Bielema tightens the ship at Wisconsin

April, 2, 2009
4/02/09
4:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- As Bret Bielema's wins total has declined, the anxiety level from some fans about the Wisconsin head coach has escalated. 

After a 17-1 start to his head coaching career, Bielema has gone just 11-10 since. Wisconsin briefly held a top 10 national ranking last fall, only to finish 7-6 after a blowout loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Bielema earned his own fire-me Web site, and he even noted last fall that sales of red windbreakers -- his trademark game-day garb -- were way down.  

The honeymoon is over in Madison, and Bielema knows it.

"I understand after a 7-6 season, with the level and the expectations of this program, we've got to improve, we've got to be better," Bielema said. "I don't feel any more pressure, but I understand the expectations around here.

"A year ago, the expectations were more from the outside looking in, on number of wins, where you were going to be ranked. What we're looking to do is play better than we did yesterday. It's a simple plan."

Bielema has been more detail oriented in the winter and spring: Shaking up the strength program, restructuring spring practice, implementing a stricter class attendance policy and generally demanding more accountability on the team. Before we sat down Thursday afternoon, Bielema had come from a meeting with Wisconsin admissions staffers, who gave him good news about several players.

Before last season, Bielema hadn't been a part of a staff that had won fewer than nine games since 2001, his final year at Iowa. His track record reconfirmed his beliefs for Wisconsin, but it also reminded him of what it takes to win consistently.

"I've tried to focus in on the final points of what gets us to where we are," Bielema said. "What are the small daily details that enforce that? Whether it's conditioning the guys for not keeping the locker room tidy, whether it's the class attendance policy that I put in, more accountability with my coaches as far as day-to-day operations. 

"It's just tightening up the ship a lot." 

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