Monday, January 7, 2013
Did UW make mistake by letting Miller go?
By Adam Rittenberg
New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen confirmed at his introductory news conference that one Badgers assistant, secondary coach Ben Strickland, would remain on staff after the transition.
Word leaked out shortly after that another assistant, running backs coach Thomas Hammock, would be retained. Six of the other seven Badgers assistants already had accepted jobs with other programs.
That left one assistant with an uncertain future: Bart Miller.
The former graduate assistant had been elevated to offensive line coach after the firing of Mike Markuson just two games into the season. Despite Miller's age (27) and lack of experience, then-Badgers coach Bret Bielema felt confident in his ability to get the offensive line, usually the strongest position group on the squad, back on track. Miller helped the group refocus, won the respect of the players and fostered some improvement as Big Ten play went on. But this wasn't a typical year for Wisconsin's offensive line. Rather than the sustained dominance we saw for years under previous line coach Bob Bostad, the unit fluctuated week to week.
Miller mentioned before the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizo that he could be auditioning for his job. He evidently didn't make the cut.
When Andersen announced most of his coaching staff Thursday -- seven of nine assistants -- Miller's name was nowhere to be found. Included in the new hires is T.J. Woods, who coached offensive line for Andersen at Utah State and who will hold the same post for the Badgers.
The Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Mulhern reported Saturday that Miller indeed wouldn't be retained on Andersen's staff. Athletic director Barry Alvarez had recommended Miller to be the team's tight ends coach, but Andersen is expected to go elsewhere with the hire.
Is it a mistake? Only time will tell.
It's rare for new coaches with no direct ties to a program or its assistants to retain more than one or two assistants from the previous staff. Andersen has the right to make his own staff decisions and to appoint the people he trusts to certain positions. Woods by all accounts did an excellent job at Utah State, coaching four first-team All-WAC selections the past two seasons. Utah State is one of just four FBS programs -- Wisconsin is another -- to produce a 1,500-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons. Utah State ranked sixth and 25th nationally in rushing offense in Woods' two seasons.
On the flip side, Miller did a pretty solid job in a very tough situation at Wisconsin, and seems to have a bright future in coaching. If Bielema had remained Wisconsin's coach, Miller would have stayed on as line coach. The Badgers offensive linemen love the guy, and not surprisingly stumped for him to remain their coach.
"He came into that position of power," tackle Rob Havenstein told me last month. "It couldn't be borrowed any more. He came off and talked to some of the older guys, the guys who were going to play for him, and said, 'It's got to be Coach. It's going to change a little bit.' I was all for it. I was very happy to hear that he got the position because I respect the hell out of the man. Everyone in our room does. He coaches football the right way. I was very happy to play for him."
No position group values continuity more than the offensive line, not just with one another, but with their coach. Wisconsin had that for years with Bostad. It would have had continuity with Miller, too. Instead, the linemen must adjust to a new coach who will put his own spin on things.
Andersen had a tough call and went with familiarity. We'll soon find out if it was the right decision.