Wisconsin safeties coach Bill Busch builds relationships with young secondary

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin's defensive backs have responded well to the coaching style of first-year safeties coach Bill Busch. How will that translate into the season?

Over eight months ago, Gary Andersen announced his new coaching staff as part of the makeover of the Wisconsin football program. Among the hires, Andersen brought with him a slew of coaches from his staff at Utah State, including Bill Busch, his associate head coach, special teams coordinator and safeties coach. Along with co-coordinating special teams with tight ends coach Jeff Genyk, Andersen assigned Busch the task of coaching his safeties once again.

After the first week of fall camp, it is apparent Busch -- a former graduate assistant under UW's former head coach and current Director of Athletics, Barry Alvarez -- has brought his animated and demanding coaching style to a secondary unproven and inexperienced, in the eyes of many, particularly after the graduation of Shelton Johnson.

But that style is one his players have adapted and endeared themselves to in their short eight months together. It's a growing relationship between a coach and his players that demands accountability and high expectations, but one all parties have responded well and bought in to.

"Yeah, he's animated," said senior safety Dezmen Southward, the lone veteran among Wisconsin's defensive backs. "You know, I love coach Busch. We're growing and learning what type of coach he is, and he's in your face, and he's gonna let you know exactly how you feel. He doesn't hold any punches, and I love it about him."

Busch has many players to look after as he takes over for Chris Ash, who left to become the defensive coordinator for former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema at Arkansas. There are 13 safeties currently in camp, and with the starting safety position opposite Southward up for grabs, the ability to give players the appropriate chance to prove themselves can be challenging. Rather than giving players limited reps per practice, he's tried to give them significant time on the field on a particular day of practice.

"It's more day-to-day," Busch said. "Some days you don't get a lot of reps by day, but that can all flip again on the next day.

"I've told our guys the depth chart changes hourly, basically. It's not a deal where we're going to wait and, you know, 'we'll talk about this in 10 days.' We'll talk about it in about an hour. And after watching this practice, we'll change the depth chart if need be."

Busch made clear he works his group harder during practices, but for the purpose to prepare them for game days starting in less than three weeks. He wants his safeties to have a higher set of expectations for their assignments and gameplay, and several times throughout the past week, he has not shied away from voicing his displeasure over miscues on the field.

"What we try to do is I tell them -- we make it, try to make it so hard on them now that Saturdays, they're calm." -Bill Busch

"What we try to do is I tell them -- we make it, try to make it so hard on them now that Saturdays, they're calm," Busch said.

"And then also at the same time right there, is that if you don't have those (expectations), if you have it, 'Oh, that's okay. We'll get that later.' That's not where your expectations have to be. Get it right now, the very first time you went over it. Because if that's your expectation, they'll try to meet it."

The players have seen Busch's direct manner firsthand during the opening week of camp. Sophomore Mike Caputo, himself competing for playing time among a logjam of safeties but making a splash with an impressive first week -- including an interception of quarterback Tanner McEvoy in red zone skelly drills Thursday -- has seen and been subjected to some verbal on-field instruction during practice mid week.

To Caputo, it's all simply Busch's way of helping the progression of a defense trying to grasp an entirely new defense with the season kicking off later this month.

"The thing I appreciate about coach Busch is that he's real straight forward with you, no matter what," Caputo said. "In the film room, on the field, just talking to you, he'll tell you how it is and that's what I really like about him."

Busch has also delivered high praise to the group as a whole, especially when noting the progress made since spring practice. Among the players he's praised is redshirt freshman free safety Leo Musso, who has worked with the No. 1 defense in camp despite his inexperience. Southward has also been commended for his coverage skills, as has junior Jeff Lewis, who is continuing his transition from running back to safety.

Off the field, Busch has forged a solid foundation with his players in the short time he's coached them. It's the dichotomy of the on-the-field instructions and off-the-field actions that have his players sold on him. It doesn't take long to see the players look up to him as a mentor.

"He's almost like a father figure to all the safeties," Musso said.

"He's texting all of us, he's always calling us. Just little things like that really make it comforting as a coach as soon as he came in. Always on top of our grades, and he's a great coach."

"He'll get on you, but it is what it is, it's football," junior safety Michael Trotter added. "He jokes around so much in the meeting room so, you know, he's a coach you can have a relationship with, and I like that a lot about him. But you can also learn football from him."

Wisconsin's first scrimmage begins Monday afternoon, and it'll allow Busch to evaluate and see his safeties play within the new schemes of the 3-4 defense implemented by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. One starting safety spot is up for grabs, but significant playing time is also in play, as seen this week with several formations featuring three, occasionally four safeties in certain sub-packages.

The players will be put under the microscope once again, this time under a more magnified and public light. They also know they can count on Busch for critical breakdowns of their play.

"The worst thing out there is to do something, and not do it quite right, and then not be told that you're not doing it right. Coach Busch is the type of guy if you're not doing it 100 percent right, he's gonna get the last five percent out of you."-Dezmen Southward

"The worst thing out there is to do something, and not do it quite right, and then not be told that you're not doing it right," Southward said. "And coach Busch is the type of guy if you're not doing it 100 percent right, he's gonna get the last five percent out of you, and you gotta love that about him."

It's all a part of a growing trust between those 13 safeties and a coach who has returned to Madison as part of a staff that's entirely new aside from two holdovers from the previous staff in running backs coach Thomas Hammock and cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland.

For Busch, it's all about his relationship with the players and their development.

"It's the only reason that I coach," Busch said. "It's the most fun that I do."

"I'm not someone that really gets excited about, 'Man, I remember in 1992, I called this play. It was this defense and it worked,' because no one cares. I really get excited about the players I coach, and the guys I coach now and the relationship with them."

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