- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bret Bielema made a rapid rise up the college coaching ladder.
Big Ten position coach at 26 ... Big 12 co-defensive coordinator at 32 ... Big Ten defensive coordinator at 34 ... Big Ten head coach at 36.
Bielema's ambition helped put him on the fast track. And when he's hiring assistant coaches at Wisconsin, he wants to see the same qualities.
"When you talk to a coach, if he doesn’t want to advance in this profession, we probably won’t talk very long," Bielema told ESPN.com on Thursday. "I want guys that want to be coordinators, or guys that are coordinators who want to be head coaches. If they don't want to sit at the front of the room, we're probably dealing with the wrong type of coach. I want guys who want to advance."
Bielema has had plenty of assistants advance in recent years.
He lost two after the 2009 season, one of whom, Randall McCray, went from position coach to coordinator. He lost three after the 2010 season: defensive coordinator Dave Doeren became head coach at Northern Illinois, while running backs coach John Settle and nickel backs coach Greg Jackson both departed for posts in the NFL.
Wisconsin has lost six assistants in recent weeks, a number that has raised eyebrows in college football circles. The team is coming off of back-to-back Big Ten titles and back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances. Bielema's job is very secure. While one assistant (Paul Chryst) left for a head-coaching job and two others (Bob Bostad, Dave Huxtable) went from position coaches to coordinators, the exodus has left some wondering whether there's something wrong at Wisconsin.
Bielema views things differently.
"It's really not that unusual," he said. "It's unusual at a program that has as much success as we've had, where we're able to keep that continuity of winning in place. I take it as a compliment to what we've been able to do. All those coaches are moving on. Two of them didn't get coordinator jobs, but everybody else got coordinator jobs or titles that made it significantly better for them where they were going.
"To me, it's a tremendous challenge that I love, I embrace and I have a lot of fun with it."
Bielema has filled two vacancies with offensive coordinator Matt Canada and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni. After an extensive interview process for the coordinator job, Bielema went with Canada, in large part because Canada has called plays in different systems (spread, pro style) and can adapt.
"I interviewed a lot of coaches of different levels: NFL, college, big college, small college," he said. "I'm not a résumé guy. I want a football coach. And as this thing gets moving forward, I kept coming back to him. I just think he’s going to be a great fit for what we're going to blend together at Wisconsin. I'm going to hire four new offensive coaches that are going to come from different areas of the country and come together and play the style of football we like at Wisconsin."
Wisconsin's staff will be two-thirds new in 2012, but Bielema won't be surprised if he's doing more hiring a year from now.
"I have every year," he said. "Usually the NFL takes two, took two from me last year. It’s just one of those things, the beauty of the beast here at Wisconsin."