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July 26, 2012

Bret Bielema


THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema.
COACH BIELEMA:  Always great to be back in Chicago.  I met with my players a few days ago, just about the experience to come here.  I came as a player in 1991 and have obviously come back now, going into my seventh year as a head coach.
It's just a tremendous opportunity.¬† Very excited to be at Wisconsin this year, coming into an opportunity to be a three‑time defending champion in our conference.¬† Really special season last year.¬† I think one of the great things that probably hasn't got enough publicity was the first inaugural season of the Big Ten championship game, and obviously to be the winning coach was very, very special.
But in all my years of coaching, as a player, as an assistant coach, as a coordinator, as a head coach, that game, in particular, probably stood out in my mind more than anything else, the way that the Big Ten put on the game leading up to it, the championship game itself, and to play against an opponent with the quality of Michigan State and to earn an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl is very, very special.
So since then we've turned the page.  I brought with me three great players.  Very fortunate at Wisconsin this year, I think we have eight players up for 12 to 14 national awards.  The three guys I brought with us:  Mike Taylor, kid from Wisconsin, came to us as kind of an underrecruited kid.  Might have had two or three offers.  Has probably been one of the most premier players in our league, led the conference a year ago in tackles and has really set himself up, I think, for a great season and is up for a couple of awards, I believe one is the Butkus award and maybe one other.
Our player that's drawn recognition, Ricky Wagner, come with us.¬† A neat story about Ricky.¬† Ricky came to us as a 6'5", 235‑pound walk‑on tight end, and now he's a 6'6", 330‑pound Outland Trophy candidate that has been a three‑year starter for us.¬† An incredible kid.¬† Great story because he walked on from the state of Wisconsin and is now achieving at the highest level of success.¬† A lot of people predict him to be a top ten pick a year from now.
I told him when I moved him a year ago he has big shoes to fill.¬† Every left tackle that started for me at my years at Wisconsin has won the Outland Trophy and been a first‑round Draft pick.¬† So he's hopefully going to live up to the same standards.
And of course everybody knows, ‑‑ he's had a name change, but Montee Ball has come back and been really one of our greatest leaders, not just on the field, but just the way he practices, the way he competes.¬† The highest level that he has set for us in all facets has been truly incredible.
And he's going to return as the highest leading Bowl‑getter from the Heisman a year ago.¬† And our goal and our intention, obviously he's going to be up for the, Heisman but I'd love to be a head coach that coaches a Heisman trophy winner.¬† Our offensive line would love to be an offensive line that blocks for a Heisman trophy winner, and everybody in our program is going to try to help him win that award.
As far as the season and where we're looking to get, we got a great schedule in front of us leading up to our opening game.  Got four nonconference opponents, and then we jump into our Big Ten schedule that culminates with hopefully an opportunity to play in the Big Ten championship game.  So excited about the opportunity, and blessed to be here in Chicago.  Any questions?

Q.  Obviously, Bret, with the two games that you guys had last year with Michigan State, pretty impressive games, would you talk about that burgeoning rivalry, please.
COACH BIELEMA:  It goes back.  One of the neat things for me going into my seventh year is I've known so many of these coaches.  The first year when I came in, I kind of came in like a mouse in the room.  I didn't know anybody in there other than Kirk who I had worked for.  Now I go around the room, I knew Mark Dantonio when he was an assistant.  I actually shared defensive ideas back with him when he was at Ohio State and I was at Kansas State.
So a guy that I've known and respect in this business for so long, to have an opportunity to compete with him on such a high level is really, really a neat thing for me at least.
And then I think our players just have so much respect for the Michigan State players and the way they compete.  They play at such a high level, but also the intensity that they bring obviously is second to none.
And I think it was truly special.  I've never had an opportunity to play a rematch game within a conference like we did last year.  So that just kind of, I think, built it that much more.  And it's really something that's emerged really probably in my time there as the head coach, and it's something that hopefully will continue to grow.

Q.  Now that you're married, are you going to be a smarter coach?  How is that going to affect things?
COACH BIELEMA:  19 weeks and five days that we've been into this relationship.  It's because I get reminded on a daily basis, not that I knew that stat.
But it's been fun for me.  I go back to seven years ago when I got the job and everybody was like, wow, you're single, da, da, da, and everybody gave me different pieces of advice.  But hopefully it's going to make me a smarter and wiser and more mature coach.

Q.  Wanted to ask about Danny O'Brien, how he's assimilated there with Wisconsin and how that transition has gone since he's, I assume, been on campus here the last month or two.
COACH BIELEMA:  Yeah.  Fortunate for us, Danny was able to join us in early June.  He graduated in three years from Maryland, so he was actually there all the way through the spring semester, was able to join us in June.
Because of NCAA rules, I really can't be involved in summer workouts, but I know just bumping into Danny and bumping into players that have been around this summer that everybody's been excited about him coming through.
I think Danny is, first and foremost, a great kid.  He fit into our program great.  Just the way he kind of bonded during the recruiting visit was special to see.
And you guys might remember that Russell had a pretty good year a year ago, so I think that played into it as well.  But I think the real upside to Danny's situation is we've also had the emergence of Curt Phillips come back after his third ACL surgery, and those two have got a nice little competition and probably again with Joel Stave.
I think competition brings the best out of people, and I know Danny is excited for the competition to start on the 5th.

Q.  Wanted to see, get a reaction from you about the division, not having Ohio State and Penn State this year, what that means for Wisconsin and how do you view the conference race?
COACH BIELEMA:  Well, obviously we've known about Ohio State for a while, and it kind of educated our players into that process.
One of the big things when we split into two divisions a year ago, I made a very conscientious effort as a head coach to explain to our kids, you know, the leaders in the divisions, who is in it and why certain games play up a certain level of competitive nature just to get to where we want to be.
I'm not blind and oblivious to the fact that now we're in a division that has six teams.  Only four of them are eligible for the Big Ten championship game.  But it really won't change our approach.  It's something for the bigger topic to talk about.  But everybody's like:  Coach, why do you have success?  Why have you won two championships?
The number one thing I believe is of a 1‑0 mentality, you take every day for what it is.¬† We'll take August5th, we're going to process that day the first day we're together, move on to August6th, move on to August 7th.¬† We'll take every day for whatever it is.
And any game that's on our schedule, I'll definitely make note of teams that are within our division, but it really doesn't change what we do because we can never skip a step to get to where we want to be, which is obviously in Indianapolis at the end of the year.

Q.  Coach, unfortunate news a few days ago losing Casey Dehn for the season.  Just wondering what are your thoughts are on the right side of your offensive line now.
COACH BIELEMA:¬† The great thing is, at the University of Wisconsin, we've probably been able to play offensive line at the highest level possible in the world of college football.¬† And when some of the guys that have gone now, when Kevin Zeitler played his first game, everybody was worried about who he is and what he was.¬† Gabe Carimi was taken over at the left tackle spot.¬† No one no who he was because Joe Thomas had commanded it for so long.¬† And both of them are first‑round Draft picks for the NFL.
We have guys in our program right now who have never started a game that I believe can play at that level, and we'll just have an opportunity now to put people in place.
It will be a huge challenge for us, I think, to find the five right guys, whether they're tackles that can play guards or guards that can play tackle.  We'll put our best five players back on the field.  Backed up mostly by our sixth, seventh, and eighth best players, and then we'll roll on the football field.
But I just wish Casey the best and hope he can have things on track to have a successful life.

Q.  A few months ago around signing day, there was the issue about the Big Ten coaches recruiting committed players.  Do you believe for this recruiting cycle, has that issue kind of been settled?  And do you think it's still best to have, as people said, that gentleman's kind of agreement that the Big Ten used to have?
COACH BIELEMA:  I think the great thing that came out of that event was I began to realize that not everybody actually reads and follows every press conference that's read or written.
I didn't say anything about a gentleman's agreement.  I didn't say anything about coaches recruiting other players.  That was just kind of spun into that world.  So I've never made a comment about that.  I've never referred to it in any way, shape, or form.
I think the great thing is if you look back during my tenure, seven years as a football coach, we've had several players that are committed and in our program now that were committed at other schools.  So we never refrain from recruiting players that are committed to other places if they want to be recruited.  I hope that would never change.
And the great thing, I think, within our conference is that as this recruiting process plays out year in, year out, coaches are able to kind of just let things happen as they are and realize that every kid is in charge of his own mission to get to where he wants to be.

Q.  There was another question about recruiting.  Do you have a problem with the concept of schools, of coaches being able to solicit Penn State players right now?
COACH BIELEMA:  You know, I think that's a great comment or question.
When this thing came about, and obviously a very unprecedented situation, of course when you're sitting at the head table of your staff room and assistant coaches have a lot of different opinions, I made the decision as a head coach we would not reach out to any Penn State players.
It's just something‑‑ I think that what Penn State is going through right now is something that they have championed over the last several days and the last several weeks.¬† I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach O'Brien and everything that he's going forward.
I think one of the things that I've loved and appreciated about being in this conference is there is a genuine respect for everybody in our league that you are a Big Ten brother and you're a guy that sits in our conference meeting rooms.  You're a guy that listens to Jim Delany, and we're a group of coaches that have a network that's beyond anybody's expectations and helping us in recruiting.
So I just‑‑ I'm not casting doubt on anybody or questioning anything, but we made a decision that we would not actively pursue any Penn State players.
And it wasn't anything more than I have a group of 105 players that are reporting on August5th that I want them to understand and believe that I think they can help us win another championship.  And to bring someone in at this point so close to the season, I just wasn't comfortable with it.
And one of the great things that I saw after this whole thing was broke, I was sitting packing for our trip down here last night.  And of course my wife is yelling at me because we were supposed to leave three hours ago, which I'm learning to understand after 19 weeks and five days that you have to learn to do these things.
But on the same account, I saw a group of Penn State players walk out of that meeting, their facilities, and address the media and talk strongly, at least that group that was there, about what they're going to do.  And for me, personally, we play Penn State the last game of the season this year in the regular season.  I'm going to be their biggest fan for every week of the year for the guys that stay there and stick it through.
My hat's off to the coach and all the players staying strong.

Q.  What are your thoughts on the three new head coaches in the division?
COACH BIELEMA:  It's kind of a neat thing.  Obviously, I think back to my first meeting, walking in that door, seven years ago, and shaking hands with Lloyd Carr and Coach Paterno and Kirk Ferentz and all the coaches that were there at that time, and Jim Tressel and all those.  To think now that me and Fitz are number two in our league in tenure, I'm going to beat up Kirk.  He's really getting old now, he's the most tenured coach.
But I don't know Bill very well.  I've met Urban on a couple of different occasions, had an opportunity to have him on campus.  And Coach Beckman, I've now met several times.  It's something that I'm very excited about.  I think it's a neat thing to bring in to our league.  It's a challenge to compete against new schemes and new philosophies and new ideas.  Obviously things change in recruiting that brings new wrinkles to that as well.  But I'm a guy that kind of loves change.  You kind of throw your arms around it, embrace it and love it up.
So what they bring hopefully is‑‑ I think anything you can do to enhance our league, Urban coming with a coach that's won national championships brings value to our league and his reputation is outstanding. ¬†Coach O'Brien, with everything he's been able to accomplish during his coaching career.¬† And Coach Beckman, obviously anytime you move from a MAC school to a Big Ten school speaks volumes that they think you can have success as well.¬† Should be nothing but a positive for our league.¬† Thank you very much.¬† I appreciate it.¬† On Wisconsin.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach.

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