MADISON, Wis. — It would be easy for Wisconsin’s coaching staff to fracture beyond repair in the weeks leading up to the team’s Jan. 1 Rose Bowl appearance against Stanford. Only 16 days remain for the nine Badgers assistants before they all part in separate directions for new jobs across the country.
In a sense, it feels like the inevitability of the end of summer camp. The hours are ticking down, and everyone knows things will never be the same when it’s over.
Yet the Badgers’ assistants insist the staff remains unified in an effort to provide Wisconsin with the best opportunity to go out a winner. Coaches are doing it because it’s part of being a professional, of course. But they also acknowledge they owe it to Wisconsin’s players to try their best given everything the team has battled through to reach this point.
“You’ve got a really good staff here,” Badgers defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “They’re very professional. They understand what they need to do to go out and play this game and give our players a chance to win the game. It’s been really nice to watch the guys work together, come together. Preparation has been outstanding so far.
“It is a unique situation. It’s going to test your character, test your professionalism, but the guys have been great.”
Ash is among six assistant coaches leaving the program after the Rose Bowl. He’ll join former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema at Arkansas as the team’s defensive coordinator. Co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge also is headed to Arkansas as the team’s defensive line coach.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada accepted the same position at North Carolina State, where former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren recently became head coach. Tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner is the latest to leave the program, and he’ll head to NC State as well.
Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni will go to Tennessee and linebackers coach Andy Buh has accepted a position at California.
The circumstances have not been easy on anyone associated with the Badgers’ program. Bielema accepted the head coaching position at Arkansas on Dec. 4, just three days after Wisconsin demolished Nebraska 70-31 to win the Big Ten championship. His departure threw the rest of the coaching staff for a considerable loop.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, the team’s interim coach for the Rose Bowl, has said he is in no rush to find the next head coach and acknowledged Sunday he couldn’t hire someone if he wanted to right now. By state law, the school’s job posting for the position must remain open through the end of business on Wednesday.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the next coach, most of the current assistants decided to accept jobs elsewhere to protect their families rather than wait to see if a new coach would retain them.
“I came here with the intention of being here for a long, long time and that’s what we came here for,” said Canada, in his first season at Wisconsin. “That was the plan. Sometimes plans change and you have to trust that and move forward.”
Although six assistants already are leaving — and there could be more in the near future — they have agreed to stay on through the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin’s players, meanwhile, are the ones left behind in the mess.
“I think the older guys, the mature ones, understand that this is a business and there’s going to be change,” Alvarez said Sunday night. “I think the kids have been unbelievable. The kids have been great. They’ve given us good attention. I just talked to the captains. They said the guys have handled it very well. I couldn’t be more pleased with the team.”
Partridge suggested players in this era handle coaching transition much better than in years past, partly because of the frequency with which it occurs. Next season, several Badgers players will be under the tutelage of their third position coach in as many years.
“I think there’s just more awareness that right now the stability that was in college football doesn’t quite exist as much as maybe it did 10, 15 years ago,” Partridge said. “You just don’t see head coaches remain at a place for a long time anymore.”
That opinion may be true, but it doesn’t make the situation any easier for Wisconsin as it tries to win a Rose Bowl with a coaching staff halfway out the door.