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September 10, 2012
MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema wasted little time in trying to fix his team's offensive woes after the Badgers fell 10-7 to Oregon State over the weekend. Bielema announced that offensive line coach Mike Markuson left the program less than eight months after he was hired in the offseason.
Wisconsin's offensive line struggled as a whole during their first two games of the year, and had trouble opening up holes for the running game and protecting quarterback Danny O'Brien. It's a surprising change of pace for the Badgers, who built much of their recent success off of strong play by the offensive line.
But Bielema said Monday that Markuson's departure was due more to personal issues than football ones, and said that it was a decision he had been mulling over for a while.
"Mike is a great person, did a lot while he was here, did a nice job for us in recruiting," Bielema said, "Mike is a guy who cares a lot about his family. I think there was a lot of weighing factors."
Reports emerged Sunday night that "personality issues" led to Markuson's departure, but Bielema was quick to point out that personality was one reason why he hired the long-time Houston Nutt disciple after Bob Bostad left for Pittsburgh with Paul Chryst.
"I know everybody has their own conclusions about what transpired," Bielema said. "It wasn't a knee-jerk thing by me. It's something that we've kind of talked about and processed through."
Several Wisconsin offensive linemen and even Markuson himself admitted over the summer and in the fall that it took a while for the two sides to get on the same page and communicate effectively after having so many years of coaching stability. Markuson and his players said in fall camp that any issues had been ironed out, but the offensive line's play through two games told a different story.
After making the decision to part ways with Markuson, Bielema was quick to install offensive graduate assistant Bart Miller as the team's new offensive line coach. Miller's promotion comes after spending last season with the Badgers as the team's offensive quality control assistant, where he worked primarily with the offensive line under Bostad. Bostad also coached Miller during his college years as an offensive lineman at the University of New Mexico.
The Badgers usually hire former players or people with other ties to the program as graduate assistants, but Bielema said Miller's resume stood out when he was originally brought on staff.
"The exciting part for me is I'm able to bring along a guy in Bart Miller that was a graduate assistant, and brought into the program by coach Bostad," Bielema said. "I think the guys that have been in the program as well as the guys that left think very highly of him."
Miller has big shoes to fill, since it's rare for assistant coaches to leave mid-season, let alone after just two games. But Bielema said Miller will be more than able to handle the job, and his preparedness made his original decision to move on from Markuson possible.
"If he hadn't been here for two plus years and seen the side of the world from both ends, I wouldn't have made this decision," Bielema said. "It's made possible because of a guy like Bart."
Bielema said the Badgers are looking for Miller to "be the bridge" between their current offensive line and the techniques that made the last few offensive lines so effective, and that he came close to hiring Miller as a full-time coach during the offseason.
But Bielema felt nervous about promoting two graduate assistants to full-time roles in the same offseason where he lost most of his offensive staff. Bielema ended up elevating Ben Strickland to coach the secondary, but Miller was kept on staff as an assistant.
It's a bold move for Bielema, who needs to help his players re-establish their footing if they want to compete for a third-straight Big Ten title. The Badgers will play Utah State in a night game at Camp Randall Stadium this Saturday, and Bielema said there wasn't time to waste.
"I'm never going to delay a decision that I think will help us win football games," Bielema said.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.