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Badgers Embrace "Rebirth" of Wisconsin Football

Bret Bielema might have given the Badgers a new-look coaching staff, but the Badgers won't stray too far from what made them successful.
Bret Bielema might have given the Badgers a new-look coaching staff, but the Badgers won't stray too far from what made them successful.

MADISON, Wis. -- Change is uncomfortable. That's what the Wisconsin Badgers found out first hand when six assistant coaches left for different jobs after winning their second consecutive Big Ten Championship, and it's what new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni stressed after the Badgers introduced their 2012 signing class.

"Change is uncomfortable for people," Azzanni said. "Change involves risk. I think players, coaches, everybody, you have a tendency when you have success to lose your edge. Not that anyone has ... but they're certainly not going to now."

Certainly not. If change keeps people sharp, then bringing in a completely revamped coaching staff should work wonders for the Badgers. As of now, the Badgers have hired four new assistants: Azzanni, offensive coordinator Matt Canada, linebackers coach Andy Buh, and offensive line coach Mike Markuson. Ben Strickland was promoted to safeties coach after serving as a graduate assistant, and the Badgers are still in the market for a new tight ends coach.

It'll be quite a different look for the Badgers, but that doesn't mean they'll get away from what made them successful.

"I think it's a rebirth of Wisconsin football," Bielema said. "It may have a few tweaks, a few alterations. But what we've known and had success with here isn't going to change."

Buh couldn't help but agree with Azzanni about new blood being good for a program.

"Change brings a clean slate for everybody," Buh said. "Guys can recreate themselves; I'm really excited to see what they do. I see that we have a lot of young guys, some with some experience, but that's what change is right now."

"Coach Bielema was excited for the new blood. Great organizations bring good people together."

The Badgers certainly have quite the infusion of new blood. All of Bielema's new hires have coordinating experience at some point in their careers, and they all have worked in different parts of the country. Buh has spent his career out west with Stanford and Nevada, Canada worked at NIU and Indiana, Azzanni has spent time in the midwest and in Florida, and Markuson has followed Houston Nutt from Boise State, to Arkansas, to Ole Miss.

The Badgers are certainly used to this kind of staffing attrition. It just comes with the territory, according to Bielema.

"I think it's a sign of respect for what we do," Bielema said.

But the Badgers would certainly like to hold on to their new staff members for a while. In fact, Markuson is hoping to establish himself in Madison for a while.

"I'm moving my family here," Markuson said. "It's important for us to establish some roots. I'm not a big move guy - I had some real stability with coach Nutt. Ten years at Arkansas, four at Ole Miss, so I'm not one of those guys that's going to (move around.)"

But even with all the staff turnover, the Badgers still have some continuity. Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash are back to oversee the defense, and Thomas Hammock is back as the running backs coach, even though he had opportunities to move up in the coaching ranks.

But they also got some continuity from an unexpected but familiar source. Bielema promoted former Wisconsin captain and graduate assistant Ben Strickland to be a full-time assistant coach. His presence on staff helped the Badgers lock down their 2012 class during a time of transition, and Bret Bielema felt it was time to reward the former Badger walk-on. Strickland said he hopes his presence will help provide stability in a time of change for the Badgers.

"I hope that (the new coaches) tap into me as a resource, being a guy that's been here as a player, as a GA, and now as a full time coach," Strickland said, "To keep those values that have helped us be successful going forward."

"I've been very blessed in my life to presented with opportunities that I've been able to take advantage of. For myself, it's obviously a dream come true to get this job, and I think that just the simple values of hard work, loyalty, and trust are a big reason why I'm still here."

So while change might be uncomfortable for the Badgers right now, Bielema and the coaching staff feel like they have a chance to improve on Wisconsin's flourishing image.

"Coach Bielema is going to make sure that we stay on his plan," Azzanni said. "We're going to stay on his road, do things the way he does it, but he knows we're our own coaches with our own styles and personalities, whatever he allows, we'll do. He's got a lot of good coaches here, he's got a lot of good minds, that have been a lot of places, that have won a lot of games."