Chryst pleased with way his Badgers coaching staff came together
MADISON, Wis. — The pieces to Paul Chryst’s first coaching staff at Wisconsin continue to take shape. And Wednesday represented a significant step forward for the football program, as Chryst officially announced the hiring of four assistants and a strength and conditioning coach.
The hires: Thomas Brown (running backs), Mickey Turner (tight ends), Inoke Breckterfield (defensive line), Chris Haering (special teams) and Ross Kolodziej (strength and conditioning coach). That news came one day after the school named Joe Rudolph as offensive coordinator and Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator.
Chryst met with the media Wednesday for the first time since his introductory news conference last month and said he was pleased with the way his staff had come together.
"I don’t feel like I’ve been forced to compromise or do something like, ‘Jeez, that’s not exactly how I want to do it. Let’s make it work this way,’" Chryst said. "I haven’t felt that."
Chryst has yet to announce who will coach the team’s wide receivers, outside linebackers and secondary. But two of those three position groups appear to have been filled, albeit unofficially. It has been reported that former Hawaii secondary coach Daronte’ Jones has been hired in the same capacity at Wisconsin. Former Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell reportedly will coach the Badgers’ wide receivers.
That leaves only an outside linebackers coach and could mean Badgers cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland, an excellent in-state recruiter and former Wisconsin player, may not be in the plans. Given that the NCAA-mandated dead period for recruiting ends after Wednesday, the staff would figure to be announced shortly.
"I feel pretty close to getting it done," Chryst said. "And certainly we get to go out Thursday. So we’ll be ready to do all that and have it in place. It’ll be soon."
There was speculation that former Badgers offensive line coach Bob Bostad would return to hold the same position under Chryst. But Chryst indicated that was not the case, and Rudolph will coach the line in addition to his duties as offensive coordinator.
Bostad joined Chryst briefly at Pitt three years ago as offensive coordinator before taking the offensive line coaching position in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He currently is the offensive line coach with the Tennessee Titans.
"Bo wanted to have an opportunity to coach in the NFL," Chryst said. "I told him then, I don’t care if it’s three days, three weeks, three months, three years, I think with all these guys, you enjoy the time you’re with them. You never want to keep someone from going. . . .
"Bo congratulated me on this. That was about it. We didn’t have discussions about it. Bo’s in a good spot. Happy for him. And he’s fired up for us."
Thus far, only two of Chryst’s hires have been coaches with no direct ties to the University of Wisconsin, but both coached alongside Chryst at Pittsburgh — Haering and Breckterfield. Haering spent three seasons at Pitt coaching defense and special teams but will focus solely on special teams at Wisconsin. He began as a linebackers coach and then served as special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach last season.
Breckterfield joins the Badgers’ staff after three years of coaching defensive tackles at Pitt. His most successful pupil, Aaron Donald, was a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 NFL Draft.
"He’s a guy that I think you want to be around and you know when you watch him and see him, how he interacts with players," Chryst said. "I think what he did with Aaron Donald, I think it’s all that coaching is about, and that’s helping a guy be the best he can. Aaron did a ton of it. Inoke didn’t make Aaron Donald. But I think he certainly helped him. I got to see that day in and day out. I think Inoke’s pretty special that way as a coach."
Turner returns to Madison after being a four-year letterwinner for the Badgers from 2006-09. He was a captain during his senior season on a team that finished 10-3 and defeated Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Kolodziej (pronounced kah-LAH-gee) also is a former player who spent the 2009 offseason as a strength and conditioning intern for the Badgers and returned a year later as a defensive graduate assistant.
Despite the staff compilation, Chryst noted it wasn’t absolutely critical to hire coaches with ties to the program.
"I don’t say imperative because we’ve got some that aren’t that I think are tremendous fits," Chryst said. "But I think that those guys know the state. They know the program. They respect it. You didn’t want to say OK, I’ve got to get ‘X’ players or ‘X’ coaches here who are from the state. But I think it’s all part of their makeup of who they are."
Brown, meanwhile, is one of two assistants, along with Aranda, to remain on staff after he oversaw one of the most productive rushing seasons in college football history. Tailback Melvin Gordon finished as a Heisman Trophy runner-up and posted the second-best season ever by a running back with 2,587 rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns. He and sophomore Corey Clement combined to run for 3,536 yards to break the single-season FBS record for rushing yards by teammates, which Gordon and James White set in 2013 (3,053 yards).
"Kids would come up and talk to me about Thomas," Chryst said. "And obviously I had a chance to visit with Melvin and then had a chance to sit down and talk to him. I think a lot of the things that I saw in those other running backs coaches that I’d been around with, he had some of those core principles that you say you know what? That’s pretty darn good. Like anything, you kind of just take it a lot of different things. Joe had a chance to visit with him and maybe confirm what you were thinking. So I thought that felt pretty fortunate there. It’s a pretty good bar that’s been set."
The next steps in the process for Chryst after officially hiring the remainder of his staff will be recruiting before National Signing Day and becoming familiar with the Badgers’ current crop of players as spring practice approaches.
"I think we’re much better coaches when we know who the guys are," Chryst said. "Not just what they can do athletically on the field but how they’re motivated, how they respond to different things, what’s the best way they learn. We can’t get around the players enough because I think that’s something you hope you’re always kind of doing."
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