might find their way back, especially with a 2:30 kickoff. I thought that was a blessing in disguise. I know our seniors put together a little letter and a video that’s going to go out to the students as well. I put together a little video that was very entertaining, for those that saw it, last week.
This place, because of what we’ve been able to accomplish, is in large part due to what’s been going on out in the stands, in the environment, and the energy that our crowd brings, so hopefully it’s going to be at full scale.
QUESTION #5: You talked about ’99, but the last time this program was in the position to do this, you were the defensive coordinator, where you had two games at the end, if you’d have won either, would have won the Big Ten title. What did you learn or observe from going through that experience, especially with the kids and how they handled it, that will maybe benefit you this time?
BIELEMA: I remember that year, and maybe I’m getting senile, but I don’t remember the specifics of it. I mean, that was my first year. It was kind of a whirlwind. I don’t remember really talking about it. I remember talking about BCS games and stuff like that, and it was conversations I had never really been in before just because of where I had come from and that opportunity hadn’t presented itself. I know how deflated we were after the Michigan State loss and to be able to come back home. I think something had to happen that last weekend, though, if I’m not mistaken, for us to do it, and obviously we didn’t close out Iowa the way we needed to.
I think that’s why I really believe in what we’ve done now is about just maintaining each week’s focus. There hasn’t ever been a talk about a jump to the championship or anything like that. It’s been about, okay, we got through this four-week segment. We went through the four-week segment of our non-conference games. We went to a bye week. Then I laid out a calendar of four weeks of preparation, and that’s all they did, and our kids do not vary from that path.
QUESTION #6: Bret, I think the general rule is that teams that put themselves in a position to win a title, for the most part, enjoy good health. I mean, you guys, I think only three guys on offense have started every game this year. I think that’s kind of rare. And I know you’ve always talked about the next man in mentality, but it’s, I think that’s easier said than done. Just curious if you can expand upon your level of satisfaction with the way guys have stepped in, whether it’s tight end, tailback, wherever, to help.
BIELEMA: I think I said last week, if not in the press during some point during the course of the week, two things I was very proud of was the turnover ratio and the [lack of] penalties. But that factor right there of the mentality, because you never know what’s going to happen when someone has to step into that role. We talk about it, we provide examples. I remember one day during fall camp, some people got nicked up during fall camp, and I, when we were in the latter stages of camp, I remember writing down like 10 or 11 names of guys that were starters for us.
After practice, the kids were dead tired and they’re looking around, and I remember I turned to Josh Oglesby, I go, “When did you get your first start?” And he named it off, because every kid knows when their first start is. Why did it come about? Boom. And I went to John Moffitt, I went to Gabe Carimi, I went to Lance Kendricks, who got subbed in for Travis Beckum. I went to Aaron Henry who subbed in for Allen Langford. I went to Culmer St. Jean who subbed in for Jaevery McFadden. These were our best players, and all of them had gotten their first shot because of an injury during a game, and I really stressed that during fall camp.
The thing that I think our players really believe in is that’s part of football. Coach [Barry] Alvarez addressed it when he came in during fall camp. He talked about [Jim] Sorgi, [Matt Schabert] comes in and does a great job. It’s just our kids expect it, so it’s not a reaction. I think from the outside world there’s great reaction, but I’ll pimp Andy [Baggot]. I remember reading his article, and he was off the bandwagon because of Chris [Borland] wasn’t going to be there. Our kids didn’t miss a beat. It was a challenge to those other guys. Hey, this happened. How are we going to react? That’s how we handle it internally, but I think to the outside world it’s a big deal. It’s very impressive.
QUESTION #7: Bret, every coach has his moments of sentimentality. Given the senior class that you have here, it’s your first group going out in a way that it’s going out, how difficult will it be for you to manage your emotions come Saturday?
BIELEMA: It’s something I know, it’s going to be a day that no one can prepare for it. These seniors have, I try to always say I try to prepare you for everything I can, but you can’t prepare for senior day. You only live it once. So it’s going to be unique. I always give Ben Strickland a hard time because I’ve pimped him up before his senior year. I thought he’d be the worst crier out there, but Joe Thomas, somebody else beat him out that year.
I think this year, I’m going to stand at the front of the line, and I’m going to shake their hand as they’re walking out of the stadium, as they go to their introduction. Every one of those kids has got a story. I mean, there are personal stories, there are football stories, there are academic stories, there are off the field stories, there are recruiting stories. Every one of them you could write a pretty neat chapter on to make a great book. But hopefully, kind of like you mentioned earlier, my goal is to sustain this and to be able to do it longevity-wise, and I can’t ask for a better group to start the core foundation with.
QUESTION #8: Bret, 15, 16 months ago, Scott Tolzien was a longshot to ever even take a snap at quarterback here. Now he’s, what, 20-4 or something and completing almost 75% of his passes. Can you talk about how that happened over the last two seasons?
BIELEMA: First off, we got an incredible kid here when he came here. I really think that the way his parents raised him put him in a position to have the success he’s in now. All we were able to do is expand upon that. I go back to, you know, when there was a quarterback duel, everybody kept talking about Curt [Phillips] and Dustin [Sherer] and no one really talked about Scotty except for us. And he just survived camp and did a great job.
Just to see him amass this body of work, and he was one guy that I thought last year was a pretty special year, but he knew that there were things that he needed to improve upon, and still to this day. I might personally take him through slide drills here on Tuesday, just to ensure he’s with us the next two ball games. But he is a tremendous competitor.
If there’s one word to probably sum up Scotty, it’s an easy way to say it, but he has an uncanny way of just being a winner in everything he does. Everybody saw the Jaxson [Hinkens] piece, so that didn’t have anything to do with trying to gain attention or anything. He did it because he wanted to be a winner with Jaxson. He wanted to be a winner on the football field. He’s already taken care of the academic world. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get where he took a minute to stop and talk to somebody or he went and visited somebody or he wrote somebody a note. He’s priceless in that regards.
QUESTION #9: Bret, kind of off topic, regarding the game this week against Northwestern, they’re a little banged up at quarterback. Their run defense is struggling. But I’m just curious what you think the obstacles will be against them. I mean, it’s a team that’s got some kids that know, they know they can beat you.
BIELEMA: They do. They have, and they can. The part that we have to control is how we handle our business. I think last year’s game, the tale of two halves really is something we can emphasize this year. At quarterback, popped a couple guys in there, both did a little bit different things. So I think for us, just with one game with that look, it’s a difficult defensive preparation, but our defensive coaches will lock in on that. One thing that’s really shown up with our defensive side of the ball this year is they can handle some in-game adjustments and play very, very well.
As far as our offense going against their defense, they’re going to have some variations, some wrinkles, but last year they showed that they could line up and play toe to toe with us. They’re very physical, very smart. Obviously [Northwestern defensive coordinator] Mike [Hankwitz] knows a lot about our offensive system, going against it for two years. So that’s the challenge that I think our kids are embracing more than anything. And I understand everybody’s going to ask the questions, and you were the first question about Northwestern. I know where the media attention is, but our focus in our house, in our room, is about Northwestern and the details of winning that game.
QUESTION #10: Could you talk specifically about the senior leadership and the fifth year guys. It seems like they kind of learned from last year’s group maybe and have taken it even further and built on that.
BIELEMA: Yeah. I think two guys last year in particular, O’Brien Schofield and Chris Maragos really took a lot of pride in teaching this year’s group of seniors what they thought. They even met with them. OB would, he’d come back in the spring, and Chris when he came back in the spring and wanted to meet with the seniors to pass along and make sure that they were keeping in check some of those things that he felt to be very important, and you can see that carrying forward to today.
As far as this group that we have right now, it’s a hodge-podge group from all over the country. When this fifth-year class was getting recruited, really myself, Paul Chryst, and [Henry] Mason were the only guys recruiting them. It was an insane three or four weeks because of the NCAA rule that you could only, as a head coach, see somebody one time a year. I purposely delayed being named the head coach or changing my title until after the signing date for a reason so I could stay out and recruit these guys. It’s a group that’s pretty cool to see them come full circle.
A guy like Niles Brinkley, who is going to graduate in December, who came as a wide receiver, torn ACL, and didn’t exactly jump at the idea of becoming a cornerback, and to see him have the success he’s having right now. I don’t know if we’d be where we are if he hadn’t played as well as he had this year. Culmer St. Jean, the transition he took to get to where he is today, and then a number of the fourth-year guys, David Gilreath, Blake Sorensen, Kyle Jefferson, the stories they’ve gone through.
The real key to our foundation of success has been the production of our three senior offensive linemen, Bill Nagy, John Moffitt, Gabe Carimi, all three from different states, all three from different backgrounds, all three different personalities. But coming here commonly together, believing in what makes us good, and that’s pretty cool.
Lance Kendricks, he is probably the definition of a Wisconsin, go to work, go to work, go to work, don’t say anything, just reap the rewards for what you do, and it’s been fun; really, really a lot of fun.
QUESTION #11: Speaking of [Lance] Kendricks, you know, you kind of get in that reputation of ‘tight end U’, do you think it’s time that a tight end gets the Mackey Award winner?
BIELEMA: I would love to. One of the things that I learned early in my coaching career, one of the first players that was up for a national award was, Joe Thomas was up for the Outland Trophy. At the time Justin [Doherty] was the guy, and I said ‘Give me the voting list of all the people that vote for the Outland Trophy,’ and I just started calling people. I was in my car, driving around recruiting, called like 25 people, and they were all taken aback that I would call and lobby for my guy. I’m like, ‘Well, hey, he’s done everything for me for this year and beyond, I’ll do anything for him.’ So I’ve gotten on the phone over the last week and tried to reach out to so many people.
The thing, Lance Kendricks, all the stuff he’s done on the football field, second to none, he takes pride in, there are four special teams units. He wanted to be on all four. I’d only let him be on two. He picked kickoff and kickoff return. So that kind of speaks to what he’s all about. Lance has one brother who is a police officer, I believe, in San Diego. The other one is a mechanical engineer for Harley-Davidson. Mom and dad are incredible people from Milwaukee who raised this kid to go to church and say the right things and do the right things.
In today’s day and age, with these national awards, it’s one thing, it’s his body of work usually their senior year, or the year that they win the award that they’re going to get this basically get the recognition. But what’s this person going to be like two years, a year from now, two years from now, three years from now? I think it came to light with the Reggie Bush thing, and now there’s all this other discussion. I can guarantee this, J.J. Watt’s up for awards, Lance Kendricks is up for awards, Scott Tolzien is up for awards, John Clay, [up for the Doak Walker Award] because of his injury has been affected. But those kids, if they win those awards, there will never be a day of embarrassment for that trophy because they represent some pretty good qualities in people.
QUESTION #12: How does the holiday week affect the preparations that you laid out through the week? And Thanksgiving is usually a time when most of the guys go home and they’re with their families, so what do you do on Thanksgiving?
BIELEMA: We addressed that big time on Sunday, because you don’t want to ignore something that’s real. It’s the first time anybody in my room, other than J.J. Watt, J.J. played at Central Michigan his first year and had a game on Thanksgiving. But otherwise, everybody else, this is unchartered waters. So Monday through Wednesday should be pretty status quo. We got classes and all that go into it. Thursday, because they cancelled classes Thursday and Friday, we’re able to move our practice up a little bit earlier.
Just to kind of give them a little twist, we’re actually going to take them to Samba’s on Thursday, that all you can eat place that they’ll all love. Basically I said to the kids an hour, hour and a half away from home, feel free to go home, enjoy some time, but we got a big game on Saturday. So bring them back in, normal Friday schedule, we’ll lock them up in a hotel Friday night. I understand where people are going to be coming from, and we’re going to have to talk to them, make sure they don’t eat too much probably, and do certain things. But on the same account, I think these guys now, going into week 12, probably know and understand what’s expected to win on Saturday than ever before.
I’m happy it’s this last game rather than the second or third game.
QUESTION #13: Regarding the tailbacks and John [Clay], are you going to have to look and see how he looks in practice this week to make a decision or where does he stand?
BIELEMA: Yeah. I thought I might get the question. On the depth chart I switched around and put Montee [Ball] and James [White] first and John [Clay] third, just because John really hasn’t done much the last two, no fault of John’s. I think he’s pushed himself as hard as he can, but for us to move into this week and be kind of in a constant flow of what we’re doing, just planning on James and Montee. I went through the training room this morning about 10:00, [John] was braced up and ready to go run, and he was telling me how good it felt on Sunday. So my guess is we’ll probably get him involved a little bit on Tuesday and Wednesday, see where he’s at, move him forward, because if he’s available, we’d definitely like to use all three.
QUESTION #14: Big Ten titles don’t come around too often here. And as you mentioned, that’s the one part of it you can control is a piece of the Big Ten title. Can you just talk about the significance of that?
BIELEMA: Well, probably rather talk about it after the game. I mean, it’s great to be in this position and we’ve worked very hard to get to where we are, but none of that really matters until we get through Saturday.