MADISON – Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema announced Monday that he has hired Zach Azzanni to coach wide receivers for the Badgers. Azzanni, who served as the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Western Kentucky last season, has also coached at Florida, Central Michigan, Bowling Green and Valparaiso.
“Zach is a great fit for Wisconsin,” Bielema said in a statement. “He is a terrific coach who stresses fundamentals and is also a great recruiter. His coaching philosophy, personality and character fit perfectly with what we do here and how we do it. I’ve known Zach for a number of years and I’m very excited to be able to add him to our staff.”
With Azzanni directing the offense, Western Kentucky featured the nation’s No. 2 rusher this season, Bobby Rainey. He averaged 141.3 rushing yards per game, running for 1,695 yards and 13 touchdowns. Behind Rainey, the Hilltoppers led the Sun Belt Conference in rushing offense. WKU tight end Jack Doyle was also the top receiving tight end in the Sun Belt and finished fifth among TEs in the country in receiving yards. Western Kentucky was 7-1 in the Sun Belt, finishing second to Arkansas State. That followed a 2-10 overall record in 2010. WKU improved its conference win total by five from 2010 to 2011, the biggest turnaround in Sun Belt history.
“My family and I are ecstatic about coming to Madison and joining the Badgers,” Azzanni said in a statement. “I’ve known Coach Bielema for a number of years and I jumped at the opportunity to become a part of one of the Big Ten’s best programs. I look forward to getting started and continuing the great tradition at Wisconsin.”
Azzanni was hired at Florida following the 2009 regular season and coached in the Gators’ appearance in the 2010 Sugar Bowl in which Tim Tebow ended his career with a personal-best 482 passing yards. He spent the 2010 season at Florida, coaching the Gator wide receivers and serving as the passing game coordinator. UF defeated Penn State in the Outback Bowl that season.
Prior to going to Gainesville, Azzanni spent three seasons as the assistant head coach and receivers coach at his alma mater, Central Michigan. Azzanni's 2009 wide receiver unit was one of the most prolific in the college football. Bryan Anderson established an NCAA mark with a catch in 53 consecutive games, while teammate Antonio Brown had a streak of 40 straight games with a catch. Anderson and Brown combined for 49 career touchdown receptions, tied for the top active duo in the country for scoring receptions. Anderson totaled more than 3,500 yards receiving in his career and Brown eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the second time and surpassed 3,000-yard receiving for his career. Both receivers went on to sign NFL contracts, with Brown starting for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. This year Brown was named the Steelers’ team MVP and earned a Pro Bowl selection after becoming first player in NFL history with at least 1,000 yards receiving (1,108) and at least 1,000 return yards (1,062) in the same season.
Prior to joining the Central Michigan Staff, Azzanni spent the previous six seasons at Bowling Green. He coached the wide receivers from 2003-06, leading a group that broke nearly every school receiving record. He coached Charles Sharon, the school's all-time leader in receptions (232), receiving yards (3,450) and touchdown catches (34). In 2004 he coached a group that produced four receivers with 1,000 yards receiving. Five of his receivers at Bowling Green went on to sign professional contracts.
Known for developing talent, Azzanni’s 2004 receiving corp at Bowling Green was ranked third-best in the nation by Athlon Sports. His 2009 group was ranked ninth in the nation by the same publication, and helped him to be named college football's wide receiver coach of the year.
No stranger to success on the field as both a player and a coach, Azzanni has been part of nine teams that have either won conference championships or played in bowl games. As a player, he was part of the 1994 Central Michigan squad that won the Mid-American Conference championship and played in the Las Vegas Bowl. He also coached in the 2003 Motor City Bowl and 2004 GMAC Bowl at Bowling Green. He coached in two more Motor City Bowls at CMU in 2007 and 2008, and was part of the staffs at Florida for the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl and 2011 Outback Bowl. Additionally, he coached conference championship teams at Valparaiso, BGSU and CMU.
He graduated with a degree in Sports Management in 1999 from Central Michigan. Azzanni and his wife, Julia, have two daughters: Ava and Lyla.
The Azzanni File
1999-2000: Valparaiso (Wide Receivers)
2001-02: Bowling Green State (Graduate Assistant, Offense)
2003-06: Bowling Green State (Wide Receivers)
2007-09: Central Michigan (Assistant Head Coach / Wide Receivers)
2010: Florida (Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coordinator)
2011: Western Kentucky (Offensive Coordinator / Wide Receivers)
1994-98: Central Michigan (Wide Receiver)