New coaches using spring to mesh

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 16, 2015 5:00 AM

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Michael Caputo, a fifth-year senior safety on the Wisconsin football team, will play under the third head coach of his college career when the Badgers take the field to play Alabama on Sept. 5. It is not the ideal college football experience to play under so many different regimes — especially for Wisconsin, a program that used to be the image of consistency.

Barry Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletics director, coached the Badgers for 15 seasons, between 1990-2005. His hand-picked successor, Bret Bielema, served as the coach for the next six seasons, until 2012. Under Alvarez and Bielema, Wisconsin won an average of 8.5 games per season — and that includes eight seasons with 10 or more wins.

Since Bielema’s final season — or Caputo’s redshirt freshman year — it’s been a revolving door of coaches who have come through Madison. After Bielema came Gary Andersen for two seasons, and now, Paul Chryst takes the reins after being hired in late December.

Chryst has the makings of a potential lifer at Wisconsin. He grew up in Madison, played quarterback for the Badgers in the late 1980s, and even coached under both Alvarez and Bielema — he coached the tight ends in 2002 and served as the offensive coordinator from 2005-2011.

Now he’s back as the head coach, and he said this spring is important, if only because it’s going to allow him to get to know his players. As of Wednesday’s Big Ten spring football teleconference, Wisconsin had already gone through nine of its practices, with six remaining.

“I’ve enjoyed, personally, being back here and working with these players,” Chryst said. “Spring is about getting a chance for me and our coaches to know the players, and the players to get to know us.

“It’s been a good spring, but we really need to take advantage of these last six opportunities.”

Wisconsin is the reigning Big Ten West Division champion, going 7-1 against the conference, 11-1 overall. The Badgers’ spring game is set for April 25.

Riley not naïve

Mike Riley, the new head football coach at Nebraska, knew he’d have to answer the question about pressure soon. It’s a simple one, really: How do you follow a coach who won nine games for seven-straight seasons?

“You don’t go into this thing naïve about what Nebraska football means and what the expectations are,” he said on Wednesday. “This program has a tremendous history and has won a lot of games.

“But as far as the approach, we have things that we believe in that we want to get established. … It’s been energizing and motivating to try to establish the values that we think are important.”

Riley takes over a Nebraska program that has won 66 games since 2008, all seven of those years under former coach Bo Pelini. Riley comes from Oregon State, where he coached the Beavers to 93 wins between 2003-14.

Riley knows the expectations are high in Lincoln, Nebraska, especially for a program that’s been trying like hell to return to national prominence. He said he understands what needs to be done, and he has made it very clear among his players that it will be a process to get back to where they want to be.

“It’s different, and we’ve had to adapt to that,” Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp said Wednesday. “It’s been a good transition, and we’re excited to keep working.

“… We were in a really unique situation here. Obviously, at first, when the previous staff was fired, guys were extremely upset, as they should’ve been. But as time has gone on, and we’ve been around this new staff, guys are trusting them and buying in.”

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