After each of the first two games of this season, redshirt junior center Travis Frederick said the offensive line was struggling to find its way more than he expected it to, despite working in new regular starters at three positions.
In the aftermath of Bret Bielema’s decision to fire first-year offensive line coach Mike Markuson Sunday, it appears the marching orders have been cleared up a bit: Do things the way that they were done when Bob Bostad was in charge.
Bostad oversaw the Badgers’ frontline for four seasons and was a UW assistant for six years before departing in January. He originally took a job on former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst’s staff before being hired as the offensive line coach for the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bielema said Monday he promoted little-known graduate assistant Bart Miller to “bridge a little bit of what we had last year to where we are now.”
Tuesday, the Badgers began their preparation for Saturday’s home contest against Utah State (2-0) with their second offensive line coach in nine months. That is sure to reset the transition period, even if the transition is now to try to re-apply, rather than learn anew.
“You just have to have a plan, work the plan and plan for the unexpected,” first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada said Tuesday. “We’re going to drive forward and make the best of a difficult situation, as you would in life when a lot of things come your way.”
Usually, reporters are able to interview up to four offensive players and assistant coaches Tuesday evening, but this week the list was restricted to five players and four assistants. Redshirt senior left tackle Rick Wagner was the lone offensive lineman available and Miller was the only assistant not made available.
Miller is in his second year in the program after serving as a quality control coach a season ago. He played for Bostad at New Mexico in 2005 and graduated in 2007. Miller worked for the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks for two years before returning to college football as a graduate assistant at New Mexico State in 2010. In his weekly press conference on Monday, Bielema said he would not have made the change if Miller were not so familiar with the program. Wagner reiterated those sentiments Tuesday.
“We have all the confidence in the world,” the team captain said. “We were real happy they picked Bart, Coach Miller, to take over. He’s kind of a mix of [Bostad] and Markuson I guess you could say, and we’re real excited to get working with him.”
After Saturday’s 10-7 loss, Frederick talked about the unit needing to improve its cohesion and said part of the learning curve was the way Markuson and the players interacted during games.
“It just comes down to communication,” the 338 lb. center said Saturday. “What we used to do, everybody had their job and you did this and this, and this is how everybody knew it. It’s just a little bit different now.”
Whether or not those assignments revert immediately—and whether or not any change improves the performance of a unit that currently ranks No. 103 in the nation in rushing offense at 101.5 yards per game—remains to be seen.
Bielema did say Monday that the other offensive assistant coaches will help pick up the responsibilities on and off the field. According to the head coach, Miller will not be asked to recruit during the season, though he does have experience. Bielema sent him out this winter during the significant staff transition, but now the young coach’s sole responsibility is coaching.
“Yeah, it was a surprise, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t, but that’s what I respect about Coach [Bielema],” first-year tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner said. “He does things that he thinks are best for the program and makes tough decisions. That’s what a head coach has to do and that’s the kind of guy I want to follow.”