BRYAN FAUST/Herald photoTen days after Barry Alvarez called him the “most versatile of all the backs that I’ve had,” junior running back Brian Calhoun announced that he would not be the first premier back to play under new UW head coach Bret Bielema.Instead, the former Oak Creek, Wis., prep star will take his talent to the professional ranks, opting to forego his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.”It was a difficult decision, but it has been done with a lot of forethought, a lot of research, counsel, prayer and help from my family,” Calhoun said at a press conference Jan. 12.After spending his freshman and sophomore seasons at the University of Colorado, Calhoun spent the 2004 football season on the Badgers’ scout team, sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules.In 2005, he became Wisconsin’s workhorse and gave Badger fans a season to remember. He became just the second player in NCAA history to rush for at least 1,500 yards (he had 1,636) and garner more than 500 receiving yards (Calhoun compiled 571 yards).”Obviously, I wanted Brian back for another year, but the biggest thing he had to do was take into account everything that he had learned and [the] information he had gathered,” Bielema said. “No matter how much time he spent here at the University of Wisconsin, the one thing that can never be taken away is the accomplishments.”Calhoun fielded questions about whether or not he would leave the program early since the beginning of the season, and the speculation only increased as the season came to a close.But after a 30-carry, 213-yard, one-touchdown performance against Auburn, earning him Capital One Bowl MVP honors, Calhoun had all but made his decision.”It’s been a pretty good year,” said Calhoun, who didn’t even begin playing football until his freshman year of high school. “For me to go out that way and to send Coach Alvarez out on a good note like that, I think that was kind of the nail in the coffin.”Calhoun made the decision official after consulting many avenues, including Alvarez, Bielema, his family, former Colorado running back coach Eric Bienemy and former teammate and current NFL back Chris Brown.”I tried to gather as much information as possible as far as what they thought I should do, and maybe their opinion [on] if I was ready for that next step,” Calhoun said. “I think it was the right choice and time for me to make that jump.””The thing that I really am happy about is that I think this is something that was thought out for a long period of time,” Bielema said.Maybe the biggest surprise in gathering that information was that Bienemy — the main reason Calhoun went to Colorado after high school — advised him to stay in school for one more year, and that Calhoun opted not to take that recommendation.”We talked on three or four occasions, and I disagree with him, obviously, but he supported me whatever decision I made,” Calhoun said. “He just felt like another year under my belt could help me.”Calhoun said that if he thought that he was going to be taken in the second day of the draft — rounds four through seven — he would not have left early. With a variety of running backs in the draft, including Reggie Bush and LenDale White, there has been some debate as to how high Calhoun would go in the draft, which begins April 29.Calhoun’s father, Andrew, said he is well aware of how his son’s numbers stack up to the likes of Bush, who is expected to be the top pick.”The stats are there. If you look at it statistically, only in rushing and receiving categories, you’ll find out that there’s 11 yards that separate him and Bush,” Andrew Calhoun said.Of course, his stock could rise or fall depending on his performance at the NFL combine, which will be held Feb. 22-28 in Indianapolis.Calhoun’s departure — coupled with the indefinite suspension of junior Booker Stanley, who faces three felony charges after a Dec. 21 incident — will leave Wisconsin with a significant gap in experience at the running back position.Jamil Walker and Dywon Rowan could be the only backs with any game experience, though their carries have been few and far between. UW may also rely on the emergence of P.J. Hill, Dion Foster and Jerry Butler, a trio of redshirt freshmen.Bielema begins hiring staff: Amid Calhoun’s exit, Bielema began selecting his assistant coaches, starting with the re-hiring of wide receivers’ coach Henry Mason, who has been with the program since 1995.Bielema also announced the hiring of Kerry Cooks as his defensive backs coach. Cooks coached at Minnesota last year and was on staff with Bielema at Kansas State in 2003.”I’m very excited to be here,” Cooks said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with Bret … and I love his energy. I think it’s a great opportunity to learn from a great, young head coach.”Bielema will announce the rest of his staff in the coming weeks and said it is a tricky situation with many current assistants recruiting for their current programs. Official signing day for incoming recruits is Feb. 1.