Canada, Azzanni eager to keep UW moving
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema wasn't interested in bringing in assistant coaches to run a spread offense or a no-huddle system. The Badgers have run their smash-mouth, pro-style offense with a purpose for years, and Bielema is determined to keep it that way.
In making his first two assistant coaching hires this week, Bielema stuck to that plan. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni both have experience with pro-style offensive systems, making Bielema's move to hire them an easy decision.
“Here at Wisconsin, there's a formula that you can recruit to, bring in and develop," Bielema said Wednesday during an introductory press conference for both coaches. “It's been very nice for me to see the development of the players on our roster and see the good players coming back next year. We're a developmental program and I don't think that will ever change."
Canada served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Northern Illinois last season under head coach Dave Doeren, a former defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. Canada ran a spread offense with the Huskies and at his previous stop, Indiana. But he did operate out of a pro-style system during his prior stint at Northern Illinois as an offensive coordinator in 2003.
“I know what this place is about," Canada said of Wisconsin. “We're going to come in here and we're going to run the football and be physical, because that's what the talent is. There's no question about the philosophy of Wisconsin and certainly the offensive philosophy of Wisconsin. I'm just joining and being a part of that philosophy."
Canada described Wisconsin as a program he dreamed of working at for many years, citing the tradition and the passion from a statewide fan base. He replaces Paul Chryst, who left Wisconsin to become head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.
Bielema said he interviewed 12 different coaches for the offensive coordinator position, and Canada was the last to interview. Northern Illinois played in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 8, and Bielema said he waited until after the game to contact Canada out of respect for Doeren and his program.
“I think the coordinator has got to be a guy that can stand in front of the room and tell you the plan," Bielema said. “He's obviously, in my opinion, got to have the ability to teach not only his position but the offense and make sure that everybody is on the same page. I like the fact that Matt has been in a couple different systems and he's had success."
Azzanni, meanwhile, comes from Western Kentucky, where he served as offensive coordinator last season while running a pro-style offense. It marked his first season in that offensive system. He has also served as wide receivers coach under Urban Meyer at Florida, which ran a spread attack. Azzanni replaces DelVaughn Alexander, who became wide receivers coach at Arizona State.
Azzanni said that when he became offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky, he was reluctant at first to adapt its pro-style system.
“I tell you what, it opened my eyes to a lot of different things, and a year down the road, I think it helped me get this job," Azzanni said. “It's a lot easier to go from that to this now that I've done it and called it.
“At first, I was a little unsure (at Western Kentucky). And then all of a sudden we started really pounding people and taking the will away from other teams and I kind of got excited about it. You take some things you did in a spread and make it work in a pro-style offense. It's all intertwined somehow."
Bielema said he compiled a list of 75 different coaches for the five vacant assistant coaching positions he had on his staff following Wisconsin's Rose Bowl loss to Oregon on Jan. 2.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday that Andy Buh, the defensive coordinator at Nevada the last two seasons, was set to become Wisconsin's linebackers coach.
Bielema has yet to announce a hire for the tight ends coach and the offensive line coach.
Injury updates: Bielema announced that linebackers Mike Taylor and Ethan Armstrong both would miss spring practice because of surgeries. Taylor had surgery on one of his hips, while Armstrong had surgeries performed on both hips.
Bielema also said that he expected quarterbacks Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips would both be ready to participate in spring practice. Budmayr missed the 2011 season after experiencing nerve damage in his throwing elbow, while Phillips had a setback during his recovery from a second ACL tear in his right knee.
“Jon has really come along a lot faster than initially they thought in the month of December," Bielema said. “He went through a really tough couple days. He was having a lot of pain and from that day forward has miraculously come back."
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