University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema made an admittedly risky move when he replaced a veteran offensive line coach in Mike Markuson with an unproven graduate assistant in Bart Miller.
It has the makings of a boom-or-bust decision, something capable of turning around the Badgers' season, or blowing up in Bielema's face.
When asked during his Monday news conference for the worst-case scenario, Bielema said, "We don't get better."
Bielema didn't want to let that happen, which is why he made the radical decision of getting rid of Markuson only two games into his tenure. It would not have been done, Bielema said, without somebody like Miller waiting in the wings.
"I don't know if I would have made the move if I didn't feel so good about (Markuson's) replacement," Bielema said.
Until now, even some people close to the program knew little about Miller. The media guide lists his title as an offensive quality control coach, but he became a graduate assistant on Aug. 1, when the NCAA made a rule change allowing teams to go from two to four GAs.
"Really, GA now is just an underpaid coach," Bielema said.
Bielema likes to hire GAs with ties to the program. The only ties Miller had were to former offensive line coach Bob Bostad, having played under him at New Mexico and worked under him last year. Miller started his coaching career in 2010 as a graduate assistant at New Mexico State before coming to UW as a quality control coach last season.
Miller made such a quick impression, Bielema claimed he thought about hiring him as offensive line coach after Bostad left following the Rose Bowl. Bostad originally went to the University of Pittsburgh before becoming the offensive line coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It seems preposterous that Bielema would have considered filling one of the most coveted offensive line jobs in the country with somebody who had two years of experience in GA-type jobs. Bielema said the only thing that stopped him was he also planned to promote another GA, Ben Strickland, to coach the secondary.
"I just didn't feel I could name two GAs to full-time status (to) gain the continuity I wanted," Bielema said. "Now as a head coach, I realize I probably could have and been ... further along if I had, because there wouldn't have been as big a transition."
Make no mistake, Markuson, 51, is a highly respected offensive line coach. He spent the last 14 seasons coaching Arkansas and Ole Miss and has produced six different All-Americans since 2003. Bielema praised Markuson's personality and said that wasn't an issue with the players.
"I think personality is what made me attracted to him early on and felt really strong (about him)," Bielema said, "He's engaging, he's very, very cognizant of the history here at Wisconsin, a guy that's really easy to get along with, which probably made the decisions I had to make that much more difficult."
But something didn't click between Markuson and his players, almost from the start. Sources have said the players didn't fully embrace the techniques Markuson taught them.
Whatever the reason, the offensive line got manhandled in the 10-7 loss Saturday at Oregon State, something that seldom happens at UW. It concerned Bielema enough to act quickly and not wait until the end of the season.
Apparently, none of the assistant coaches saw this coming. The first two people Bielema told were offensive coordinator Matt Canada and running backs coach Thomas Hammock. "They were taken aback," Bielema said.
As for delivering the news to Markuson, Bielema called it, "a very civil conversation, one I think we both will take with us for a long time."
Bielema said getting rid of coaches is something he never takes lightly because "it changes their lives forever." He said the decision was "something that weighed on my heart."
Perhaps the most telling thing Bielema said about Miller was referring to him as a "bridge" to the Bostad era. It seemed clear Bielema wants to get back to doing things the way they were done when Bostad coached the offensive line the previous four years.
"(Miller) can be that guy because he's been taught the techniques as a player (under Bostad), but also, witnessed them as a coach," Bielema said.
That's a lot of faith to place on a generally untested coach, with the Badgers' season possibly hanging in the balance.
"I'm not naive to the fact, we're not going to turn into what we've fortunately been able to accomplish in the past, overnight," Bielema said. "But we're going to take some baby steps. And my guess is we're going to have a great amount of change in a short amount of time."