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Thursday, July 10, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 66.0° F  Fair
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SPORTS

More Majerus, less Bielema

Rick Majerus coaching Kwamain Mitchell.
Rick Majerus coaching Kwamain Mitchell.
Credit:Saint Louis University / Billiken Media Relations
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When Rick Majerus died on Dec. 1, I searched through my disorganized podcast archives and made sure to back up a few featuring interviews with the legendary basketball coach. Majerus was a wonderful conversationalist, and listening to him on the radio could keep me sitting in my car long after I arrived at my destination. I learned something about basketball every time and often something about traveling or dining in addition.

The same cannot be said for former Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema. I'm sure I have a few dozen interviews with the new Arkansas football coach on my iPod, and I'm sure I'll never listen to them again. Notorious for hustling on to the next sentence before finishing the previous one, Bielema is a clumsy public speaker. His explanations of strategy often leave the listener confused. Majerus avoided jock-speak; Bielema embraces it.

That's a big reason Bielema was underappreciated in Madison. Despite being inarguably successful, he never seemed to find his public rhythm. He was oblivious when Barack Obama campaigned on Bascom Hill back in October, admitting he lived in a "shell." In 2011, he was surprised to learn that one of his players, linebacker Chris Borland, had missed a class while observing the Capitol protests.

In seeking Bielema's replacement, it would be nice to find someone a little more like Majerus, a gifted coach with a view of the world that extends beyond the playing field. Athletic director Barry Alvarez will have a good view of someone like that across the field at the Rose Bowl, in Stanford head coach David Shaw, who shared a Portuguese studies class with Tiger Woods when both were Stanford undergrads. Shaw is not likely to leave his alma mater after two 11-2 seasons, but there's a lot to admire about the success of his program at a school where football isn't more important than it should be.

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