Bielema's staff growing together after turnover
AUG 07, 2012 9:06p ET
Among nine assistant coaches, Hammock happens to be the third-longest tenured for the Badgers. Such is life when six assistants have yet to coach a game at Wisconsin.
Hammock leapfrogged six coaches on the totem pole when a mass exodus ensued following Wisconsin's Rose Bowl loss to Oregon in January. And although the departures raised eyebrows in the offseason, the remaining assistants insist it's the byproduct of Wisconsin's immense success in recent years and not coaches searching for a one-way ticket out of Madison.
"Any time you have success and you've got a staff full of hungry guys, things are going to happen," Badgers co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "When you look at the guys that left, everybody left for a better opportunity. When I say better opportunity, they thought it was better professionally, better financially, better for their family. If you can say yes to those reasons, then you look at opportunities.
"In this program, if you're winning and you continue bringing in good people, there's going to be opportunities for people to advance themselves in the profession."
Hammock, Ash and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge are the only three returning full-time assistant coaches on Bret Bielema's staff. Despite the offseason change, all three affirmed their desire to stay at Wisconsin and continue the Badgers' winning tradition.
"I like it here," Hammock said. "I like my players. I always told myself as a coach if I get around players that I really like, it's not very many things that can get you to leave."
The offseason of turnover began when offensive coordinator Paul Chryst left for a head coaching job at Pittsburgh. Linebackers coach Dave Huxtable and tight ends coach Joe Rudolph followed Chryst to Pitt. Offensive line coach Bob Bostad initially went to Pitt as well but left to become the offensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander became wide receivers coach at Arizona State, and DeMontie Cross went from Wisconsin's special teams coordinator to a linebackers coach at Kansas.
Those departures left the Badgers' returning assistants scrambling to pick up the slack. At one point in January, Hammock, Ash, Partridge and Bielema were the only coaches on the road, attempting to shore up Wisconsin's recruiting class for 2012.
"It was very hectic at the time," Partridge said. "We were in the middle of recruiting so you didn't have a lot of time to think about it. We were having to cover areas. I got bounced around more in that three-week period than I ever have from city to city over the recruiting areas that we needed to cover.
"We understood why each coach made the decision that he made. There was no, ‘What's going on with the Badgers?' We completely understood each individual situation."
Bielema eventually brought in offensive coordinator Matt Canada, wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, linebackers coach Andy Buh, tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner, offensive line coach Mike Markuson and secondary coach Ben Strickland.
Partridge is entering his fifth season at Wisconsin — his second as associate coach and co-defensive coordinator — and is the longest tenured assistant on staff.
"It's amazing being the longest tenured assistant coach when it kind of feels like in some ways I just got here," Partridge said. "A lot of guys who came in come to me with questions. What's fun for me is Bret does confide in me with some things, and I appreciate that responsibility that Bret gives me."
Hammock could have become the seventh assistant coach to leave in the offseason when he interviewed for a position with the St. Louis Rams but returned to Wisconsin for a second year.
Now, that decision has paid off for more reasons than being the third-longest tenured coach. Bielema named Hammock an assistant head coach and Wisconsin's lead recruiting coordinator.
"I think it was critical to retain Thomas," Bielema said. "He's just been great. That's why I named him assistant head coach. He's a guy that thinks outside the box. He's very good with our players. He's got great rapport with people in general. … I couldn't be more pleased on the offensive side how the coaches have blended together."
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