Could Bret Bielema Be The Right Man For Michigan?

By Ty Duffy

Michigan fired Brady Hoke. If reports are to be believed, Jim Harbaugh ranges from unlikely to a definite no. Michigan native Butch Jones is a no. Les Miles may not be interested and would be controversial within Michigan circles if he was chosen. Dan Mullen seems content to stay at Mississippi State and has “no interest in shoveling snow.”

Jim McElwain may be the man at Florida. There’s no indication Bob Stoops wants to leave Oklahoma. Everything seems to be coming up Schiano. Before pursuing that seeming inevitability, though, there’s one name Michigan should make a run at: Bret Bielema.

Bielema left a cozy Big Ten job at Wisconsin for Arkansas and the SEC. Would he return to college football’s grande dame conference two years (and two conference wins) later? It is Michigan, fergodsakes. To understand why Bielema might be receptive, it’s worth noting why he left Wisconsin two years ago.

The Badgers went 8-5 his last season in 2012, after losing six assistants from his 2011 staff, some to lateral moves. He had to dump his new offensive line coach after two games. Bielema was expected to be nationally competitive. He did not have the financial support or the recruiting base of other nationally competitive programs (and did not feel respected for the job he was doing under those constraints). It was upgrades in those respects, not an overwhelming personal raise that brought him to Arkansas.

What does Bielema not have at Arkansas? Wins. He inherited a mess. He has done everything that could be reasonably expected. His 2013 team got better. His 2014 team was legitimately good. That job has gotten him to 9-15 after two years, 2-14 in the SEC.

Arkansas may be trending upward. So are young teams in the division at LSU under Les Miles, Texas A&M under Kevin Sumlin, Auburn under Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze. That’s not to mention Alabama and Mississippi State. Bielema has a Top 20 recruiting class for 2015. That is the 10th ranked class in the SEC and the bottom ranked class in the West. That will fall to 11th in the conference, once the next Florida coach hits the trail. The Razorbacks may be going somewhere, but they are treading up a steep, uncertain hill.

Is Bielema motivated by competing against those top-tier coaching names? Or, is he disgruntled he’s not considered in the same breath despite the job he’s done and can’t compete on a level footing? It may be worth finding out.

Michigan can make Bret Bielema’s life much, much easier. The title route is more reasonable. Million-dollar coordinators and hefty position assistant salaries? Michigan will go there. Recruiting footprint? Michigan has a strong base in Ohio and the Mid-Atlantic and can get you a foot in the door anywhere. Difficult transition? Hoke left young, top-tier offensive line recruits and depth at running back next season, including two former five-stars.

Bielema’s personality does not scream “Michigan” (although people find him far less grating when he’s winning). But, that may be for the best. Michigan does not need to be less arrogant. It needs a coach who will embrace that arrogance and turn it into a positive. Not to mention one who will assemble a strong staff, get the most out of the available talent and win.

He would also be fitting. Bielema effectively ended Rodriguez’ tenure in 2010 by pounding Michigan into the turf. Hoke’s major flaw was failing to do that to Michigan State. Karma?

Bielema may not be a Michigan Man. But, he may be the right one.