By TOM LEA
MADISON – Though it’s likely considered a backhanded compliment for the coach it directly affects, losing assistants the way Wisconsin has over the past two years is probably more indicative of on-field success than it is anything else.
That’s the way Bret Bielema, a coach that has lost nine assistants throughout the span of the past two offseasons, spins it. But this year has been a little bit different.
Losing four assistants one offseason and five the next would have been trying enough. Losing three and then six made for one heck of a whirlwind tour for Bielema following his team’s second-straight Rose Bowl loss, one that finally approached a calming point when Eddie Faulkner, a former Badger running back, accepted the tight end’s job to close out the vacancy.
“I’ve always wanted to come back and coach here,” Faulkner said. “I knew that was something I wanted to do. Obviously you talk to the people that are important in your decision-making, but it was pretty much unanimous to go with it.”
Faulkner, Zach Azzanni (wide receivers), Mike Markuson (offensive line), Matt Canada (offensive coordinator), Andy Buh (linebackers) and Ben Strickland (secondary) comprise the six new assistant coaches that have just a handful of practices accounting for their UW coaching career.
They, along with returning coaches Charlie Partridge, Chris Ash and Thomas Hammock, are tasked with making sure the program’s momentum stays at the level it’s currently at.
For Bielema, entering his seventh-year, a sense of calm stems from the fact that he’s been down this path before. Though it has never been as drastic as it was this past offseason, Bielema likens what went on leading into 2012’s spring camp to what happened 12 months prior.
“Obviously Dave Doeren became a head coach and I lost two coaches to the NFL,” Bielema said. “I had some good transition that year with what we did last year. I think the coaches we brought in right now have kind of just made everybody that much more energized.
“They want to prove their success as assistant coaches and as a head coach that has rejuvenated me.”
But because of the turnover Bielema had to adjust the way things operate. He pushed the start date of UW’s ongoing spring camp back a week and a half so he could spend more time with his new assistants, a move he never had to do in years past.
“I would say the first couple of days in staff meetings was a one-way dialogue,” Bielema said. “I kind of laid out a couple of things I believe in just from a principle standpoint that through my coaching career has been able to grow here.
“I think as we got deeper into it we started talking X’s and O’s and started talking verbiage, language and communication. Then it became a much more open discussion and those are the ones I love.”
Bielema also noted how he wanted to tell his new assistants that he didn’t want them to follow the exact methodology or terminology of his previous staff.
“I’m not trying to make them come in and be a cookie cutter with what we’ve done in the past,” Bielema said. “Everybody has got their own set of DNA.”
Instead he wanted them to feel comfortable enough to do things the way they wanted as long as they were done so with UW’s core values in mind.
So far, so good.
“I expect them to come in and have their own way of doing things and their own input into what’s being done,” Bielema said. “I hired six coaches that bring a lot of different experiences and different success stories in why and how things have happened.
“That’s been really fun. I think it’s energized our entire football department.”
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