MADISON—Bret Bielema added a veteran hand to his youthful defensive staff Sunday, naming Mike Hankwitz as his defensive coordinator. Hankwitz, 58, will join the University of Wisconsin football program with 36 years experience as a college assistant coach, including 21 seasons as a defensive coordinator. Bielema, the Badgers’ 36-year-old head coach, had in the previous three days hired a 31-year-old secondary coach, Kerry Cooks, and a 34-year-old co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, Dave Doeren.
Hankwitz spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Colorado. Among his many other assignments, Hankwitz was the coordinator of Texas A&M’s famed “Wrecking Crew” defense from 1997-2002, and he was the defensive coordinator at Colorado from 1985-94, winning a national championship in 1990.
At Wisconsin Hankwitz will not have a specific responsibility as a position coach. Rather, he will “float” between positions as necessary, taking advantage of his past experiences coaching linebackers, defensive backs and defensive ends. Bielema will fill out his defensive staff with a defensive line coach.
Any time a program has hired multiple coordinators for the same side of the ball, questions emerge as to the division of responsibilities. But Cooks’ first day in Madison was Thursday, Doeren was just settling in Sunday and Hankwitz hopes to arrive this Wednesday and potentially start work at UW the following day. So it would be premature to forecast how exactly those pieces of UW’s coaching puzzle will interact.
However, Hankwitz and Doeren said Sunday they have some idea of how their job responsibilities will line up. Doeren said his role could be similar to what it was at Kansas, where he was the co-defensive coordinator and Bill Young was defensive coordinator.
Said Doeren: “Some of it will be how it was for me at Kansas where… we’ll work together on schemes and calls and game day, obviously, he’ll be the one making the final call and everything. But up until that, it will be kind of a partnership on the way things are installed and run and coached. We’ll work together on it and both take ownership in it and have a lot of fun in the process.”
As defensive coordinator, Hankwitz will have ultimate responsibility for the decisions the defensive staff makes, but each assistant will be a key part of the process.
“How well the defense does, it’s about all of us,” Hankwitz said. “It’s what we all do. It isn’t just what the coordinator does. I’ve never believed that because it’s not the case. It’s how we all work together and all the input we all have.”
Hankwitz and Doeren have not previously worked on the same staff, but they are familiar with one another, having shared ideas over the past season.
“I’m looking forward to working with Dave cause I’ve watched the way they’ve improved at Kansas,” Hankwitz said. Kansas was No. 3 in the nation in rush defense and No. 11 in total defense in 2005. “We had a lot of similar defensive philosophies, so we actually exchanged some information about other opponents.”
Said Doeren: “I got to know (Hankwitz) a little bit this year. We talked on the phone quite a bit throughout the season, just because you play similar teams, you know. We ran similar defenses so we kind of compared notes on what we thought about opponents and how we defended them.”
Last month, after Gary Barnett was fired, Hankwitz became Colorado’s interim head coach, leading the Buffaloes in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.
Orlando was also Wisconsin’s postseason venue, and the Badgers and Buffaloes ended up staying at same hotel. That proved to be a fruitful arrangement for Hankwitz.
“I was hoping to see (Bielema) down there,” Hankwitz said. “I tried to make contact with him. But I was hoping I’d just run into him so I could just express interest. And I was able to do that.”
Hankwitz and Bielema spoke only briefly in Orlando, but Bielema told Hankwitz he would like to talk to him further during last week’s American Football Coaches Association convention in Dallas.
“So we talked at the coaches convention and have talked since then,” Hankwitz said. “And then kind of finalized it today.”
Hankwitz has known Bielema since 1995. Back then Bielema was an assistant at Iowa, working with linebackers, and Hankwitz was the defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach at Kansas. Bielema visited Kansas to talk shop.
“We exchanged information, I showed him how we did things,” Hankwitz said. “And then kind of followed his career. And then I would see him at the coaches’ conventions. And we’d exchange some ideas. Just always knew where he was at…
“And then he came to coach in the Big 12 at Kansas State. Coached against him, so we could see first hand what they were doing and you knew what he was doing. So I was excited to get a chance to talk to him (about the opening at Wisconsin).”
Doeren summed up his defensive philosophy succinctly: “Creating turnovers, stop the run, pressure the quarterback.”
Hankwitz was more elaborate, but expressed similar sentiments: “We’re going to execute what we teach and be a tough team that stops the run, but we’re going to be disruptive… A lot of ways to do that. You can do that with four-man rushes. You can do it with zone blitzes. You can do it with man blitzes. We’ll have a blend of that as we get to know our personnel a little better.”
Teaching individual responsibilities in a zone-blitz package is one example of how the UW defense can benefit from not having Hankwitz tied down as a position coach. He could, for instance, he said, work with a defensive end on zone coverage responsibility, then work with the strong-side linebackers on a specific skill set. The idea being that Hankwitz’s flexibility would maximize the Badgers’ coaching efficiency.
“I’ve coached positions and coordinated most of the time,” Hankwitz said. “But I’ve also had the luxury of walking around at a few places. It was certainly a benefit to be able to do that.”
Mike Hankwitz file
Colorado (2004-05) defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach. Interim head coach for 2005 Champs Sports Bowl.
Arizona (2003) defensive coordinator. Interim head coach for final eight games.
Texas A&M (1997-2002) defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach (also coached inside linebackers and punters).
Kansas (1995-96) defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach.
Colorado (1985-94) defensive coordinator. Also coached outside linebackers, inside linebackers, secondary, punters and punt team.
Western Michigan (1982-84) defensive coordinator. Also worked with secondary, punters, punt team, punt return and punt rush.
Purdue (1977-81) outside linebackers and punting coach.
Arizona (1973-76) outside linebackers and secondary coach. Also coached punt return and punt rush.
Michigan (1970-72) defensive graduate assistant at Michigan.