By TOM LEA
MADISON — One of the main reasons former offensive line coach Bart Miller wasn’t retained on Gary Andersen’s initial staff was simply because the new head coach wanted a coach with experience as a special teams coordinator.
So Miller wasn’t moved to coach the tight ends because Andersen liked what he saw out of Jay Boulware during his tenure at Auburn.
Boulware, speaking to reporters for the first time, addressed the media Thursday afternoon. The following is a transcript of that interview:
Reporter: Put it on the line, just the excitement of this new job at Wisconsin. What are you most excited about?
Boulware: It’s an awesome opportunity. This is a great place. I’ve admired it from afar. Back in my days when I was at Northern Illinois we came up here to visit some of the coaches and talk some ball. You just can’t help but to watch Wisconsin play in Rose Bowl’s. I’ve never been in a Rose Bowl. It’s one of the few BCS games I haven’t been to. I look forward to that opportunity.
Reporter: Jay, your special teams, at least the statistics of the coverage units, have been outstanding, as well as the kickers and punters. What’s the key to having good coverage units as well as good return units?
Boulware: Last year our return numbers weren’t as good, but the three years prior to that we were tops in the SEC and country. The key, obviously when playing ‘wefence,’ were you combine offensive and defensive players together, it’s a team game in its purest sense. A lot of times when you’re a special teams coordinator or other coaches on a staff you just have offensive or defensive kids. When you’re special teams coordinator you have them both.
Now that’s a time when the kids can come together and play with each other. You can play with the offensive and defensive kids. I think the biggest thing that we look for from special teams players is energy and enthusiasm. We want to play all out all the time. The guys that run the fastest on the sprints are the guys we play with. Those are the guys when you make a big play it excites the crowd. We like to give our football team energy. We think special teams play can carry over to offense and defense.
When you stop a team inside the 20-yard line on a kickoff coverage, now they have to go 80-plus yards. That makes a difference. The average fan might not realize how big a deal it is, but our kids are going to know it they’re going to pump their fists in the air. They’re going to play with some energy and they’re going to play with some enthusiasm. People are going to know that something big just happened if they don’t know what’s going on already.
From the return aspect, when you start out past the 30-yard line — now they give you the 25, which I don’t necessarily like as much as the special teams coordinator because our average starting point the last couple years has been the 22 or 23-yard line — that’s significant. I don’t like to concede the 25, so sometimes now touchbacks aren’t very good. At the same time, sometimes it’s necessary when you run against a really good kickoff returner. That makes a difference.
The percentages of scoring go way down when you’re starting behind the 20-yard line or behind the 25-yard line. They continue to drop as you go further back. You play the field position game. That’s part of our plan to win. Coach A (Andersen) is awesome in putting that together. He believes in it whole-heartedly. I believe in it. The staff believes in it and it’s going to be a big part of what we do, just as it was when I was at Auburn.
Reporter: Some coaches will use starters on special teams, maybe out of necessity or maybe because it’s a habit and they want their best players, but what’s your philosophy on that?
Boulware: Our philosophy is to play the best player. It’s my job as a special teams coordinator not to tire out our team. I realized it at one point in time when I first got to Auburn. We didn’t have anything, but two sets of players. I had to play with a bunch of walk-on kids and a bunch of kids that never played before just so we wouldn’t wear the football team out. We did the same thing in 2010, but those kids were true freshmen. We won a national championship with true freshmen playing special teams and our veteran kids playing offense and defense.
We’re going to play with the best players, but we’re not going to over-utilize any one player in particular. If you have a starter, particularly at middle linebacker, I may not play with our middle linebacker on special teams. He’s making all the calls and doing this, that and the other. The same way, obviously, with a quarterback. We’re not going to overuse any one player, but wherever the best player is we’re going to put him in and he’s going to help this football team win.
Reporter: You used the word energy a lot before. In describing your coaching style, would you call it a high energy style or approach that you bring to coaching? How would you describe that?
Boulware: I’ll let you judge that for yourself. I think you guys can probably see this is going to be a high energy staff. That’s what this will be about. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to be demanding of the kids. We’re not going to back off of them. We’re going to be out there quick, get our work done and get them off our feet.
Reporter: Tight ends have been pretty significant here over the past few years. Do you think that’s going to change at all in the new offense?
Boulware: Of course not. I’m the tight ends coach. You want me to lose my job already? I don’t have to lobby. The tight ends are part of the offense here and they’ll continue to be that. This is Wisconsin. You know that better than I do. We’ve got some great players in that room. I made contact with a number of them already and will continue to do that just to let them know that they’re important, important to me. I’m their biggest fan right now. We’ve got some very good players.
My buddies across the Big Ten, because I have some from my Midwest days, at Michigan State and so forth, they were all calling me and saying, “Hey, look. You’ve got some phenomenal players at the tight end position.” That fired me up.
When guys are giving you unsolicited information about the players you’re going in to is pretty big. That means they must be pretty darn good. I’ve had no time to watch any film on them. I’ve watched a little bit of the bowl game, but that’s really about it. I don’t know how good they really are, but when I’ve got buddies calling me from other places that play against them saying they’re really, really good. That fires me up.
Reporter: Realistically, how long does it take for a new coaching staff to get comfortable with each other? You guys have to be comfortable with what you’re teaching before you can teach it to the kids, obviously.
Boulware: That’s probably an ever evolving process. I don’t know if you ever truly, 100 percent get truly comfortable. That never happens. You’re going to have your ups and downs just like anything else. I think we’re going to keep evolving. I don’t think it’s going to be hard for us as a staff as there’s so much familiarity going around from Andy Ludwig (offensive coordinator) to myself.
I know Thomas Hammock and Gary Andersen. We’ve all worked together before, the three main components of the team. It’s going to be pretty easy. It’s going to be pretty easy for us to jump in and understand what we’re all looking for. I know what coach A is looking for and I know what coach Ludwig is looking for. I’ll be able to handle my tight end abilities having worked with them before. It will be pretty smooth in my opinion.
Reporter: Where are some of the recruiting areas that you’ve been a part of?
Boulware: I’ve recruited in Florida, all parts. I’ve recruited primarily in the metroplex of Dallas. I know, and I was telling coach Andersen during the game, I said, ‘Hey coach, you’ve got a couple players that were from my area.’ Kerry Cooks (former UW assistant) were high school teammates.
I remember when he was at Wisconsin. I forget where I was at, but it might have been Utah or Iowa State. I remember him going down there recruiting Marcus Cromartie. We were actually battling for that kid and I remember him actually getting him and a couple other kids down there. I think that area along with my Florida ties are probably some areas we’re going to concentrate on.
I have some ties back there, obviously, growing up in Texas and playing football for the University of Texas.
Reporter: A lot of coaches are dying to get into the SEC. Was it hard for you at all to leave?
Boulware: You know what, it’s not. Gary is a great guy and Ludwig is a great guy to work with and work for. It wasn’t hard for me at all. When Gary gave me the call I told him, ‘Look, I’m in. I’m in all the way.’ It wasn’t hard to come back to a person that you know.
You guys obviously haven’t been around him, but I knew when I was at Utah that Gary was going to be a winner. You knew it. You could tell by the way the kids rallied around him when we were at Utah and he was a defensive coordinator. He was very passionate. He’s a big time competitor.
As a matter of fact he didn’t even want to shake my hand after we beat him at Auburn. He looked at me and he was so mad. He shook my hand and threw it off. I looked at him and just started laughing. It was two special teams plays that pretty much cost him. I had my own little chuckle there and he knows it. He is extremely competitive, but those kids love him and play extremely hard for him.
I admired him from afar. I wanted to imitate some of his coaching styles because I felt like it was very effective in getting the kids to give it your all. I was fired up when he called me and then I saw him and what he did at Utah State. Really, the year before I thought they were a really good football team.
They had a couple bad breaks starting with the Auburn game, but they were a team that played Oklahoma close the year before. You could just see the maturation of that football team continue to grow. All of a sudden you’ve got a team that used to be third-best in the state of Utah and now they’re really the big dog.
Kyle Whittingham (Utah head coach), my old boss, would hate to hear me say that and so would those BYU fans, but they really are. They’re the talk of the state. That’s big. Utah State wasn’t very good when I was there.
Reporter: The two special teams plays, I know you recovered an onside kick, which set up the winning touchdown, but what was the other one?
Boulware: Our first score was a kick return for a touchdown. I got him twice. (Laughing) I got him twice. He really didn’t like me after the game.
Reporter: Have you reminded him of that?
Boulware: No. I know it’s going to be out. He’s probably going to Youtube this and see it so I don’t know how he’s going to think of me after I walk upstairs. Hopefully he’s not too bad. I’m working for him now so do it for me now. If I don’t do it I’m probably going to get a nice swift kick in the butt.
It was a good day for us.