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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Bielema Makes a Quick Staffing Change

Bret Bielema hired six new assistant coaches this winter. One didn’t make it to October. Bielema fired first-year offensive line coach Mike Markuson on Sunday, one day after the Badgers’ running game sputtered in a 10-7 loss at Oregon State. Said Bielema: “I did due diligence bringing him in. But it was at a point on Sunday that I had contacted people early in the morning, made sure that a transition could happen. And I sat down with [Markuson] Sunday afternoon, had a conversation with him and really wished it wasn’t going to end the way it did.”

More from Bielema, who spoke at length about Markuson’s dismissal during his weekly press conference on Monday:

“Mike is a great person, did a lot while he was here, did a nice job for us in recruiting. But for some personal matters, Mike is a guy that really cares about his family. And I think there’s a lot of weighing factors. Mike has a son in high school that I know was pulling on him quite a bit.

“His daughter is a freshman in college back in Mississippi and a wife that’s back there. I think he’s going to make a transition to get back with them and see where the next step takes him. But wish him the best of luck.

“I know everybody’s got their own foregone conclusions of what transpired. It was really something that wasn’t a knee jerk thing by me. It’s something we talked about and processed through.”

To Bielema, calling a dismissal two games into the season anything but a “knee jerk thing” rings hollow. Were there wholesale disagreements in philosophy, schematics or playing time? It’s hard to say, though everyone associated with the program had to know that Markuson was not dealing with the same sort of deck Bob Bostad had at his disposal over the last two or three seasons.

But production matters – whether you’re a player or a coach. And to Bielema and Wisconsin, Markuson’s own production, the play of his offensive line, was not up to the program’s standard. In this sense, you respect Bielema for making a tough decision; in many ways, making a move after the start of the season is a recipe for disaster.

Does Markuson’s side of the story match up with Bielema’s? As a guest on SiriusXM’s College Sports Nation, the former Mississippi assistant admitted that the program’s lifeblood is its running game and offensive line, but was quick to point out that the offensive woes were part of a team-wide effort.

“The mainstay of that program has been the running game and the offensive line, but you still got to be able to throw it,” said Markuson. “That box was loaded up on us last week at Oregon State. They were fired up. There weren’t many creases in there.”

“You’ve got to be able to spread the field, you got to get the ball out quick, and get first downs. I think they’ve got to continue to do what they do well. There’s a great back there in Montee Ball and those other kids are good backs, but you’ve got to be able to throw it.”

“It was a surprise for me [getting fired],” he said, “but in this business, you’ve got to anticipate anything. It can happen; it’s just like the real world out there. People get hired and fired; coaches get hired and fired.”

For the rest of this season, and potentially beyond, the Badgers’ line coach will be Bart Miller, a first-year graduate assistant. This is Miller’s second year with the program: he was an offensive quality control assistant a year ago. Before that, Miller spent one year as a graduate assistant at New Mexico State – he played at New Mexico – and two years in the front office of the Chicago Blackhawks. (This is true.)

In Miller’s favor is the fact that he played under Bostad with the Lobos, though his time in the starting lineup came after Bostad left Albuquerque for Wisconsin. Nevertheless, his familiarity with Bostad’s system might lead to a revival for the Badgers’ offensive front.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    I do not know what quite to make of this. Seems rash.

    Have long thought Bostad’s linemen were often almost flawless in their technique so I figured losing him would hurt. At the same time, I thought Markuson was a decent hire – I saw his Arkansas line just shred Texas in Austin 9-10 years ago.

    The most intersting thing is they turn to a grad asst to replace Markesun ? Last week I mentioned NM State was missing their highly regarded young line coach who had gone on to UNM – Jason Lenzmeier. Paul clued me in to his UNM background – turns out Lenzmeier was a four year starter on the OL at New Mexico under Bostad. How much you want to wager Lenzmeier is the OL line coach for the Badgers next year?

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