7 of 10
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We now know 7 of the 10 football assistants. And my brain has, for the most part, emerged from its "curled up in a ball in the corner, sobbing" state after the Maryland loss. So I will try to get my fingers to work again, writing some words on football assistant coaching hires. But if there's a "how in THE HELL did we lose at home to MARYLAND??" outburst somewhere in the middle of this, forgive me.
First off, we don't know exactly how Bret Bielema will divide his 10 assistants. There are many ways to go about it. Some coaches have a special teams coach and then 9 position assistants. Some coaches give each coordinator a position to coach as well. Some coaches keep it very simple: 2 coordinators, 4 offensive assistants (RB, TE, OL, WR) and 4 defensive assistants (DL, LB, CB, S). Sometimes there's an ILB and OLB coach. Sometimes there's a CB coach and a S coach. Sometimes she spells the hyphen.
For now, all we know is that offensive coordinator Tony Petersen will be the QB coach (fairly common - Rod Smith was the QB coach). We don't know if defensive coordinator Ryan Walters will have a position or not. His history is defensive backs, so if he does have a position to coach, it would likely be there. That means we might see a cornerbacks coach hired (with Walters' title becoming "defensive coordinator/safeties") or we might see a DB coach.
There's a lot we don't know, but for now, let's lay it out this way. The staff, as of today, with the three unknowns:
OC/QB: Tony Petersen
RB: Cory Patterson
TE: Ben Miller
OL: Bart Miller
DC: Ryan Walters
DL: Terrance Jamison
LB: Andy Buh
Again, might see Ben Miller be the special teams coordinator (he was TE/Special Teams at Air Force) and then there'd be a CB coach and a S coach. There's still several ways this could go. Some defensive staffs when you have a secondary guy for a defensive coordinator give him the entire secondary and then go DE, DT, ILB, and OLB coaches. There's a hundred different ways to do it.
I've already covered Tony Peterson, Cory Patterson, Bart Miller, and Ryan Walters in other posts. So let's talk about Terrance Jamison, Ben Miller, and Andy Boo (yes it's "Buh" but it's pronounced "boo" and if I don't type out Boo ten times I'm never going to remember).
Ben Miller - Tight Ends
Getting a GA spot is such a key thing for college football coaches. How many times do we hear about some connection made when the coach was a Graduate Assistant and then years later that connection turned into a job? That's not exactly what happened with Ben Miller - the connection here is that he was a GA for Ron Zook at Illinois and now he returns to Champaign as the tight ends coach - but those GA applications must be a crazy. It's the way to get your foot in the door to get into college coaching.
Other than his year as a GA under Zook (2006), Ben Miller has been an Air Force lifer. Played at Air Force. Was a GA at Air Force. Then spent one year as a GA in Champaign before going back to Air Force in 2007 as the TE coach and has been there ever since. His first five years he was the TE coach. The last nine seasons he was the Special Teams coordinator.
Which is why I think his role might be TE/ST here. That's not how they announced him, so maybe he's going to just coach the tight ends while another ST coach is hired. But I still feel like his ST cred is what led to this job.
Terrance Jamison - Defensive Line
This one seemed very strategic. Played football in Chicago, climbed the ranks as a DL coach at Florida Atlantic, Air Force, Texas Tech, and Purdue and now returns to his home state as the DL coach.
Honestly, if I had spent some time digging for possible Bielema assistants, his name would have had sirens blaring around it. Played under Bret Bielema, defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. Was a student assistant and then a GA under Bret Bielema, head coach at Wisconsin. Spent the next 7 years as the DL coach at FAU, Air Force, Texas Tech, and Purdue. And now joins Bret Bielema, Illinois head coach.
So from the outside, this one seems to be a perfect fit. The head coach knew him as a player and as a GA, he cut his teeth with four other defensive coordinators at four stops, now he returns to where he's from to take over the defensive line. Been a long time since there's been an on-paper perfect fit like this.
One thing to add here (just completed the Zoom call with Coach Jamison): his recruiting story is quite interesting. He said that Bret Bielema was his recruiter when he chose Wisconsin (Barry Alvarez was still the head coach). His brother (Tim Jamison) had picked Michigan the year before (Tim Jamison went on the play for the Texans in the NFL for six seasons), and Terrance picked Wisconsin. Ron Zook was then hired that December, and Zook's staff tried to get Jamison to visit that January before signing day, but he was worried a visit might cost him his Wisconsin scholarship offer so he didn't take it. (His junior season he got injured and had to retire from football so he became a student assistant at Wisconsin, and that led him into coaching, and that eventually led to this spot on Bielema's staff.)
Like Ryan Walters, he's a fairly low key guy. Which seems to somewhat be a theme here? Bart Miller (OL coach) is a high energy locomotive, but most every other coach we've interviewed has been fairly low-key and reserved. I'm not sure that means anything, but it's interesting.
Andy Buh - Linebackers
Here I claim that I'm going to write it as Boo so that I remember how to pronounce it and then the first chance I have to type it out I type Buh (which I will forever pronounce in my head as "buh" because it's the word "buh" and that's how you pronounced "buh"). I mean, it's the phonetic spelling, right? If you're typing "buh" as in "uh", you just type "buh", right? Yet this is "Buh (boo)". I need to stop this silliness and just type in as "Buh" because I'm going to remember now.
I think the best way to talk about Andy Buh is to link you to Craig's 2019 CHTS for Rutgers. In Chris Ash's final season at Rutgers, Buh was hired as the defensive coordinator, and that's Craig's write-up on how to attack Buh's defense. He'll only be linebacker coach here, not DC, but I'm guessing he'll be heavily involved in game-planning.
Greg Schiano did not retain Buh when he took over, so Buh took the LB job at Arizona. Then Kevin Sumlin was fired, so Buh was available again. Actually, that makes me think about his path the last few years. Is it three mid-season firings of three coaches in a row? Durkin was fired at Maryland in 2018, right?
Just looked it up and I now know what I'm asking Buh when we get a Zoom call with him (of course, I'm writing about it, which means someone is going to read this and ask it first). He's at Maryland as the DC in 2018 but DJ Durkin is suspended and then fired. He's at Rutgers when Chris Ash is fired. And then he's at Arizona when Sumlin is fired. Here's the details:
- Buh is the defensive coordinator at Maryland. DJ Durkin is suspended in early August of 2018 after the death of Jordan McNair who died of a heatstroke during a workout. It was an offseason workout with the strength staff so the strength coach, two trainers, and Durkin are all suspended. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada is the interim coach and Buh is the DC. Durkin is then fired in October.
- Buh then moves over to Rutgers as the DC. But the coach who hired him, Chris Ash, is fired after four games (he started 1-3 in Year Four and was fired). So Buh completes that season under interim coach Nunzio Campanile.
- Buh then gets the Arizona linebackers coach job. But Kevin Sumlin is fired after an 0-5 start (that would be Arizona's final record as their last game, under interim coach Paul Rhodes, was canceled due to Covid).
So if I'm adding that up it's 12 games under an interim head coach in 2018, eight games under an interim head coach in 2019, and one game (canceled) under an interim head coach in 2020. Looking at it the other way, the last three seasons he's coached nine total games under the coaches who hired him and the rest under the interim coaches who replaced them.
He's probably looking for another coordinator position soon, but first and foremost, he's probably looking or stability. Can't imagine what those conversations are like at home with his wife and sons. "Well, another head coach we work for was fired midseason...".
OK, seven down, three to go. WR-DB-ST? WR-CB-S with the WR coach also getting special teams? We shall see.