Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema
(AP/Al Goldis)
COLUMBUS — Wisconsin head football coach Bret Bielema and Ohio State interim boss Luke Fickell have traveled some very similar paths in their lifetimes.

Each played nose guard in the Big Ten — Bielema at Iowa (1989-92), Fickell at Ohio State (1992-96). Each were defensive coordinators at their respective schools before replacing some highly successful head coaches in Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin) and Jim Tressel (Ohio State). Each are known as tough, no-nonsense type of guys whose confidence is so strong it can sometimes be construed as arrogance.

"I knew (Fickell) as a player," Bielema said. "Everybody wants to draw comparisons. He was a nose guard. I was a nose guard. He was really good. I was kind of not as good. You can see the toughness, the tenacity, the attitude."

Bielema certainly knows about success ... instant success.

In his first season as the Badgers head coach in 2006, Bielema led his team to a 12-1 regular season record, including a 17-14 victory over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl. He won the Big Ten's coach of the year award that season and did it after taking over for the greatest coach in the program's history in Alvarez.

Fickell, on the other hand, hasn't found such early glory.

Since taking over for Tressel — who won 106 of his 128 games in Columbus (officially 94 wins due to forfeit), including a national championship in 2002 — Fickell has guided the team to an unimpressive 4-3 record through his first seven games as head coach, and may be in danger of losing his job after just one season.

However, as Bielema pointed out, about the only similarity between he and Fickell's first season as head coach is that each of them replaced a school legend. That's where the comparisons end.

"You've got a new coach who's taking over for a guy that was very successful (in Tressel)," Bielema said. "But the realities of our two situations are so completely different, I don't even know if it's fair to justify.

"Luke got thrown into something, and has seemingly handled it very, very well. I've been impressed when I've watched him, when I talk to him, but it's really two different situations."

Bielema did say that he's been encouraged with the way Fickell has handled himself and hopes he gets his chance to continue growing in Columbus.

"You can tell that he's an ultimate competitor," Bielema said of Fickell. "I thought it was very interesting early on how confident he was in what he was saying, which to me, that's great. I love confidence. I've never met a successful man who's not confident.

"So I think that's really a key factor, and hopefully, he'll have a chance to continue to shine."

Just not this week, we can assume. Bielema's Badgers and Fickell's Buckeyes will do battle Saturday night (8 p.m.) at Ohio Stadium.

BIELEMA BELIEVES THE BUCKEYES HAVE IMPROVED ... Although they may be 4-3 (1-2 Big Ten) and were only able to complete one pass in their last game — a 17-7 win at Illinois — Bielema sees improvement out of the Buckeyes as the season has progressed.

"They look more and more like the traditional Ohio State as they get further into the season, really settled in," Bielema said. "Their defense is playing extremely well, playing with that attitude, that swagger. Their kicking game has continued to get stronger.

"So, unfortunately, yes ... I think Ohio State's getting better and better."

The Badgers coach also admitted that he wished he had a little more game film on true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller.

"To have a bye week right before us really kind of keeps us in question of what they're going to do," Bielema said. "They found Braxton Miller, I believe, going into the Nebraska game. That's where they were going to go. He got injured in that game. That's why the other quarterback came in.

"In the Illinois game, he's pretty much in there the whole time. They win the game, and you can see that's where they're going. So from an offensive point of view, you kind of wish you had a couple more game films on Braxton just to see where they're going."