Why the ship has sailed on Bret Bielema becoming a Power 5 coach again
You know the feeling.
You’re hungry, but you don’t know what you’re going to have for dinner, so you weigh the available options in your kitchen.
There are some random boxes of pasta that you could probably pair with a half-empty jar of marinara sauce. There are a couple things in the freezer that have been taking up space for 6 months. There are those cans of tuna in the pantry that you’ve been saving for the next natural disaster/apocalypse. And of course, there’s the 4-day-old leftover meatloaf that’s sitting in the tupperware buried deep in the fridge.
But none of that sounds good. After all, you’re hungry. None of those things will satisfy your hunger or get you excited about eating dinner. Instead of settling for one of those choices, you elect for takeout. Sure, it costs more, but it’s much more appealing than any of those uninspiring options.
That’s essentially how Michigan State and Colorado treated the idea of hiring Bret Bielema.
Bielema was the tuna — the thing that didn’t excite Michigan State administration, which was why they ultimately did the less-financially responsible thing by going out to eat/overpaying for Mel Tucker. And as for why he didn’t get the Colorado job, well, it’s the same reason. That’s why Colorado went with out-of-the-box hire of Miami Dolphins receivers coach Karl Dorrell.
Let me repeat that. Colorado hired the Dolphins receivers coach instead of Bielema. That’s someone who spent 1 of the last 12 seasons in college football, though, granted, Dorrell was CU’s offensive coordinator from 1995-98.
Bielema, as a 50-year-old coach who is now an outside linebackers coach with the New York Giants, is still young enough where his name is going to continue to circle for Power 5 openings. He’ll always be in the pantry or buried in the back of the fridge. But the fact that he couldn’t land a job from what appeared to be a couple of desperate programs says a lot. In fact, it showed why Bielema’s days as a Power 5 head coach appear to be over.
If there were ever an ideal time for Bielema to compete for a job against a watered-down field, it was with Michigan State and Colorado. Nobody wants to hire a head coach in February. Still, Bielema couldn’t impress a pair of programs that were publicly rejected by several of their top targets.
For what it’s worth, I have no ill-will against Bielema. In my mind, he’s worthy of a Power 5 gig again. I think that Arkansas job is tougher than the average college football fan realizes, and I don’t think what he did at Wisconsin by going 68-24 was any accident. If college football had a bunch personalities like Bielema, it would make my job easier and it would make your life more entertaining.
Here’s the issue, though.
The 2 places where Bielema has experience as a Power 5 head coach are in the Big Ten and SEC, AKA the conferences who are vastly superior in terms of annual revenue distribution figures. That’s how a desperate MSU program that forked over $4.3 million for Mark Dantonio’s retention bonus a month ago was still able to make Tucker an offer for more than double what he earned at Colorado.
In the SEC, programs like Mizzou and Mississippi State both also whiffed on their initial targets. They still went out and paid their new head coaches $4 million and $5 million, respectively. Never mind the fact that both still had their own financial issues via buyouts and NCAA sanctions.
The new standard is that a Power 5 coach in one of those conferences will make at least $4 million per season. That number will continue to grow as those revenue distributions climb. In other words, could you see a world in which one of those Big Ten or SEC teams coughed up north of $4 million for Bielema? I couldn’t. At least not anymore.
Once upon a time, the idea of Nebraska going after Bielema if it whiffed on Scott Frost was reasonable. Because of the limited in-state talent pool and the experience in the Big Ten West, there was a case to be made that Bielema would have been a pretty solid backup option despite how poorly things went for him down the stretch at Arkansas. Nebraska, however, didn’t whiff on Frost.
Bielema should have had a legitimate shot at a non-Big Ten/SEC job after the 2018 season when Bill Snyder retired at Kansas State. But the former Kansas State defensive coordinator ultimately watched that job go to North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman.
The Kansas job would have also made a ton of sense for Bielema considering Jeff Long, AKA the athletic director who hired him at Arkansas, took over the same role in Lawrence. But when Long made a hire in Nov. 2018, he went with Les Miles instead of reuniting with Bielema.
Granted, I once wrote that I thought Miles’ coaching days were over. I thought he was content to continue his acting career and fade off into the sunset after an impressive career. It took him a couple years of getting turned down for better jobs, but he wanted to scratch that itch 1 more time.
Bielema, by all accounts, still wants to scratch that itch. Reports surfaced that there was mutual interest between him and Michigan State. The Detroit News reported that Michigan State officials reached out to Bielema. Somewhere between that conversation and the Spartans’ desire to circle back and make an offer that Tucker couldn’t refuse was a reality that Bielema wasn’t the guy.
As for Colorado, remember what we found out a few days after reports surfaced that Bielema interviewed for the job? Yeah, this was “cans of tuna treatment” if I’ve ever seen it:
With Steve Sarkisian and Eric Bienemy out, #Colorado‘s search is resetting a bit, according to sources. Bret Bielema, Troy Calhoun and Darrin Chiaverini all have interviewed for the job, but other candidates also being considered.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) February 21, 2020
So why is Bielema struggling to break out of the “cans of tuna” treatment? And why will he never be the top target for a Power 5 job again?
When he was fired at Arkansas, Bielema’s beat-you-in-the-trenches style was believed to be outdated. Perhaps that’s been at the root of why he hasn’t landed a Power 5 job that he was linked to. Fair or not, the stench of an outdated style lingers in the coaching business. The same thing happened with Miles until he ultimately landed what many consider to be the worst Power 5 job in America.
I’m not sure Bielema can do anything to make a Power 5 team dig into the pantry for those cans of tuna. In all likelihood, they’ll always be there.
Maybe an apocalypse is what Bielema needs.