Bret Bielema’s seven-year tenure as the Wisconsin football team’s head coach came to a sudden, unexpected end Tuesday when he was hired by the Arkansas Razorbacks, throwing the UW program into a state of turmoil four weeks before the Badgers face Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
At a team meeting Tuesday evening at Camp Randall Stadium, Bielema told players directly he would not be coaching the team in Pasadena, Calif. Jan. 1, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting.
Yahoo! News first reported the hiring early Tuesday afternoon.
“He just expressed that it was the best opportunity for him,” redshirt junior center and team captain Travis Frederick told reporters outside the stadium after the team meeting. “I think everybody faces choices in life and you have to do what’s best for you. I think he’s done tremendous things for the program and I think he’s left us in a good spot.”
The meeting lasted around ten minutes. At 6:13 p.m., UW offensive coordinator Matt Canada left the complex. He declined to comment.
Over the next 45 minutes, players filtered out, mostly in groups. Some declined to comment, though Frederick and injured redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave briefly each briefly addressed reporters.
“It was emotional,” Stave said of the meeting. “It’s something that’s new for me, I haven’t really experienced this, but it’s something we’re just going to work through, I guess.”
Each said the team was informed today and that there was no prior warning. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said in a statement he was caught off guard as well.
“I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas,” the statement said. “He did a great job for us during his seven years as head coach, both on the field and off. I want to thank him for his work and wish him the best at Arkansas.”
With Bielema gone, it remained unclear Tuesday night who would assume head coaching duties as the Badgers prepare for the Rose Bowl. UW players were scheduled to have this week off of practice, with bowl practices beginning Saturday. The coaching decision will come from Alvarez. There has been speculation the former head coach, who compiled a 118-73-4 record in 16 seasons as the Wisconsin head coach between 1990 and 2005, could be a possibility himself.
“I have no idea what Coach Alvarez is going to do, I think he’s done tremendous in the past,” Frederick said.
When asked directly about the possibility of Alvarez coaching, Frederick responded: “Like I said, I don’t know exactly what’s going to go on, and that’s up to him.”
"Along with finding a new coach, my other main objective is to make sure that our student-athletes, specifically our seniors playing in their final game as Badgers, have a tremendous experience in the Rose Bowl,” Alvarez said in the statement. “We will do everything within our power to make that happen."
Bielema compiled a 68-24 record as the UW head coach. He spent the final two years of Alvarez’ coaching tenure as the team’s defensive coordinator. As the AD, Alvarez then hand-picked Bielema to run the program.