Absence of Bielema Mellows Rivalry

By Kyle Rowland on September 26, 2013 at 9:15a

There was a time, not all that long ago, when Wisconsin’s appearance on the Ohio State football schedule drew little to no reaction. It may as well have read Purdue or Indiana. The Badgers were an automatic win complete with a Buckeye Blitzkrieg. Margins of victory were as much as eight touchdowns. In fact, Ohio State topped the Badgers in 21 straight meetings, from 1960-1980.

Then the fall of 1981 came. Wisconsin head coach Dave McClain was in the midst of turning the program around after years of underwhelming play. The Badgers defeated top-ranked Michigan in the season opener and followed it up four weeks later by beating the Buckeyes.

Over the next 20 years, Wisconsin would beat Ohio State 11 times, more than they had accumulated in the series’ history, which dated back to 1913. McClain and Barry Alvarez helped stoke the Badgers’ relevance not only in the Midwest, but around the country. Bret Bielema built on that, winning three consecutive Big Ten titles and poking Brutus in the eye whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Suddenly, the Wisconsin game became second only to Michigan on the list of favorites for Buckeye fans. Just look at the ticket price Saturday night: $110. 

Before leaving in the night for Arkansas, Bielema’s team beat No. 1 Ohio State in 2010. It would be his only victory in six games against the Buckeyes, but Bielema had countless run-ins with the team he loved to hate.

He called out Terrelle Pryor during the 2011 offseason after Pryor fled for the NFL. In the aftermath of the Badgers’ win the previous season, Pryor said Ohio State would win nine out of 10 times. 

“The only bad thing about Terrelle leaving is we really wanted to play that game against him,” Bielema said. “Unfortunately, we won’t."

After Meyer was hired, Bielema said, “We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC, in any way, shape or form.” It was a veiled shot at the Buckeyes’ new head coach and his aggressive – and perfectly legal – recruiting tactics that resulted in Kyle Dodson picking Ohio State over Wisconsin.

It resulted in a war of words, ultimately ending when commissioner Jim Delany played father and the two brothers – Meyer and Bielema – agreed to a truce. But that would end once Bielema made his way south.

When offensive line recruit Jermaine Eluemunor picked Arkansas over the Buckeyes, what did Bielema do? Why, went to Twitter, of course.

Bielema tweeted, “It’s a Sunday night and excited about the week ahead. Was good week of recruiting especially against “THE” University’s of the world. #WPS”

When then-Ohio State president Gordon Gee spouted off about Bielema, proclaiming Alvarez believed his former head coach was a thug, it sparked another series of exchanges between the schools’ fanbases. And it gave Bielema an avenue to get involved.

Instead of just accepting a private apology from Gee, Bielema again went to Twitter and posted Gee’s message in its entirety. Even before Bielema left for Arkansas, his act had grown tired with many Badger supporters. That’s why Alvarez admitted in August that Bielema wasn’t widely missed in Madison.

“I’m not saying this negatively because Bret did a good job for us,” Alvarez said, “but I haven’t had one person say, ‘Well, it’s too bad Bret left’ or ‘We were sorry to see Bret leave.’”

Ohio State’s coaches and players share that sentiment. Several Buckeyes were asked about Bielema’s absence from this year’s game. Did they miss him? Meyer drew a wide grin before saying, “I’m good with Gary.” Wide receivers coach Zach Smith gave a drawn out, “Ohhh, Lord,” and closed with, “You always miss great coaches.” It was the definition of a tongue-in-cheek statement.

However, the sternest response came from a player. One Bielema recruited, no less. Evan Spencer’s face flashed no emotion when he said the extent of his feelings toward Bielema was his recruitment.

“I think he poked a lot of people,” the wide receiver added.

Bielema’s wife, Jen, joined the party, tweeting, “#karma,” after Wisconsin’s controversial loss at Arizona State this season. One week later, Arkansas blew a 17-point second-half lead and lost at Rutgers. Jen Vrabel, the wife of Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, couldn’t resist. She mimicked Jen Bielema with a karma tweet of her own that read, “Congrats to future Big Ten rival Rutgers. Big win today over SEC opponent. #Karma.”

But standing on the east sideline Saturday night won’t be a villain. It will actually be one of Meyer’s closest friends. When Alvarez was searching for his next head coach last December, he dialed a 614 area code. Meyer answered.

“I talked to Urban. He’s had some very good assistants,” Alvarez said. “Urban told me that Gary is in the top five of all of them. He’s the real deal. I said, ‘Would he fit here? Would he fit in the Big Ten?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Andersen’s arrival and the conference’s divisional realignment will take some of the luster off the budding rivalry. After this season, the teams will not face each other every season (unless they advance to the Big Ten Championship Game).

The animosity between the fans could die down, and the coaching staffs clearly don’t share the same aversion that used to be present. It’s difficult to detest the opposing coach when you’re head coach is buying his lunch, as Meyer claims to do whenever he and Andersen break bread together.

“I always buy. I think he’s down seven at least,” said Meyer, an assertion that Andersen scoffs at.

The decade-old friendship’s roots sprouted in Utah. Andersen was born and raised in the state and eventually matriculate to the University of Utah, where he played for the Utes. He would ultimately land a job coaching the defensive line at Utah under his mentor, Ron McBride. But when McBride was fired and Meyer was brought aboard, Andersen didn’t even give Meyer the opportunity retain him – he left abruptly to be the head coach at FCS Southern Utah.

Andersen lasted all of one season after a 4-7 record. The former defensive line coach inquired about getting his old job back when it re-opened at Utah. What transpired was a meeting between two strangers who would become fast friends.

“I walked out of there knowing I wanted to work for him,” Andersen said.

Said Meyer: “He blew me away. He’s one of the top two or three hires I’ve ever made.”

The Utes finsihed 12-0 in their lone season together, and Meyer was off to Florida soon after. Andersen was elevated to defensive coordinator, a position he held when Utah capped off another undefeated season with a beat down of Alabama. That earned him the job at Utah State. Andersen’s career was set in motion from one meeting with Meyer.

They have much in common, including their age – 49. Both are family men committed to their children and each has coached through health concerns. Meyer’s hospitalization following the 2009 SEC Championship Game is well-documented. But an episode not many are aware of occurred in 2010, when Andersen, following a loss, worked non-stop and ended up in the hospital after a fall while he was disoriented.

Andersen called talks with Meyer “very influential.” Over the next two seasons, Utah State would win 18 games, including 11 in 2012, a year that propelled him to his current job at Wisconsin.

“Coach [Meyer] has been really good to me,” Andersen said.

On Saturday night, they’ll meet at the 50-yard line and exchange pleasantries. They’ll probably ask about the other’s family, a Christmas card exchange so to speak in the Horseshoe. The hostility between Ohio State and Wisconsin gone.


Comments Show All Comments


Nice article.  However, when competing against friends or anyone else, I always wanted to rip their heads off.  There is nothing better than kicking your friends ass and rubbing their nose in it.    GO BUCKS

gravey's picture

There's still plenty to dislike about Wisky.  I won't have any problem savoring their tasty tears of defeat.

CC's picture

Like their fans... I have to admit, I like Anderson and I hated Bert so some of the animosity is gone.  Their fans were about the exact opposite of UNL fans.

Ahh Saturday's picture

As the numbers indicate, this has been a good rivalry over the last 20+ years, and the one thing that bothers me about the impending realignment of the B1G is losing the annual game against the Badgers.

osubuck57's picture

OSU-Wisky rivalry will live on. Now, the stakes may get even higher. Never want to lose a game to a "friend" or someone you've coached with. To me, it adds a little more flavor and raises the bar just a little more. Will also miss playing them annually.


Yamosu's picture

They still have Bo Ryan, so I still have reason to hate.

buckeyefanatic's picture

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

BME_Buckeye's picture

Odd seeing 5 friends I know in that photo. 

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.


Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

How many friends do you have that you don't know?

gobucks96's picture

I hate that guy..... I really hate that guy!

Jonnferrell's picture

"They still have Bo Ryan, so I still have reason to hate."
Beware of the curse of Nosferatu!  ::running to Kroger's to buy garlic::

"I miss Brady Hoke."

Buckeye in Illini country's picture

Never in the history of Arkansas has one man fit the hog call "Woo Pig Sooie" more perfectly than Bert Bielema.

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

cjmgobucks's picture

Their fans are complete asses, so I still have plenty to despise....

"When I look in the mirror, I want to take a swing at me."

Wayne Woodrow Hayes

Nutty's picture

I agree 100%. Some of the most arrogant fans in the land. They can make OSU fans look humble and that is saying something.

Jonnferrell's picture

We in the Big 10 don't like Bert Bielema in any way. . . even Wisconsin would say that.

"I miss Brady Hoke."

droessl's picture

The stories of Buckeye fans having bottles thrown at them in the stands of Camp Randall are plenty of reason for the hate to flow. 
And EFF Bo Ryan


I’ve always been of the opinion that Bielema was a poor sport and thought his MOUTH was bigger than his brain. I really don’t care that much, but I’m Curious to see how he’ll work out at Arkansas. 

"Woody is a God-fearing man. It's good to know that he's afraid of somebody." --Archie Griffin

Stinson's picture

I'm seeing Ohio State -6.5 as the line for Saturday night. Can anybody confirm this??

I'm about to bet my whole bank account if that's true..

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." -Wayne Woodrow Hayes

Tim's picture

I'm seeing -7 at all of the books on vegasinsider.com, so just a half point different than what you saw.  I agree though; I think OSU wins by 20+.

Oldschoolbuck's picture

I remember the old joke from my time at tOSU in the late '70s: "What happens when you cross a badger and a ground hog (or a gopher and a ground hog)?
"Six more weeks of bad football!"
Speed still kills sunk weasels, badgers, gophers & assorted other vermin.

DannyBeane's picture

All I have to say is Badgers are closely related to skunk weasels which makes them search and destroy at all costs.

TheBadOwl's picture

I've posted this a million times before, but I was a 5th grader in a suburb of SLC when Urban was hired at Utah. The next year, I got my first NCAA game on the xbox, and always played with the Utes. And I stayed a huge Utah fan until I chose to attend Ohio State. I still cheer for them whenever I can.
Gary Andersen is easily one of the best hires that Urban ever made. Before he went to Utah State, they were a doormat. They would get stomped in just about every game they played. He ended up beating the Utes and almost beating Auburn. He did an incredible job there.
He also seems like he's genuinely one of the best human beings in coaching. I'm glad that, starting next year, we won't have to share a division with them. That team will be scary good in the near future.
I think we all hated Wisconsin because Bert was such a tool. I absolutely cannot hate Wisconsin knowing that Andersen is the head coach there. I hope that they dominate the B1G West.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

Hovenaut's picture

I'm still hating Wisconsin for life. 
I just respect their head football coach for the first time ever. 

longstb's picture

I think it is good to have legitimate respect for your fellow B1G rivals - something that was lost during the Bert B days.  He was and continues to be a complete and total meat head.  Getting better coaches in our conference helps everyone and raises our credibility.  Great to see a guy like Gary Andersen as a member of the B1G!


Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Meyer drew a wide grin before saying, “I’m good with Gary.”

You can't appreciate this fully unless you see the video.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

ScarletNut's picture

Over the next 20 years, Wisconsin would beat Ohio State 11 times...
Check your math - it just isn't so - maybe 30 years ?

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

Bert and his wife are total media and attention wh*res.  Good lord.  What a bunch of knuckle-draggers.  Retweeting Gee's apology was one of the lowest things any "professional" could have done.  Not just in sports, but in business period.  I hope he enjoys his 3 years in the SEC.  Maybe he will take over at Iowa when Ferentz hangs the headset up... 

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

bucksfan92's picture

I have a hard time calling this a rivalry.  We are waaaay ahead in the all time series and aside from their inexplicable ability to beat Earle Bruce's teams when they would go 1-10 they just don't measure up as a rival.  Yes they play us close up there, but outside of a few upsets (when we had those 17-0 leads) the games in the Shoe are rarely in danger of a loss. I think OSU wins Saturday night by 2TD+

fanatibuck's picture

Exactly 92. Somebody that is seeing the big picture. This aint going to be close folks. The Buckeyes are on a mission. See ya Saturday. 


AndyVance's picture

I shared this earlier in the month (when Arm Punt was discussing TTUN's "rivalry" with the Golden Domers), but it's worth repeating here, I think:
We have only one Rival (capital R). We may have other rivalries, but none rises anywhere to the level of The Game.
As for the rest of the teams in the B1G, I think it depends on the era... Obviously someone thought OSU/Illinois was a rivalry once, hence the Illibuck Trophy; Wisconsin was a pretty good series for a while, and yes, Penn State has drummed up a pretty good back and forth with The Good Guys since their inclusion in the B1G. You could even say we've had an out-of-conference rivalry of sorts with USC at different points in history, I suppose.
But none of them qualify as true Rivals in my book. Nowhere near the history or the tradition.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Guys, let's not get too cocky, Russell Wilson is a heck of a QB, a good arm plus he can ... oh ... wait a minute.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

Seattle Linga's picture

I see what you did there Scarlett - Remember Russell is the real deal and can lead my 2nd favorite NFL team to the promised land. I digress, Go Bucks - Spank Wisconsin like the red headed step child.

razrback16's picture

I still won't have any trouble enjoying a win over their fans. Can't stand their fans.