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

Coaching Moves

Bielema Trusts His Sources on Canada

Bret Bielema may know fairly well Matt Canada on a personal level, but it’s what he’s seen and heard of his new offensive coordinator that separated Canada’s candidacy from the 11 other coaches Wisconsin interviewed for this key vacancy. Canada, formerly of Northern Illinois, will replace Paul Chryst in title but do his best to keep the Badgers’ Chryst-led train running at full steam; reached for comment by the Journal Sentinel, Bielema may it patently clear that Canada will not run a spread offense, such as he did with the Huskies, but rather a familiar pro-style attack.

Bielema and Canada arrived in the Big Ten at the same time, in 2004, when the former was named Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator and the latter Indiana’s quarterbacks coach. Bielema, of course, went from leading Wisconsin’s defense to being the face of the entire program, replacing Barry Alvarez as the Badgers’ head coach in 2006.

Canada became Indiana’s offensive coordinator in 2007, a title he held through 2010 before joining Dave Doeren’s staff at Northern Illinois. The Hoosiers lost each of their four games to the Badgers with Canada as coordinator, getting mauled in 2007, 2008 and 2010 but giving Wisconsin a scare in 2009.

Bielema must have liked what he saw, and he must have liked what he heard. Prior to becoming Northern Illinois’ head coach last year, Doeren spent five years as a defensive assistant on Bielema’s staff in Madison, sharing coordinator duties from 2006-7 before handling those duties alone over his final three seasons with the program.

Doeren had good things to say about Canada, as well he should. Given the task of continuing the Huskies’ success under Jerry Kill in 2010, Canada piloted an offense that finished 11th nationally in total offense and 12th in scoring, helping Northern Illinois win 11 games and a MAC title. The offense did all the heavy lifting; the Huskies’ defense, on the other hand, finished in the bottom half of the conference in nearly all the meaningful defensive categories.

Thomas Hammock likely had good things to say about Canada. Wisconsin’s first-year running backs coach — he had a nice debut, it’s safe to say — played running back for Canada during the latter’s first stint with the Huskies, when he coached in various capacities, including as coordinator, from 1998-2003.

Continuity is king: Wisconsin would have loved to keep Chryst, of course, but bringing in a coach familiar with how the Badgers do business is the second-best thing. More importantly, perhaps, bringing in a coordinator upon whom Bielema can rely — much in the way he did Chryst — will allow Wisconsin’s offense to keep up its recent pace.

Of course, Canada’s departure passes the buck along to Northern Illinois, which must begin its own search for a new offensive coordinator. And Wisconsin’s search is far from done, seeing that former offensive line coach Bob Bostad and tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Joe Rudolph left to join Chryst’s staff at Pittsburgh, as did linebackers coach Dave Huxtable.

That search continues, but the largest gap has been filled. For now, Bielema turns his sights towards locating a new tight ends coach, a new boss along the offensive line, a new linebackers coach and a new recruiting coordinator, with the latter title either going to a current member of his staff or one of the new additions.

Canada will slide in under the radar for a few months, but he’ll need to prove his offensive coordinator credentials before the Badgers retake the field in August. That begins during Wisconsin’s spring game, when every botched snap or play for loss will be greeted with head-shaking condemnation — he’s no Chryst, that look will say.

But Wisconsin should be patient, because Canada really is the best Wisconsin could do in this situation. He’s no Chryst, but few are; he’s also been a spread guy in the past, run-heavy with the Huskies and pass-heavy at Indiana. Canada has still been through the ringer, has Big Ten experience and a solid relationship with Bielema, not to mention the backing of those Wisconsin’s head coach truly trusts. And he’s passed Bielema’s own eyeball test, which might matter most of all.

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