MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema knows that replacing offensive line coach Mike Markuson two games into the season might be perceived as a knee-jerk reaction to the Badgers’ surprisingly sluggish start on offense.
Bielema insisted that isn’t the case. He said he and Markuson had several conversations about the direction the team is heading before making the move.
With the Badgers coming off a 10-7 loss at Oregon State, Bielema confirmed the coaching change in his regular news conference on Monday. Markuson will be replaced by Bart Miller, a graduate assistant in his second season with the Badgers.
“I know everybody’s got their own forgone conclusions of what transpired,” Bielema said. “It wasn’t a knee-jerk thing by me, it’s something that we kind of talked about and processed through.”
Bielema cited personal matters involving Markuson’s family, but also made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the line’s performance.
A dominant, NFL-sized offensive line has been Wisconsin’s calling card going back to Barry Alvarez’s tenure, but this year’s line has had an uncharacteristically tough time opening up holes for star running back Montee Ball and buying time for new quarterback Danny O’Brien.
The Badgers have fallen out of the Top 25 after barely beating FCS school Northern Iowa in their opener, and then losing to the Beavers.
“Now realize I’m not naive to the fact that we’re not going to turn into what we’ve fortunately been able to accomplish in the past overnight,” Bielema said. “But we’re going to take some baby steps, and my guess is we’re going to have a great amount of change in a short amount of time. It wasn’t like they were doing everything horribly. There are some things we’ve got to clean up. We’ve got to get communication, execution and assignments clean.”
Markuson joined the Badgers after the departure of Bob Bostad, who went to Pittsburgh after former Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst took over as the Panthers’ head coach. Bostad then took a job with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Previously, Markuson coached the offensive lines at Arkansas and Mississippi.
Bielema said he wasn’t inclined to wait, recalling situations in his career where it was obvious that a member of a coaching staff wasn’t a good fit, and they were allowed to stay through the end of the season.
“I’m never going to delay a decision that I think will help us win football games,” Bielema said. “I’ve seen a lot of coaches make those decisions at the end of the year, and they probably knew it sooner than I did. They just don’t want to cause a wave. And I’m not scared of high waves.”
And what if people outside the program perceive it as a sign of panic?
“Panic is from the outside world,” Bielema said. “Reality is what I live in.”
Bielema expressed confidence in Miller’s ability to take on additional responsibilities.
“(He can) bridge a little bit of what we had a year ago, to where we’re at now,” Bielema said. “And he can be that guy.”
Wisconsin faces Utah State on Saturday night. The Aggies are coming off a victory over Utah.
Bielema said the Badgers will be without defensive back Shelton Johnson, who broke his arm and had surgery on Sunday. Bielema said he could be out up to six weeks. The Badgers also could be without top wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who took a hard hit in Saturday’s loss. Bielema said Abbrederis was “slightly concussed,” but there still was a chance he could play Saturday.