Bret Bielema’s “Panic Moves” Now Look Like Genius Decisions


Sep 22, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bret Bielema looks on during the third quarter against the UTEP Miners at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin defeated UTEP 37-26. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Bret Bielema was being fitted for a goat costume just a couple weeks ago and now he looks like a genius. He fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson two games in and people said he was over-reacting. He benched transfer QB Danny O’Brien in favor of redshirt freshman Joel Stave and people said he was in panic mode.

What are people saying now? Bret Bielema saved the program with his decisive action. That still doesn’t explain why he switches kickers in the middle of games. But far be it from me to question the thought process of someone like Bielema. He operates on a different level.

Sarcasm aside, you have to give Bielema props. He pulled the right strings. Whatever Markuson was doing, it was not working. Maybe if they’d left him in for awhile it would’ve worked, but Bielema didn’t think he deserved that chance. Had the Badgers’ offensive line not come around, the firing would’ve gone down as a major black mark on Bielema’s record. But we know what happened. It did come around and now it’s dominating again. And Bielema gets the credit.

Of course you can always go back a step and wonder, why the hell did they hire Markuson in the first place? But I think the answer to that is simple. Bielema likes strong assistants who can do their jobs without babysitting from the head coach. Markuson had a great reputation and on the surface seemed like a perfect person to step in for the semi-legendary Bob Bostad. Bart Miller might’ve been a better choice if you wanted to continue the Bostad tradition, but he didn’t have the experience and Bielema didn’t want to have to nurse him along.

Bielema was just wrong. He should’ve given the job to Miller to begin with even if it meant some growing pains for the young coach. So slam Bielema for making that mistake, but give him credit for being willing to own up and re-adjust on the fly. Again, this is much easier to do after the Illinois and Purdue victories. We didn’t feel quite the same way after the second half in Nebraska. But results are all that matter. Would the Badgers be 5-2 with Markuson coaching the line and Danny O’Brien playing QB? Probably not.

The O’Brien move was probably equally important in the grand scheme of things. There may have still been doubters going into the Nebraska game but after the debacle on fourth and short most were on-board. I say “most” because there were still a few of us at that point who thought O’Brien was the better choice. Yes I will raise my hand and admit that I thought O’Brien should go back to starting after the Nebraska game.

Well I’m an idiot because Joel Stave has only gotten better with each passing quarter and now he is clearly the best option among the three QBs. Of course he’s been helped by improved blocking, Montee Ball’s resurgence and Jared Abbrederis’ consistent downfield success. But O’Brien would’ve needed those things too. Again, you can’t argue with results. They’ve crushed two straight inferior Big 10 teams since the Nebraska heartbreak and should crush Minnesota this weekend. Stave has been a big part of those wins. In fact he is currently ranked second in the conference in efficiency behind only Denard Robinson. Would the mistake-prone O’Brien have done as well? Maybe. Maybe not.

Amid all this, Bielema has still managed to infuriate us with some of his in-game moves. I just don’t get the Curt Phillips sequence in the first half against Illinois. I don’t get kicker carousel. I don’t get some of the time outs. These incidents, and others we can name from the past, still create the impression that the game sometimes gets too big for Bielema. But when it comes to the big picture, Bielema seems to have a steady hand on the tiller.

The coach certainly isn’t afraid to do a 180 on a big mistake. Markuson and O’Brien were mistakes. They hurt the team early but they won’t have a chance to hurt the team late. The Badgers could be headed back to Pasadena in a year when they initially looked like they were falling apart at the seams. Holding your program together in the midst of chaos? That’s leadership. Bielema earned his leadership badge this year.

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