MADISON, Wis. — Not unlike for many coaches at the college level, an NFL coaching opportunity was a dream Mike Markuson had been pursuing for quite some time. Yet when an interview finally landed in his lap, Markuson was so torn that he couldn’t bring himself to accept.
Markuson found himself in Oxford, Miss., out of a job after Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt was fired following last season and the staff was let go as well. That is, until Markuson was offered a plum job to serve as Wisconsin’s offensive line coach. The only problem was that the next day, he was scheduled to interview for an assistant offensive line position with an NFL team.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema did everything in his power to convince Markuson that Wisconsin was the place for him, and soon Markuson concurred.
“Most college guys, that’s the next level and you’re trying to better yourself, better your future,” Markuson said of the pros. “It was just too hard after I left here and they offered the job. I went back to Oxford, talked to my wife and kids, and it was just a no-brainer. I told that particular team I wasn’t coming and I was going to be a Badger.”
Markuson was officially announced as a member of Wisconsin’s coaching staff on Jan. 21 and became one of six new assistants on Bielema’s staff. His presence has already been felt within the program.
Immediately after accepting the job, Markuson joined Bielema on flights to Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland to meet with members of this year’s recruiting class. Bielema then sent Markuson to Tacoma, Wash., to convince 6-foot-7, 320-pound offensive lineman Walker Williams to remain committed to Wisconsin.
Markuson also helped bring 6-6, 320-pound offensive lineman Jake Meador to Wisconsin. The two developed a relationship when Markuson coached at Ole Miss, where Meador had planned on playing until Markuson joined Wisconsin.
“It was amazing,” Markuson said. “I’m home fired in Oxford, Mississippi, sitting with my wife drinking coffee and the kid is calling me. ‘Hey coach, what’s going on? What are you doing? What are you up to?’ We could talk. I was unemployed, so we could talk as much as we wanted. It was just unbelievable how it worked out.”
Markuson, 50, spent the last 14 years coaching in the Southeastern Conference at Arkansas and Mississippi and made it clear to Meador that he intended on staying at Wisconsin for years to come.
“I assured Jake that, ‘Hey I’m moving my family here. I’ve got a little girl that’s going to be a freshman in college,'” Markuson said. “It’s important to establish some roots. I had 10 years with Coach Nutt at Arkansas before Ole Miss. I’m not one of those guys that’s going to move around a lot.”
Meador and Williams were two of three incoming recruits on the offensive line. The other, 6-4, 295-pound Dan Voltz, already had enrolled at Wisconsin for spring semester. Markuson made quite an impression on Voltz when the two finally met.
“He didn’t even talk about football that much when I first met him,” Voltz said. “He told me that he’s here for me, he’s here for the players. If I needed anything, he gave me his cell phone number, told me to call him. He’s really all about family. He’s a family man. I just feel really comfortable playing for him.”
Markuson, a Farmington, Minn., native, said closer proximity to family in Minnesota played a role in his decision to join Wisconsin’s coaching staff.
But his decision to turn down an NFL interview should also speak volumes about just how coveted an assistant coaching position is at Wisconsin. The offensive line in particular is a unit that has produced NFL prospects annually.
This year, for example, three members of the offensive line have NFL hopes: Kevin Zeitler, Josh Oglesby and Peter Konz, who left school after his junior season and is likely a first-round draft selection. Former Wisconsin offensive linemen in the NFL now include Gabe Carimi (Chicago Bears), John Moffitt (Seattle Seahawks), Bill Nagy (Dallas Cowboys) and Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns).
Markuson said he considered the job to be one of the best assistant coaching positions in college football.
“No question,” he said. “Especially when you look at the history and you look at the players that have come out of this program, successful NFL players. Just look at the trophies. That’s a credit to the program, a credit to the past guys that have coached here. … I’ve always watched this program from afar and watched it closely and what’s been done here. I’m just proud to get the baton now and see if we can continue it.”
Bielema said he interviewed 13 offensive line coaches and Markuson was the only man who received a job offer.
“It was very important to nail Mike down,” Bielema said. “One thing coach (Barry) Alvarez told me when I took this job was, ‘Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t go with something quick and easy. Make sure it’s the right fit.'”