Anyone who has followed Wisconsin’s assistant coaching carousel over the years has come to understand that success breeds change. And while Badgers fans may lament losing top talent to other programs, at least it means people recognize a job well done at Wisconsin when they see it.
The truth is that assistant coaches generally don’t hang around forever. Better opportunities, both professionally and financially, beckon. So while Wisconsin’s staff has remained largely intact since Paul Chryst took over the program before the 2015 season, don’t be surprised if change comes soon. The Badgers’ 33-7 record the past three seasons is bound to attract potential suitors for the team’s assistants.
According to the Portland (Ore.) Tribune, defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield and outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar are candidates for positions at Oregon State under new coach Jonathan Smith. Breckterfield was an All-Pac-10 defensive end at Oregon State in 1998. Tibesar has been passed over for the Badgers’ defensive coordinator position twice since he arrived and has done fine work with the outside linebackers group. Smith has yet to fill out his defensive staff.
There aren’t reports of any imminent departures within Chryst’s staff. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be interest in their services. If it doesn’t happen this season, it will arrive sooner rather than later.
Jim Leonhard’s meteoric rise from unemployed volunteer at Wisconsin to defensive coordinator two years later is remarkable. This season, he was a Broyles Award finalist for the best coordinator in college football. Leonhard loves Madison and is raising a family there. At some point, however, a college or NFL team will make a run at Leonhard with a lucrative offer that could be difficult to refuse.
The same could hold true for offensive coordinator and offensive-line coach Joe Rudolph, who is fully capable of taking over a program himself. Rudolph, 45, has a decade of assistant coaching experience at Nebraska, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. He even served as interim coach for Pitt in the Armed Forces Bowl in 2014 after Chryst left to take over at Wisconsin.
Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore has been phenomenal with his ability to recruit and develop talent at a level not typically seen at that position group for the Badgers. Gilmore, who also was promoted to passing game coordinator this season, very well could garner attention elsewhere down the road.
Already during Chryst’s tenure, we’ve seen turnover at defensive coordinator. Dave Aranda left for LSU and more than doubled his annual salary to $1.3 million. He currently is the highest-paid assistant in the country with an annual compensation of $1.8 million per year, according to USA Today.
His replacement, Justin Wilcox, stayed at Wisconsin for one season and then became head coach at Cal. His total annual compensation averages out to $1.9 million over five years. Neither man could be faulted for leaving to spread their coaching wings and set up their families financially.
When former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was in charge, one of his biggest gripes was the school’s inability to adequately compensate assistant coaches. Bielema lost six assistants following the 2011 season. And while that number was jarring, most of those departures could be explained easily.
Chryst went from Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator to earning his first head coaching position at Pitt. He took three assistants with him and promoted each of them. Bob Bostad and Dave Huxtable earned coordinator jobs, and Rudolph went from a Badgers tight ends coach to an assistant head coach. Bostad left quickly to accept an offensive line coaching job in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Wisconsin wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander, a West Coast native, went to Arizona State and is now at Notre Dame in the same capacity. Safeties and special teams coach DeMontie Cross, a Missouri native, became a linebackers coach at Kansas. He is now defensive coordinator at Missouri.
Wisconsin has come a long way in a short time period when it comes to paying its assistant coaches. But Wisconsin also never will compete with schools from the SEC, or the likes of Michigan, Texas and Oklahoma. USA Today recently released its list of assistant football coaching salaries. Rudolph makes $654,800, which ranks No. 51 in the country. Leonhard’s salary is $600,000, which ranks No. 72.
In the end, however, assistant coaches with high professional aspirations aren’t meant to stay in one place. And sometimes, they even return to Wisconsin as better coaches with more experience than before. It’s all about opportunity, and based on the Badgers’ on-field success, plenty of assistants should earn theirs if they so desire soon enough.