MADISON - Mike Markuson listed off a handful of reasons for leaving Ole Miss with hopes of finding a new job this offseason. Though it wasn't the top reason, one of the main draws to Wisconsin was the fact that it brings the veteran offensive line coach back to the Midwest, a place he grew up.
BadgerBlitz.com finally had a chance to chat with Markuson during Wednesday's signing day activities. The following is a transcript of the exclusive conversation.
We talked about the transition a little bit off the record, but it's such a unique transition coming up here so close to signing day. What were your responsibilities recruiting wise? I know you had a role with closing the deal with some of these guys.
Markuson: The biggest thing was reassuring these offensive linemen that they have a coach and he's in place. What other schools do is they use it against you. I'm sure a lot of these schools were firing stuff about Wisconsin that were not true, but in the mind of an 18-year-old, they listen. It's just to get in their homes and get in their schools and being with coach it was reassuring them that we're going to move forward and we're going to be okay.
I'm going to coach you hard, I'm going to love you and it's going to be okay. So it was more of a reassurance. It was also a great time to get to know Bret. I spent three full days with him and I really didn't know him all that well so it was good. It was a positive.
Was there a transition, too, with some of these recruits that had gotten used to talking with Bob Bostad? He's gone now. Was there a transition there just with styles of personality and what not?
Markuson: Yeah, I think Walker Williams was real solid. He was a solid Badger. He had been sold about the city, the school and his parents. But, you know, it was important that he meet his position coach. Even till the end he was getting scholarship offers. They were throwing them out there. People don't quit recruiting until the bitter end. The kid was like, 'Hey, I'm going to Wisconsin. Period.'
Walker is a real engaging young man. He's full of life.
I heard he does Samba dancing or something like that?
Markuson: He's awesome. He's got a great personality and great parents. I really enjoyed going into homes. It was great seeing Kathy Meador and Jake Meador in their home. Going and seeing Walker and even Kyle Dodson who had already committed, but that's your job. I knew it was going to be a wild week. That's the way it is. You hit it full bore…
It's the love of recruiting, right?
Markuson: It's the love of recruiting. It's all about players. It's not about a coach. Coaches don't screw it up. It's all about getting players.
Talking about you personally, why was it such a good opportunity for you to come to Wisconsin?
Markuson: Just because of the tradition of the school and winning. We survive by winning. I got fired at the last place. We got beat. This program, they win every year. They go to bowl games and they win. You just really believe. Look at how close Wisconsin was this year to playing maybe a national championship. A few snaps.
The program has been built in such a way that it's there. I think any championships you've got to have a little luck. A national championship? A little more luck, but it can be done. We were close at one school I was at a couple of times. It was just an eyelash for playing for it. You know that's in place here. You know that the talent pool and the kind of guys you can recruit at Wisconsin and the way coach Bret Bielema and coach Alvarez have built this program, it's such a solid foundation. There's a precedent here. There's an expectation here.
Just like he was talking about the recruiting part, it's a clean league. That's refreshing. To me that's really refreshing. I've come from one where there were a lot of things that happened and occurred that you hear about. It's refreshing to me, plus I'm a Midwest guy. I've been gone a long time but I'm a Midwest guy. I'm excited about it.
Talk a little bit about your coaching style? How do you coach guys?
Markuson: I'm a high energy guy. I'm a fundamental guy, just like most coaches are. It's all about fundamentals. It's all about playing hard, playing tough, finishing blocks and really helping a guy be a better player and better student. You reassure them when they're not quite getting it. I've got a lot of guys in that room that haven't played a lot. I told them. I said it's my job now.
We know the guys that have played, but there are a lot of guys in this room that haven't played. Who is going to step up and who is going to help us compete this spring to have a possible chance to play in the fall? Let's go. The guys want to hear that. They wan't to play. They don't want to be out there beating their head against the wall for nothing. They want to go play. I'm excited about that. I've got a great group.
Have you got a chance to kind of study those guys?
Markuson: It's more or less just meeting them one on one and talking to them as young men and adults. It's just sharing a little bit about myself and them doing the same thing with me. It's great.
As a coach I would assume that it's probably pretty exciting when you've got hungry guys. You lose three guys on that line from last year that are going to have to be replaced by someone. I know Ryan Groy played quite a bit and he'll probably be slotted in there, but a lot of the guys are hungry, Dan Voltz included, that have an opportunity to maybe prove something and get into that two-deep.
Markuson: To go out here and play in this stadium and to know that they're going to be out on that 'W' and playing out there knowing they're going to be a starter, somebody will step up. There's enough guys in that room. It's always about who is next. Obviously the guys that graduated were great for Wisconsin and they won a lot of games and championships. But somebody has got to move in front and be ready to go.
There was a lot of talk last year when Russell Wilson came into this program about how wowed he was by the size of the offensive line. I think there were only three NFL lines that were bigger than the Badger line last year. There are a lot of big guys coming back, too. Is that what you're seeing?
Markuson: Oh yeah.
Not just big guys, but guys that are athletic.
Markuson: Athletic. Our strength coaches do a great job. That's the first thing I commented to Bret. I can't believe how physical these guys are looking. Their legs and their shoulders and arms on the older guys. They lift. They lift hard. That's a credit to our strength guys and that's going to continue. That's exciting to me.
When you look in that backfield, and he's the first to tell you because Montee Ball gives all the credit to the offensive line, does it help the offensive line when you've got a guy that's that capable?
Markuson: I'm so excited about that. Being around Dexter McCluster, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, they were all unselfish just like him. Just like you're saying. They're very unselfish guys and that's why they've been rewarded so greatly because they were unselfish. The same thing is going to happen to him. That speaks volumes. I'm really excited about being able to get my guys to block for him again and those other backs that are in the room and of course the quarterbacks and the receivers. I'm really excited about that.
What's the schedule now that signing day is done. I'm sure you'll get back out on the recruiting trail, but between now and spring camp, what happens?
Markuson: Offensively, when you have four new coaches, it's about coach Matt Canada and meeting with him. Him and Zach Azzanni, Thomas Hammock and every other coach. It's putting the playbook together and trying to piece this thing together. It's not going to be that difficult because we're going to do a lot of the same things they've done in the past. It's terminology, what you call things and getting on the same page and everything. We'll just grind doing that. It will be a process, but it's fun. It's refreshing for me. I was with a guy, Houston Nutt, for 19 years. I love Houston like a brother, but to be able to come into the program with coach Bielema and to meet all these new coaches and new faces, it's refreshing and it's really positive. I'm excited about it.
You grew up in Minnesota, so are you a Vikings fan or a Packers guy?
Markuson: I grew up a Vikings fan.
That's not going to sit well here.
Markuson: I grew up 20 minutes from the old Met, back in the old, old days. But you know pro football to me - - I'm a college guy - - so I don't have enough time to watch them all anyway.