BadgerNation: Talk about the opportunity to come back to Wisconsin and be an assistant. After playing here and working your way up the ladder, it has to be a dream opportunity that this is where you get your first coaching shot?
Mickey Turner: It certainly is. The experience I had here and the fond memories I have of this place, it’s something I never really wanted to put in my mind of that’s where I’m going to end up until it actually happened. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t too forward thinking and looking toward the next thing. I just wanted to focus on what I was doing at the time. When it finally did come it was awesome, just to have that sense that I’m going back to a place I believe to be great and continue to be great.It’s the same thing you can tell recruits, the guys who are here, myself and my friends who came through here, the academics, athletics, socially, the community, the fans, it’s kind of the total package in that respect. I felt that as a player and being able to come back, give back a little bit as a coach now and get these guys to have that same experience means a lot to me.
BN: I’m guessing when the news became official you got a lot of text messages from a lot of former teammates. Did that get overwhelming and who were some of the best messages from?
MT: It was everybody. The years I played, that 2006 to 2010 year, I’m closest with Bill Nagy, who is on the staff now, Scott Tolzien and John Moffitt. I expected it from those guys but J.J. Watt, Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks, all the guys I played with and roomed with. It was great to see we still had those connections and still had that pride for the Badgers.
BN: It’s a new staff here but there are a lot of continuity with guys who have been here before, guys who were at Pittsburgh or both. How does having a foundation already in place give your staff a lift this spring?
MT: I think so and a big thing that goes within that is being able to communicate with each other. That’s in any workplace. If you can talk to your boss and he can talk to you, and you can read through the subliminal messages, you get a lot more done. A lot of times it takes months and years to build that on staffs. I think we have that pretty close right here. Now it’s about continuing to build that with the whole team.
BN: What do you like about your tight end group and who are some of the players who took steps forward this spring, especially since there are some openings?
MT: Sam Arneson left a gap and we’re filling it a little bit by committee right now. I feel lucky that the group I have there are some younger guys, some older guys, some veteran guys, some not-so-veteran guys and they all can feed off each other. If we get to the point where they are coaching and mentoring each other and I’m more of a guide, you have a pretty good group.With Austin Traylor and Derek Watt being the two seniors, they’ve taken a good leadership role for us. I think they are pretty detailed in what they do. Obviously Troy Fumagalli has a little bit of experience and we’re looking to build on that so he can be more of a playmaker. He’s champion that role and he’s working his tail off. Austin Ramesh and some of the young guys are stepping up. They might have been more particular in what they were doing last year, but they are doing a lot of stuff for us now. I’ve just got to keep building them in that respect.
BN: How has Kyle Penniston adjusted to his first college camp?
MT: Obviously from his high school production he’s a heck of a player. I thought he’d come in, just like any freshman, being in awe and having to learn as he went. He’s been doing that but everything I throw at him he’s picks up and runs with, so I’m trying to throw more at him. He’s been pretty promising to watch. He’s a young guy who’s bought in and is going to work his tail off, so that’s pretty exciting as a coach.
BN: Do you have a top group or are you still figuring that out.
MT: Austin Traylor is going to play a lot for us, Troy is going to play a whole heck of a lot. Derek is going to play a lot with the fullbacks. We’ll see where those other guys are at when they get back from injury. T.J. Watt had a setback with his knee but should be healthy for the season. Eric Steffes is another one. Two guys who are older and know the playbook well, so I think there’s a lot of competition to be had. As long as those leaders can lead and guys keep following and working their tail off and the group buys in, we should be good.
BN: This is probably an easier question for your players, but do you feel you can relate well to the players because you’ve played the position, you’ve played under Paul Chryst and you aren’t too far off in age? Do you see it in the meeting room that you have a good dialogue with the group?
MT: It is probably better for them and I hope they’d say yes. From my side I think so. Just knowing what they’re going through I’ve been through, and I tell them all the time that it’s not easy but that’s why you bust your tail. They are buying into that. They want to be great, so we just have got to keep working.
BN: You have only been away from the program for four seasons but it’s been a tremendous upswing for the program with Big Ten championships and more Rose Bowl appearances. How happy have you been watching the rise of the Badgers?
MT: it’s always exciting. Whether you are a coach or not a coach or something else, to see your alma mater continue to play in big games and continue to play well in big games is exciting. I think Coach Alvarez did a heck of a job this year in the bowl game. We’ve had a lot of success but now we have to make sure we hold up that Wisconsin tradition and push it forward the next few years.