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December 4, 2012
You hate to lose the coach that guided your program to three straight Rose Bowls. You also hate to lose the No. 23-ranked recruiting class in the country.
Individually, both are major problems. But when they happen at the same time, a catastrophe is born.
The first bit of bad fortune has already befallen Wisconsin. And now the latter seems like a very real possibility. It's not time for Badgers fans to panic just yet, but a bit of finger-crossing probably wouldn't hurt.
The news that Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three straight conference championships and 68 total victories in seven seasons as head coach, had accepted the Arkansas job came like sucker punch on Tuesday afternoon. There was little warning and zero reason to believe such a move would happen overnight. There was barely time to activate the sirens.
Then, storms that materialize out of nowhere are often times the deadliest.
"Bielema's departure has a chance to devastate Wisconsin's recruiting in the short term because it was so sudden, so unexpected," Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. "The Wisconsin commits I have spoken with since the news came out are just in shock. I expect a larger number of de-commitments than we see in an average coaching change."
And so the pressure that comes with making a quality hire has now been compounded. Finding a capable coach to take over a school like Wisconsin isn't exactly a monumental task. Doing so with haste is a bit trickier. That's the unenviable situation in which athletic director Barry Alvarez now sits.
"It will be crucial for the administration over there to settle that situation quickly to preserve as many of those recruits as possible," Helmholdt said.
Already, vultures are circling the Badgers' commitment list. According to reports, Notre Dame has already reached out to four-star 2014 commits Craig Evans (DT) and Chance Stewart (QB). Members of the 2013 class are scratching their heads as well.
"As of right now everything is still in place and good to go, but I have some thinking to do here," three-star offensive lineman Matt Miller told BadgerBlitz.com less than an hour after the story broke.
So what's the Badgers' move? Because of the unforeseen nature of the coaching change, tossing out names at this point is blindly chucking darts. Still, according to Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, there's a framework within which the search committee should work.
"It's a job for a coach who can evaluate talent well, coach kids up to a higher level than they were originally evaluated and where you have to find fits for your system to overcome the lack of recruiting home," Farrell said. "It's a solid job because they win football games, but if they ever started have down years consistently they would be in trouble."
Of course "who" is more important than "when" in this case. But the high-profile nature of the current recruiting class and the proximity to signing day makes time of the essence. This isn't the place for a long, drawn out search.
Farrell's advice? Well, that's simple. Stick to the script.
"Wisconsin is a place without a great recruiting base where you have to go into other areas to get most of your players," he said. "The tradition there has been to get huge linemen, great running backs and play smash-mouth. I don't see that changing."
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