New Arkansas coach Bret Bielema made an appearance on ESPN's "Mike and Mike" radio show at 6:45 this morning.
I wasn't awake for it. But thank goodness for DVRs.
Here's the Q&A from Bielema's time on the show, which included a handful of interesting nuggets:
• He reiterated that salaries for assistants was a big reason for the move. After replacing six at Wisconsin last year, he "couldn't go through that again and survive."
• Bielema mentioned he spoke with Tennessee about its opening on Sunday. The Vols have hired Cincinnati's Butch Jones this morning.
• Bielema said the facilities at Arkansas are "off the charts" and believes they will open doors in recruiting he didn't have at Wisconsin.
Below is the full Q&A from the "Mike and Mike" show:
Q: Why is Arkansas abetter job than Wisconsin?
A: “Well, I don’t know if I classify it as that. I think for the point and time in my career as a head football coach at the University of Wisconsin, we did a lot of great things. The gentleman you just had on, Coach Alvarez, has been one of the most influential men in my life. He’s been a great role model for me as a coach and a lot of the coaches that I’ve brought in there. It got to the point I had been there nine years, seven years as a head coach, my last three years were our best three years in the program. All three of them won a Big Ten championship. All three of them are going to BCS games. I just wanted an opportunity to try something that was a little bit off the beaten path from what I’ve done as a head coach. When the opportunity came to come to Arkansas, when Jeff gave me the opportunity, the support the SEC gets, the opportunities you can play on the big stage in so many games was just something I couldn’t turn down.”
Q: When that’s put in front of you, he left for a better conference, is that a better statement?
A: “I played in the Big Ten. Enjoyed every opportunity I had there as a player and assistant coach, a coordinator, a head coach. But I get what you’re saying. That’s one of the main reasons I came here. When we go to the playoff system in 2014, to know that you can be a one-loss team and you’re not even in the championship game in the SEC, that you very well might be in consideration of those four teams, that’s very intriguing. I’ve just never been able to have the resources that I’ve been given here at Arkansas to hire a group of assistant coaches. I’ve lost a lot of really good coaches at Wisconsin. And it was just getting very frustrating for us. There were some contractual things that I was frustrated with. The opportunity to come here and have them open the doors with open arms and the fanbase here is insanity. Bigger than I could ever imagine and it’s really just an exciting time.”
Q: Just to clarify, what do you mean by resources and contractual things?
A: “Just really assistant coaches salaries, since I’ve become a head coach seven years ago to where we are today is just insane. I remember when I was taking over as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin I made right under $200,000. That’s more than tripled. Sometimes four times as much now. And at Wisconsin we physically couldn’t go past the $300,000 mark and that probably had caused me to lose probably five to six of my last coaches. It was just at a point where, last year, I lost six coaches. It was an incredible season. Brought in great coaches, great support from the administration, we got ourselves back to the Big Ten championship game and won it, put up 70 on Nebraska. But I couldn’t go through that again and survive at the way that we had.”
Q: It’s always a tough transition. Take us through the process of talking to the players and then ultimately not coaching in the Rose Bowl.
A: “Well, two very difficult conversations on Tuesday. First, I had some conversations with Tennessee a little bit on Sunday, then Monday extensively. When I decided that this was something I wanted to do and I went to Coach Alvarez and kind of just sat down and told him where I was going, why I was doing it. I didn’t know how he was going to react. As we all know, a very proud man. Obviously he gave me an opportunity and Wisconsin gave me an opportunity, but I think he also kind of understood where I was coming from. We had a very frank conversation. Then the most difficult part by far was to walk in front of a room of young men that have given everything they could. Guys that I’ve recruited for a number of years. It was very, very difficult. Very emotional. I told the guys if they could walk out the front door and say good-bye to me. Or if they wanted to walk out the back door because they were made at me I totally understood. If they were mad at me it was because I made a difference in their lives. I was moving to a different opportunity. When they’re at that age, it’s a very tough time to understand the bigger picture. It wasn’t a money move by me. I got a minimal raise. It was for my assistants and an opportunity to coach in the SEC. Fortunately for me, I stood outside that front door and there wasn’t anybody coming out at first and I was a little scared. But then the whole room basically came through. I think there were a couple of guys, which I understand, didn’t. But very emotional. I said something about, in front of my team, about doing something at Arkansas that has never been done. They have never won an SEC title here. When I made reference to chasing a championship, that’s what I was talking about. Obviously, I know I’ve won three at the Big Ten. But I wanted to try to do it at the conference, at the level that everybody is talking about.”
Q: There are a lot of people saying this move speaks volumes about where the Big Ten isn’t. In your mind, what does this say about where the Big Ten right now?
A: “Well, like I said, I love Jim Delaney and I have so many great friends in the coaching profession. I love Fitz. Fitz is a good friend of mine. We had several texts back and forth as this began to unfold. It’s a great, great league and everything that goes into it. But on the flip side of it, the SEC, we’re building a new facility here at Arkansas that is off the charts. That is just going to open so many doors in recruiting. I’ve been blown away the last two nights talking to kids on the phone recruiting that are going to open some doors that I just didn’t see out there for us in other avenues. Now, I did coach for two years in the Big 12 at Kansas State. I know it’s not the SEC. And really enjoyed my time in playing at Texas, playing at Oklahoma State, having an opportunity to play Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game when they’re ranked No. 1 and knocking them off. It was a great stage. So I just wanted to try the SEC. That was the next conference I want to try and see where I was at as a head coach and see where we can take this program. And take the entire state of Arkansas to somewhere where they’ve never been.”