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Badgers football: Receivers coach Zach Azzanni's been a catch all along

2012-11-13T04:30:00Z 2012-11-13T20:05:04Z Badgers football: Receivers coach Zach Azzanni's been a catch all alongTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

Zach Azzanni was a wide receivers coach at Valparaiso when Urban Meyer got his first head coaching job, at Bowling Green in 2001.

It didn't take long for Azzanni, now in his first year as wide receivers coach at the University of Wisconsin, to decide what he wanted to be his next step up the coaching ladder.

Azzanni, from Utica, Mich., was a former wide receiver at Central Michigan and knew the Mid-American Conference. Meyer, who had spent the previous six years at Notre Dame, did not.

The two had a relationship: When Azzanni was at Valpo, he would go to hear Meyer speak at clinics.

"He was a receivers coach and I was trying to be a (Division I-A) receivers coach," Azzanni said. "We have a lot of the same thoughts on how to coach the position.

"I just bugged the heck out of him when he got the Bowling Green job, so much so that he had to interview me, just to get rid of me."

Azzanni's coaching style is frequently described as "relentless" — for good reason.

He wrote a letter to Meyer every day, for approximately 100 days, trying to land a graduate assistant job, begging for a chance.

Meyer relented and the first graduate assistant he hired was Azzanni, touching off a relationship that continues to this day. Azzanni regards Meyer, now the head coach at Ohio State, as a mentor.

"He taught me everything I know at a young age," Azzanni said.

Meyer's memory didn't need any prodding when asked about the decision to hire Azzanni for the first time almost a dozen years ago.

"I love Zach," Meyer said. "I have great respect for him. He's a guy who was relentless. He was relentless about getting on our staff and then also relentless with the players. He just devoted every second of his life to becoming a great football coach."

It has been no different at UW, with Azzanni gaining respect for his work with a group of largely inexperienced receivers behind junior Jared Abbrederis, as well as recruiting in Ohio. That's a vital state to the Badgers and Azzanni took over there for departed tight ends coach Joe Rudolph, who may have been the top recruiter on UW coach Bret Bielema's previous staff.

"It's very easy to see good recruiters once you've been around them for a very short time, just because of the details they have," Bielema said. "It was very important for me to hire someone in (Ohio). ... Zach Azzanni is going to be a great football coach, not just because of his recruiting, but because of his Xs and Os, too."

It's interesting Azzanni and Meyer have such a tight bond, given the rocky relationship between Bielema and Meyer.

One of the significant story lines going into the game on Saturday between the Badgers and the sixth-ranked Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium is the dynamics of the Bielema-Meyer relationship.

Meyer had barely set foot in the conference when he apparently ruffled Bielema's feathers over recruiting issues. While the two worked to smooth it over, some friction undoubtedly remains.

Azzanni also coached wide receivers and was passing game coordinator under Meyer at Florida in 2010. When the call came from Meyer, Azzanni was the assistant head coach and receivers coach at Central Michigan under Butch Jones.

"I was not looking for any other opportunity," Azzanni said. "When I left coach Jones, I said there was only one guy I would leave for and that was Urban."

A year later, Meyer abruptly retired, due to health issues, leaving his staff in a bind. Azzanni was not retained by Will Muschamp, the new Florida coach, and was the last of Meyer's assistants to find a new job, as the offensive coordinator and receivers coach at Western Kentucky last season.

"Had I known coach (Meyer) was going to take off in one year ... I probably still would have done it," Azzanni said of going to Florida. "That was a great experience."

It all worked out for the best for Azzanni. He got his first chance to be a coordinator and call plays, working under Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky. After working in spread offenses, it was also Azzanni's first chance in a pro-style offense, which has helped him immensely at UW.

Azzanni never doubted Meyer would return to coaching and was not surprised when he took the Ohio State job.

"It's in his blood," Azzanni said. "I can't see coach Meyer reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. That's not his deal. His deal is running around on a football field, just like the rest of us."

Azzanni is not interested in getting involved in the Bielema-Meyer flap, or acting as a peacemaker.

"Not my deal," he said. "I coach the receivers. I'll let those two figure that out."

When Meyer was becoming Public Enemy No. 1 at UW, Azzanni never felt conflicted, leaving no doubt where his loyalties reside.

"My allegiance is to coach Bielema, 100 percent, no doubt," Azzanni said. "Make sure you write that down, too. Urban's a great guy, gave me a great chance. I loved working for him.

"I'm a Bret Bielema soldier right now, for sure."

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(1) Comments

  1. tonydee
    Report Abuse
    tonydee - November 14, 2012 3:41 pm
    Before we congratulate this guy so much, let's see him develop a second receiver. Duckworth where are you this year?
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