Tag:Donna Shalala
Posted on: November 23, 2008 11:19 am
Edited on: November 23, 2008 1:03 pm

Wisconsin football program in critical condition

Bret Bielema already has a few strikes against him.

You see, it's difficult to replace a legend. Not only that, but Barry Alvarez left the Wisconsin football program in pretty damn good condition.

In 2006, the program was handed to Bielema, whose primary responsibility was to firmly grasp the rudder and steer the ship in the same direction Alvarez had in the previous 16 seasons. The ship has drifted off course since.

How long do we give Bielema before considering a change?

It was Pat Richter and Donna Shalala who played a primary role in hiring Alvarez, but it was the coach who followed through on virtually every goal he laid out in his initial press conference.  Alvarez is now in Richter's position and the weight of the decision to select Bielema as his replacement is clearly on Alvarez' shoulders.

As Wisconsin fans begin to call for Bielema's firing, the pressure shifts to Alvarez to make an educated and swift decision. Alvarez has already given the Wisconsin coach his important vote of confidence.  What will it take for Alvarez to change his tune?

In order to discuss the recent struggles facing the Wisconsin football program under Bielema, it's important and necessary to point out Alvarez' accomplishments.

Alvarez inherited a program that was in complete disarray. Wisconsin was one of the worst teams in the Big Ten for decades. One may look at his tenure and suggest that Alvarez' record (118-73-4) isn't too impressive, but he truly changed the perception that Wisconsin would always be a lower-tiered Big Ten program.

Wisconsin won one Big Ten title outright and finished tied for first in two other seasons during Alvarez' tenure. Under Alvarez, Wisconsin was 8-3 in Bowl games, including a 3-0 record in the Rose Bowl.

Alvarez was able to successfully recruit Wisconsin high school football players. Prior to 1990, these players were signing with schools elsewhere, including Big Ten rivals. It was difficult to land these talented home-grown players, but Alvarez changed the mentality that Wisconsin wasn't a cool place to play football.

Once he was able to lock in local players, others from around the nation began to seriously consider Wisconsin as a viable place to play football. Alvarez began recruiting Parade All-Americans. 

There was a plan and Alvarez never wavered from it.

He would spend one recruiting class building up the front lines. He spent the next accumulating skill-position players. Alvarez knew that in order to build a dominating team, he needed to build up the trenches. It was his philosophy that the offensive and defensive linemen needed one year to educate themselves on his system. It was essential to acquire game experience along the way.

There were several points in Alvarez' tenure in which Wisconsin would run the football and there was nothing opposing teams could do to stop it. Alvarez tipped his hand. He said I'm going to stuff the ball down your throat and there's nothing you can do about it. It was bold, it was egotistical and, most importantly, it was highly effective.

As a fan, there was nothing better than watching a ground attack that could not be stopped.

During the Bielema administration, Wisconsin fans have watched the talent pool slowly fade away. The offensive and defensive lines are no longer dominating the trenches as they once had. The big offensive line is not opening up holes in that zone-blocking scheme. The defensive line allowed nearly 300 yards rushing to Cal Poly.

The quarterback position is an embarrassment. It was never all that pivotal in Alvarez' scheme because the running game was so strong. But without a sustained ground attack, Bielema has placed a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks, who are clearly not equipped or skilled enough to make the types of decisions that can consistently sustain drives.

The running backs don't seem to possess that innate ability to find the holes in the zone-blocking scheme. Wisconsin fans were spoiled with Brent Moss, Ron Dayne, Michael Bennett and others, who had the ability to find the holes and run to daylight.

If Bielema makes it past this offseason, his margin for error will be minimal. Undoubtedly, Bielema needs to show that he can maintain the high level of recruitment that Alvarez established. Bielema needs to show that his team can move the football against teams Wisconsin has traditionally dominated. He needs to get this team back to a January bowl game.

Should Bielema's failures continue, it'll be up to Alvarez to make a swift decision. It was Alvarez' decision to hand the ship to Bielema and the ship is off course and needs to be righted, quickly.

Not doing so could reflect poorly on Alvarez as well.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com