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January 18, 2012MADISON - When Wisconsin lost to Oregon, 45-38, earlier this month during the 98th edition of the annual Rose Bowl game, Bret Bielema knew he would be losing offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and Bob Bostad.
There's probably no way he could have seen losing five assistants in total, including four from the offensive side of the ball. That's just completely unprecedented, especially considering how Joe Rudolph, Bob Bostad and Dave Huxtable all left to join Chryst's first staff at Pittsburgh.
DelVaughn Alexander left for the wide receivers coaching job at Arizona State, under former Pitt head coach Todd Graham.
So, the restructuring of the two-time defending Big Ten champions had to begin, and it started with Zach Azzanni, UW's newly tabbed wide receivers coach. Azzanni addressed the Wisconsin media for the first time Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm extremely excited to be here and I'm extremely excited to be part of Wisconsin," Azzanni, who most recently coordinator Western Kentucky's offense, said. "I've known Bret for a number of years and I've always kept in touch with that glimmer of hope that I'd get to be a Badger one day.
"I'm real excited about working in tradition rich place, that's important to me and my family. I love the pageantry of college football and the tradition of college football. This is just a great fit for me and my family."
Azzanni, self-described as an intense coach, hasn't had a great opportunity to sit down and study his new group of wide receivers. He also hasn't had the chance to reach out to any of his new positional players.
He has, however, heard about UW's top returning wide receiver in Jared Abbrederis.
"I've been getting some text messages from some colleagues the past couple of days," Azzanni said. "They've been telling me how much I'm going to love coaching Abby. I've watched him play and I'm hitting (nudging) my wife on the couch during a couple of games. He does everything. He punt returns, he's blocking.
"He's the type of kid I love to coach. I'm really excited.
Azzanni and Abbrederis will probably hit it off immediately, simply because one of the prerequisites needed to play for Azzanni is something Abbrederis is very good at, if not the best at on this UW team.
"We're going to be the best blocking receivers in the country," Azzanni said. "I know there are some other coaches around the country that might say that. We're going to do that. You're going to turn on the film and you're going to see a relentless group of receivers blocking.
"We're going to block, we're going to be high energy, we're going to go through the whistle and we're going to be fundamentalists."
When Tuesday rolled around Bielema announced the hiring of the man that will replace Paul Chryst at offensive coordinator, Matt Canada.
Canada comes from Northern Illinois, where he called plays for Dave Doeren's first staff at NIU. Canada said Wisconsin has been on his radar for quite some time and that this is one of the places he wanted to coach.
Though he understands what Chryst was able to accomplish in Madison, Canada isn't necessarily feeling the pressure to pick up where he left off. He plans, instead, to blaze his own path in Madison.
"I think the pressure is for us to be great everyday," Canada said. "That's the pressure that we're going to put on ourselves. Again, I have unbelievable respect for Paul, but it's a new team and every team is different. That's the case here, you've got new coaches and new players. I don't think we're going to be trying to do that.
"We're going to be trying to win our third Big Ten title."
Canada, who comes from a long line of spread offenses, is excited about the opportunity to get back into the more traditional pro-style set Wisconsin has run over the course of the past two decades.
Having had experience with great running backs during his first stint at Northern Illinois - - Canada coached both Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons and Thomas Hammock, UW's current running backs coach - - so he understands what Wisconsin is all about.
He knows about the philosophy that UW, as a football program, has instilled.
"The bottom line is this," Canada said. "I know what this place is about. We're going to come in here and we're going to run the football. We're going to be physical because that's what the talent is. We're going to find ways to score points. There's no question about the philosophy about Wisconsin, certainly not the offensive philosophy of Wisconsin.
"I'm just joining and being part of that philosophy."
Mike Taylor, one of UW's standout linebackers, underwent a surgery on his hip that will keep him out of spring camp. According to Bielema the injury was such that allowed him to play out the season before undergoing such a procedure.
"Everything was pretty positive there," Bielema said. "We're very excited about the procedure. He'll be with us full go throughout the fall."
Ethan Armstrong, another linebacker, has undergone multiple surgeries so far this offseason. Two of the procedures worked on bettering each of his hips.
"He won't be with him in the spring," Bielema said. "But we're excited about his recovery."
According to Bielema, sophomore quarterback Jon Budmayr, who has two years of eligibility remaining, has been throwing at a 90 percent rate. Bielema said Budmayr has undergone massive improvement since suffering a setback late during the season.
"I talked to him just the other day," Bielema said. "He's been on a nice healing pattern. He's begun that road to recovery. When he talked to me he thought he was at about 90 percent throwing capacity.
Meanwhile, senior quarterback Curt Phillips continues to make progress on his surgically repaired knee. Remember, Phillips suffered three ACL injuries during the span of 13 months, with his third injury happening last spring camp.
"He's back home," Bielema said. "He's continuing to recover and I know Curt is very positive with his health as well."
-Bielema noted that he whittled the list of applicants from hundreds down to 75. Those 75 names stemmed from recommendations and Bielema's own research, and they were the names he felt strongest about.
-Bielema also said he interviewed 12 candidates for UW's vacant offensive coordinator position. Canada was the 12th person interviewed, and according to Bielema, the only one to receive and offer.
-With signing day exactly two weeks away from today, Bielema is focused on securing the recruits in the 2012 class. He expects to name a tight ends coach and linebackers coach following signing day. The new offensive line coach is expected to be hired within the next "several days."
-Azzanni has not been given a recruiting territory yet. His main focus is making sure the 2012 verbal commitments sign on Feb. 1st.
"I do not know yet," he said. "Right now we're just trying to hold on to this class. I think we'll get to that in the next couple of weeks."
Bielema in regards to this offseason:
"I wouldn't say stressful. I really, truly enjoy the process that we've just gone through. It's still not quite finished. To me, when you have transition it's an opportunity to improve. That's not a slight on anybody that just left. They were great coaches that just left. The reason they got coordinator titles and a lot more money is because they are good coaches. My challenge is to bring in a group of coaches that will continue to move forward here at Wisconsin.
"It's a real exciting time because of the building being built. We're going for our third consecutive Big Ten championship. That's unprecedented in our school history and it's something that is an exciting challenge for all of us. But it's definitely been busy. Since my departure for the Rose Bowl I've been at my house twice. That's since December, 25th. It's definitely the most well-traveled."
The following are audio files from Wednesday evening: