By: Ken LaVicka
Arkansas football doesn't have a single player from South Florida on its current roster. With Bret Bielema taking over as head coach of the Razorbacks, that should change.
Bielema was named Arkansas' next head coach this evening after seven seasons in charge of the Wisconsin program (9 total), a tenure filled with Palm Beach County influence.
This year's Big Ten championship roster features three players who went to high school in Palm Beach County: DB's Peniel Jean (Palm Beach Central) and Terrance Floyd (Santaluces), and WR Reggie Love (Spanish River).
Bielema, who served as the Badgers co-defensive coordinator in 2004 and 2005 before taking over for the legendary Barry Alvarez, has coached 10 Palm Beach County products in his time in Madison.
“He's always done a great job of recruiting South Florida,” said Palm Beach Central head coach Rod Harris, Jean's high school coach.
“I assume he's going to continue recruiting the area. He has great connections at high schools in the region.”
The most notable Palm Beach County pipeline for Bielema has been Dwyer High School. Head coach Jack Daniels' program has produced five Badgers since 2004, the most recent being LB Jaevery McFadden (Class of 2010). He was quick to respond when asked if he thought Bielema would make South Florida a priority for Arkansas.
“Without a doubt. I mean, I know he'll be recruiting our school.”
Daniels said the last time he remembered an Arkansas presence at Dwyer was in 2000 when the Razorbacks were courting eventual West Virginia and FAU quarterback Danny Embick. Harris doesn't recall one visit or call from a Razorbacks recruiter in his five years at Palm Beach Central.
Charlie Partridge, Wisconsin's current associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, and defensive line coach, has been the assistant assigned to South Florida for the past five years, and he's gotten good results. Partridge's future is unsure for now, but he remains scheduled to visit Badgers recruits in the area this week. It's expected that Bielema will try to pull Partridge to Fayetteville with him.
Daniels says he never thought Bielema would leave Wisconsin, but after speaking with him on Monday, knew he was mulling a move.
“I talked to him yesterday. He sounded down,” said Daniels. “He said he had offers in front of him and had some decisions to make.”
“He had always said he wanted to retire at Wisconsin, but he took a lot of heat this year (5 losses). I don't think Bret has that kind of skin.”
Last week Bielema led the Badgers to a third-straight Rose Bowl appearance with a second consecutive win in the Big 10 title game.
Bielema heads to an Arkansas program reeling after the inappropriate extra-marital conduct of former head coach Bobby Petrino and subsequent down season with interim John L. Smith at the helm.
When asked if Bielema will be able to succeed with the Razorbacks in the SEC, Daniels sounded confident.
“I do. I you're looking at a recipe for winning, he has shown he can put it together. [Wisconsin] didn't have great players, but they had a great defense, and he believes in the running game.”