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What will the Badgers coaching staff look like post-Joe Rudolph?

One significant name could be changing sides of the ball, if we’re reading the tea leaves correctly.

Syndication: Unknown USA TODAY via Imagn Content Services, LLC

For the first time under head coach Paul Chryst, the Wisconsin Badgers will have a new offensive line coach entering the 2022 season.

Joe Rudolph, who coached under Chryst at Pittsburgh as well as in Madison, is headed to join Brent Pry’s staff at Virginia Tech, as they look to get the Hokies headed back in the winning direction in the ACC.

Rudolph, who played at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez in the early 1990’s, has been the offensive line coach since being hired at Wisconsin in 2015. He’s also held other titles and had other responsibilities, such as “Run Game Coordinator” and has also called plays intermittently, and for the entirety of the 2020 season. He was also one of the top recruiters on Wisconsin’s coaching staff, having reeled in some of the top recruits the Badgers have signed over the past couple of seasons, notably 5-star OL Nolan Rucci.

While Wisconsin’s offensive line has been above average among the college football landscape under Rudolph, I don’t feel it’s a hot take to admit that the Badgers have been better at different times throughout recent history up front. I’m not using this to dump on Rudolph, who I believe is a good offensive line coach, and will be a big benefit to Virginia Tech, but Wisconsin’s offensive line has not been the elite unit that has developed the reputation that the group carries present day due to past iterations.

That being said, Wisconsin’s offensive line job is one of the more desirable offensive line positions in the country. Not only do you have the recruiting pull of the history of Badger lines before you, but also a cupboard stocked full of talented, young players who have been recruited over the past few cycles. 4 and 5-star recruits alone over the past three classes:

  • Logan Brown, 5-star OT from Michigan - projected starter at left tackle
  • Joe Tippmann, 4-star OT from Indiana - currently starting at center
  • Trey Wedig, 4-star OT from Wisconsin - should compete for the right tackle job
  • Jack Nelson, 4-star OT from Wisconsin - started at right guard as a redshirt freshman
  • JP Benzschawel, 4-star OT from Wisconsin - competing as depth at guard
  • Nolan Rucci, 5-star OT from Pennsylvania - should compete for the right tackle job
  • Riley Mahlman, 4-star OT from Minnesota - took reps with first team in camp, should compete for the right tackle job

This doesn’t even include Joe Brunner, a 4-star OL from in-state Whitefish Bay who signed in this most recent recruiting class, as well as the potential to add in-state 4-star Carson Hinzman (St. Croix Central), who is still deciding between Wisconsin and Ohio State.

However, that makes this next hire pivotal, if Wisconsin is going to see the fruits of these labors on the trail. While there are likely plenty of qualified candidates for the opening, only one seems to make too much sense, and has a track record at Wisconsin who can fulfill the potential these lineman have:

Bob Bostad.

Bostad, currently the inside linebackers coach for Wisconsin, has been back on staff since 2017. Bostad spent time with Wisconsin from 2006-2011, when he was the Run Game Coordinator and tight ends coach from 06-07 and the offensive line coach from 08-11. He then left Wisconsin to coach the offensive line for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2012-2013, and then the Tennessee Titans from 2014-2015. He was with Northern Illinois for one season in 2016 before re-joining the staff at Wisconsin.

During his time with the offensive line from 2008-2011, the Badgers were arguably at their peak offensively. Offensive lines featuring Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Travis Frederick, Kevin Zeitler, Josh Oglesby, Bill Nagy, Rick Wagner, among others all had time (or are still) in the NFL, and were among the top offensive lines in the country. These units, paired with Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson helped the Wisconsin offensive explosion that led them to Rose Bowls against TCU and Oregon, as well as nationally televised bludgeonings of Michigan (28 straight run plays, scored 56 points), Northwestern (76 points), Indiana (83 points), and were legitimate national title (BCS at the time) contenders, before coming up short (usually in Hail mMry situations).

Bostad has the pedigree, knowledge, and track record of success to be the new offensive line coach, whether that happens or not is still to be seen.

The next conversation is then - if Bostad moves back to the offensive line, who takes over at the inside linebacker spot? While clearly Bostad’s history on the offensive line makes sense, he’s also objectively been a successful inside linebacker’s coach, featuring some of the program’s best linebackers in school history during his time (T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly, Chris Orr, Jack Sanborn, Leo Chenal). There are two likely (one much more than the other) scenarios I could see happening:

  1. They give all of the linebackers to Bobby April, the current outside linebackers coach who has done a standup job with the pass rushers since 2018, when he came to Wisconsin following a stint as Rex Ryan’s linebackers coach with the Buffalo Bills or
  2. This is completely me spit-balling here, but both Chris Orr and Jack Cichy are currently working for the football program, and maybe not in a full-time role, but could have some capacity with the inside linebackers, under the tutelage of April or another linebacker coach brought in. Both Cichy and Orr played for Jim Leonhard, have a knowledge of the defense, and were both standouts at the position. Now, it goes without saying that being a great player does not automatically equate to being a good coach or teacher, but the two are both valuable assets for the program, and could be looked upon to contribute in some fashion.

Overall, the coaching staff would look like this given this scenario:

Head Coach - Paul Chryst

Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks - Chryst
Running backs - Gary Brown
Wide Receivers - Alvis Whitted
Tight Ends - Mickey Turner
Offensive Line - Bob Bostad

Defensive Line - Ross Kolodziej
Linebackers - Bobby April III
Cornerbacks - Hank Poteat
Defensive Coordinator/Safeties - Jim Leonhard

We’ll see how this situation progresses, but could be an exciting development for Wisconsin given the amount of talent in the offensive line room at the moment. Should also go without saying that Joe Rudolph will be missed within the program - he’s extremely popular with the players, and is objectively one of the nicest football coaches I’ve dealt with in the media, or otherwise. A quality human being, and a good offensive line coach, Virginia Tech is getting a good one.

Can Bostad be the guy to return the Wisconsin offensive line to the elite status he had them at from 2008-2011? We’ll have to see!