By TOM LEA
MADISON – New Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen hasn’t been officially introduced to Badger nation yet and probably won’t enjoy his introductory press conference until Friday due to a nasty snowstorm approaching Madison.
The former Utah State head coach did arrive in Madison earlier Wednesday afternoon, though, and will begin settling down in his new city. Part of that process will likely include assembling his first staff in Madison, which includes several meetings with current UW assistant coaches.
Based on several reports and tips I’ve received, here is what I’m thinking in regards to UW’s current assistants.
Coaches that seem to be headed with Andersen to Madison:
-Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator (Utah State)
-Bill Busch, special teams/safeties (Utah State)
-T.J. Woods, offensive line (Utah State)
-Chad Kauha’aha’a, defensive line (Utah)
Positions still open:
Could any of the three Wisconsin assistants still on board, or any of the other assistants that accepted a different job in the past couple of weeks stay on? It seems that’s a possibility.
The top choice: In a perfect world Andersen would like to retain Matt Wells, the offensive coordinator that helped pace Utah State’s explosive, yet balanced, offense in 2012. But it’s apparent Wells has emerged as one of the top targets for the vacant head coaching position at Utah State. If he lands that job he obviously wouldn’t be joining Andersen in Madison.
The others: I was told Wednesday afternoon that Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s deal to NC State isn’t necessarily finalized. I was also told that he really enjoyed his time in Madison and was serious when he said he envisioned himself staying at UW for years to come. A source close to Canada said he would have no problem staying at Wisconsin if asked, but that it would be entirely up to the new coach. It’s something to keep an eye on.
Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock is another coach that could potentially sit well with Andersen. He’s coached a Heisman finalist and Doak Walker winner in each of the past two seasons. There will be a position open at the running backs position because Andersen’s running back coach (Mike Sanford) recently took the head-coaching job at Indiana State. Maybe Hammock would be more suited for that.
It sounds as though T.J. Woods will follow Andersen to Madison, so if that’s the case it would likely mean Bart Miller would either have to look for other jobs or wind up coaching a different position. Miller, who was coached by Woods during his senior season in New Mexico, could potentially take over the tight ends since Eddie Faulkner took a job with Dave Doeren at NC State. That’s not necessarily etched in stone, it’s just seems to be a possibility.
Ben Strickland just finished his first season as a full-time assistant and seemed to help both Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward improve throughout the course of the season. More importantly than his on field success, though, is his ability to maintain UW’s relationship with in-state prep coaches. If Andersen decided to keep Strickland on the staff he would likely do so to maintain the ties within the state. Strickland would likely wind up coaching the cornerbacks or some level of secondary if he was retained.
What about Charlie Partridge?
Personally, I don’t think Charlie Partridge tells his team he’s for sure leaving if he’s not for sure leaving. He was arguably one of the more respected coaches on the entire staff and the players were willing to run through a wall for him. There are reports out there that indicate Alvarez is making a push for Partridge, but I’m not sure where he would fit in on the defensive side of the ball. The linebackers position is open, but would he be willing to move there after coaching the defensive line for the past five years? It’s an interesting position to hold.