MADISON, Wis. – Travis Frederick was surprised when coach Bret Bielema told the team he was leaving Wisconsin to coach Arkansas. The Badgers’ starting center couldn’t blame him, though.
“I guess I was a little surprised, but it’s a very good opportunity for him,” Frederick said after players met with Bielema on Tuesday night. “I’m sure he’ll do well.”
Most players declined to comment as reporters waited to talk to them. Some said Bielema urged them to remain focused on the Rose Bowl.
Frederick also said he was unsure who would lead the team going forward, and athletic director Barry Alvarez – the former coach who picked Bielema to succeed him – said in a statement that he has a responsibility to ensure the program continues at a high level and that he has already started the process of looking for a replacement.
Some players took to Twitter to lobby for Paul Chryst, the former Wisconsin offensive coordinator in his first season as head coach at Pittsburgh. Offensive lineman Ryan Groy tweeted “Paul Chryst! Paul Chryst!”
“I understand the speculation surrounding my name given today’s developments,” Chryst said in a statement released by Pitt. “I am committed to the Pitt football program and the University of Pittsburgh. I am focusing all my time and energy on our team’s bowl game preparation and recruiting a great group of young men to join our program and this outstanding university. We are working hard every day to re-establish this program and I am excited about the future of Pitt football.”
Alvarez said he was surprised when Bielema told him he was taking the Arkansas job, but thanked him for his work over the past seven seasons as head coach, both on and off the field.
“Along with finding a new coach, my other main objective is to make sure that our student-athletes, specifically our seniors playing in their final game as Badgers, have a tremendous experience in the Rose Bowl,” Alvarez said. “We will do everything within our power to make that happen.”
The search for Wisconsin’s next coach will be the first for the school since Alvarez was brought in for the 1990 season. The former coach picked Bielema to be his successor after adding him to the staff as defensive coordinator for two years before making him head coach for the 2006 season.
Still, quarterback Joel Stave noted coaching turnovers are common in college football, even if it is foreign to those on the Wisconsin roster.
“It’s something that’s new for me. I haven’t really experienced this,” Stave said. “But it’s something that we’re just going to work through.”
Stave took over as the starter in September and led the Badgers until he was knocked out of the Oct. 27 game against Michigan State. A new coach also could mean starting over for Stave after he earned the starter’s job, but he said he couldn’t worry about that.
“If I continue to give us a good chance to win, I think I’ll continue to play,” Stave said. “I feel it’s in my hands. I try to worry about what I control, and that’s making myself the best player I can be.”
Stave said Bielema told the players he would always be there for them and that he loved them, while running back Montee Ball promised the team would heed his advice to stick together.
“We’re still a very focused team,” Ball said.
Ball said while he was shocked at Bielema’s decision, he wasn’t disappointed. He said he had no reason to be and added the Badgers are proud of Bielema.
“He has a goal in his life that he wants to accomplish, so go get them,” Ball said.