No position on the University of Wisconsin football team has been through more turmoil in the past 12 months than the offensive line.
From the time Mike Markuson was hired last January, following the departure of the highly respected Bob Bostad, it has been a series of adjustments for the Badgers’ linemen.
The players struggled with the concepts and techniques taught by Markuson, who was fired after the second game. Former graduate assistant Bart Miller was elevated to interim offensive line coach and the players embraced the change.
The linemen were vocal in their support of Miller, who was not retained when Gary Andersen was hired as UW’s new head coach.
Enter T.J. Woods, who comes to UW after four seasons with Andersen at Utah State.
“Didn’t take me real long,” Woods said of the decision to follow Andersen. “When you’ve got an opportunity to coach the offensive line at the University of Wisconsin, that’s an opportunity of a lifetime. Ultimately, that’s why I’m here.”
Woods considers this to be one of the best offensive line jobs in the country, which he attributes to both the tradition and the players in the program.
“There are hard-working kids in this program,” Woods said. “That’s what’s fun to be a part of.”
Andersen is not concerned about those players accepting Woods, or any of the other assistant coaches.
“I don’t worry about that,” Andersen said. “You look at a lot of young men in this program, this is the third coach in a very short period of time, or second coach in a very short period of time. I believe the turnover a year ago was like six (assistants). Then those guys are gone and here we go again.
“... I have no doubts, any of my coaches, they’re going to walk into a room and ... they’re going to gain the (players’) respect, they’re going to gain the trust. We’re going to hug them hard and if it’s not right, we’re going to make it be right.”
The good news for the linemen in their latest transition is Woods believes in many of the same principles and techniques as Bostad, with a combination of zone and power blocking schemes. While the two never worked together, Woods and Bostad have crossed paths and sprung from similar backgrounds.
“A lot of the guys I’ve been influenced by were coached by (Bostad),” Woods said.
At the top of the list is New Mexico offensive line coach Jason Lenzmeier. Woods was a graduate assistant for two seasons with the Lobos under Lenzmeier, who played for Bostad at New Mexico. Miller was a senior starting right guard in Woods’ first year at New Mexico in 2007.
“I would say my style is very similar to what the kids in the program now are accustomed to,” Woods said. “If you look at my history, where I’ve been, where some of the guys that have coached the offensive line (at UW) have been, it’s pretty similar.”
Among Bostad’s primary tenets, which was later adopted by Miller, was making the linemen the hardest workers on the team. To achieve that, Bostad made practices as difficult as possible, which made the games easier by comparison.
“Offensive line is the backbone of the team,” Woods said. “In my opinion, it’s where everything starts. You’ve got to be the hardest working group on the field, you’ve got to be the toughest group on the field. That’s our aim.”
That means finding players, through recruiting, who are mentally tough, with strong work ethics and have a passion for football. History shows Woods is in the right state for that.
“From an educational standpoint, that’s really the No. 1 thing I’m learning real fast,” he said. “The tradition, not only at the University of Wisconsin, but Wisconsin kids — walk-on, scholarship, all of the above. The quality of play in this state from an offensive line standpoint obviously speaks for itself and that’s exciting.”
Woods comes from the Western Athletic Conference, which is not exactly known for physical running games. But Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig have made it clear the offense will start with a power running game.
“If you talk about physical football, the first conference that comes to mind is the Big Ten,” Woods said. “That’s exciting, to be an offensive line coach in it and it’s even more exciting to be at the University of Wisconsin doing that.”