The parallels and departures in Bret Bielema’s approach to coaching and matrimony.
Of all the stories coming out of Bret Bielema’s hiring as Arkansas’ head football coach last week, perhaps the most endearing is how he wooed his wife Jen.
One evening in April 2008, Bielema was enjoying a game of blackjack at the Wynn Las Vegas when he spotted “a smiling, blonde, brown-eyed woman wearing a teal tank top, blue jeans and black flip-flops,” as recalled in a 2011 Fox Sports article. Interest sufficiently piqued, Wisconsin’s head coach approached the beautiful stranger to start what became a five-hour conversation.
While the attraction was initially physical, it soon became so much more. After that night, Bret and Jen didn’t see each other for five months. They relied on phone calls, the postal service and, later, flying halfway across the country. Love flourished; they married last March.
Many Americans believe this is the stuff of true romance. The two took their time getting to know each other. They turned a chance encounter into a long-term relationship, choosing trust before intimacy.
This progression matters not only to Bret and Jen, but to Razorback fans and recruits. It tells the public: Here is a good man who refrains from acting on impulse for the sake of others.
But if Bret and Jen had gotten hammered that fateful night in Las Vegas, hooked up in the backseat of a cab and exchanged oaths at a drive-thru wedding chapel, would their story still charm? Would it even be shared?
I think not. Such a story would hurt the image of a trustworthy “pater hamilias” to Hog Nation. Americans, after all, prize a certain schizophrenia in the coaches of our favorite game. On one end, they are expected to be near workaholics able to wring every last bit of aggression out of their players on the field. Yet these same men are also supposed to always keep the long term good in mind while teaching players to subdue impulsive behavior off the field. The problem is there’s much more money in doing the former better than the latter. And that money gets more obscene by the year.
The result: As college football gets bigger as a business, so does the cognitive dissonance its fans try to deal with. This was most evident after last week’s wave of hirings, when coaches such as Bielema, Gus Malzahn and Tommy Tuberville were criticized for blindsiding their previous bosses by taking more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. It seems odd Bielema made sure to first talk with Jen’s father before a major life decision — proposing marriage — but didn’t find it appropriate to talk to someone like a father to him in the professional world, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, when making another major decision.
Moreover, if fans are to believe Arkansas’ athletic director, Bielema had been in serious talks with Arkansas for only a couple days before pulling the trigger. A few months ago, Jeff Long told the public he’d try to follow an unwritten industry policy to not pursue active head coaches until the regular season ended. Bielema last coached Wisconsin the night of Dec. 1. His hiring was announced Dec. 4.
This apparent whirlwind courtship has been exciting. Bielema’s disciplined, defensive-oriented scheme and the three BCS bowl appearances it produced at Wisconsin intoxicate Arkansas fans with the prospect of more.
Likely, most fans don’t worry college football more and more resembles the hook-up culture familiar to millions of young Americans. Whether from wins or sex, the serotonin’s the same. Getting some, as soon as possible, matters more than ever.