Palermo will not return in 2006

Defensive line coach announced that this season will be his last with the Badgers

Before Saturday's college football game here, University of Wisconsin defensive line coach John Palermo stood on the field at Camp Randall Stadium and gave his son, Jason, a bear hug.

Jason Palermo, the Badgers' starting right guard, was being honored for senior day.

It turns out Saturday was the elder Palermo's home swan song as well.

After 15 seasons as an assistant coach at UW, Palermo will part ways with the institution following the Badgers' bowl game.

Palermo first made that announcement on his weekly radio show Monday, on WTSO 1070 AM in Madison, and reiterated it in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Palermo, who is also the Badgers' assistant head coach, is the longest tenured member of head coach Barry Alvarez's staff at Wisconsin and the first assistant to make a definitive statement regarding his future with the Badgers following this season.

Since Alvarez's July 28 announcement that defensive coordinator Bret Bielema will take over for him after this season, Bielema has consistently stated that he would not discuss the future makeup of his staff until he felt he it was appropriate.

Once the transition was publicly put in motion, Bielema informed the staff that they will learn their fate in individual meetings after the season.

That did not sit well with Palermo, who told Bielema that he would not recruit this season if he did not know that he would be on the staff next year.

"He just said that he wasn't going to make a final decision until after the season," Palermo said. "The same thing he told everybody.

"Let me tell you something: there's never been any wavering on that from the first time he said it until now."

When Alvarez initially announced his retirement from coaching, did Palermo think he would return?

"Oh absolutely. Absolutely," Palermo said. "At that particular point I did."

Palermo, though, said that in August, when he did not know his fate, "deep down inside" he knew he would not return.

"You know, I just felt like that wasn't the right thing to do to leave people hanging," he said. "So I pretty much made my mind up then."

Palermo, though, said Bielema was entitled to conduct the transition as he deemed fit.

"Everybody has the right to do things the way they want to," Palermo said. "You know what I mean? I wasn't comfortable with the way it was done…

"And me only. I can't speak for anybody else."

Palermo has been a coach at some level for 32 years, and has been a college football coach since 1977. He was an assistant along with Alvarez on Notre Dame's 1988 national championship team, and has been with the Badgers since 1991, Alvarez's second season as head coach. Palermo served as outside linebackers coach until becoming the defensive line coach in '95.

Palermo is regarded as one of the best defensive assistant coaches in the nation and is a respected recruiter with ties to the East Coast. His pupils at Wisconsin have included All-Americans Tarek Saleh, Tom Burke, Wendell Bryant and Erasmus James. Among the players he recruited for UW were Anttaj Hawthorne and current freshman Matt Shaughnessy.

"I have done absolutely nothing in recruiting (this season) because I refuse to put my good name out there and recruit somebody, with the assumption that I'm going to be here, and I didn't know," Palermo said. "The one thing about recruiting, particularly back East, it's all about relationships. And if those people trust you, they trust you. And, I tell you what, if you do something to lose that trust, you'll never get it back again."

This could have been a trying year for Palermo. In addition to coaching his final year at UW, seven of his top 10 defensive lineman have missed time due to injury.

However, Palermo said: "The players that I've been able to coach this year have been awesome. They're young kids. They wanted to learn. They made progress. It was a fun year with them, with the kids….

"As far as I was concerned there wasn't any distractions because coaching is coaching. And you can't control the things in this world that you can't control. And the only thing I could control is trying to coach the heck out of those kids and get them better and try to prepare them for what we had to see every week."

Palermo said he will miss the players.

"I'll miss them a ton," he said. "They're awesome kids now. I'll miss them. I'll miss everything that they do. But sometimes it's just time to move on."

The next stop for Palermo is an open question. He does not plan on actively seeking another coaching position, but he would not be opposed to taking one if the right situation arose.

"I'm not preset on anything right now," he said. "I've got some good friends here in Wisconsin that I've met over the years that have offered me some job opportunities and I'll visit with them about it and see what's best for (my wife) Donna and I. Because the kids are already grown up."

Saturday was marked by the celebration for Alvarez's final home game. For Palermo, though, it was Jason's day.

"That was the only emotion that I had, to be honest with you, was with my son," John Palermo said. "That was the only emotion I had on Saturday…

"It was awesome. It was awesome. It's just like a culmination of dreams to be able to… No. 1, to be here, to have the success that we've had and then, finally, to be able to see your son be a part of it. He's going to graduate this December and I just couldn't be prouder of him."


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