Mike Hankwitz Q&A

Wisconsin's new defensive coordinator spoke with Badger Nation Sunday

Mike Hankwitz was announced Sunday as the University of Wisconsin's next defensive coordinator. Hankwitz comes to UW with 36 years of college football coaching experience. He began his career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater Michigan from 1970-72 and most recently was the defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Colorado (2004-05). He has spent 21 years as a defensive coordinator with six different programs.

Badger Nation reached Hankwitz on his cell phone Sunday afternoon. Hankwitz will begin work at Wisconsin later this week, possibly Thursday.

Hankwitz is the third defensive assistant coach that new head coach Bret Bielema has announced for his 2006 staff, joining co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Dave Doeren and secondary coach Kerry Cooks. Bielema formally takes over for outgoing head coach Barry Alvarez Jan. 30.

Badger Nation: Why Wisconsin?

Mike Hankwitz: "Well, Coach Alvarez has built that into a consistent winner. They've had a lot of success. They've got a team that's got a tradition now. I've heard it's a great place to live and work. And I've known coach Bielema since '95 and kind of followed his career and how it's, the success he's had. I thought I'd have a chance to contribute and I'd have a chance to coach and work at a place that's a great place to be."

How did you meet Bielema in '95?

"He came down to Kansas to—I think it was one of our clinics—to talk football and we spent a couple days talking football. I was coaching inside linebackers at the time or inside/outside and he was doing the same. So we exchanged information, I showed him how we did things. And then kind of followed his career. And then I would see him at the coaches' conventions. And we'd exchange some ideas. Just always knew where he was at. Had some common friends that knew him.

"And then he came to coach in the Big 12 at Kansas State. Coached against him, so we could see first hand what they were doing and you knew what he was doing. So I was excited to get a chance to talk to him."

What was the timeline for your hiring at Wisconsin? What has the timeline been for you since Colorado's bowl game?

"We did see each other at the, Orlando, because they were staying at the same hotel. So we just talked briefly and he mentioned that he'd like to talk to me at the coaches convention. So we talked at the coaches convention and have talked since then. And then kind of finalized it today."

Had Bielema contacted you before Orlando?

"No. But I was hoping to see him down there. I tried to make contact with him. But I was hoping I'd just run into him so I could just express interest. And I was able to do that."

What will your role be as defensive coordinator? What will your relationship be with Dave Doeren hired as co-defensive coordinator?

"I'm looking forward to working with Dave cause I've watched the way they've improved at Kansas. We had a lot of similar defensive philosophies, so we actually exchanged some information about other opponents. I was impressed with the job he's done coaching there, watching the way his players' played.

"To my understanding I'll be in charge of the whole defense but it's a collective thing. We're going to gameplan together. And I'm excited about getting to work with Kerry and with Dave because we're going to take the things they did well and incorporate them…

"We just don't go in there and say alright, ‘Here's what we're going to do.' We're going to take what they've done at Wisconsin and just try to build on it, add a few things here or there (that) hopefully can make us better.

"To me that's how you improve is when you get new ideas and find out different things that other people have done and both those guys are excellent young coaches. So I'm looking forward to kind of the staff where we've got a lot of collective effort of putting together a gameplan that suits our personnel but also does a great job attacking the other team. I'm really looking forward to it."

Have you been involved in a coaching arrangement like this before, or is it wrong to get hung up on the titles?

"For me to the titles, you know—the best staffs I've been on are the ones where we all worked together. Because our names are all on it. How well the defense does, it's about all of us. It's what we all do. It isn't just what the coordinator does. I've never believed that because it's not the case. It's how we all work together and all the input we all have. We're all going to have input. Somebody's got to make final decisions. We'll do that. I'll do that. But to me it's all of us working together and coaching our positions but then when we gameplan we're working together, deciding things we need to do and how to do them. And then when we're all on the same page, coaching our guys that way, then we have success and have fun."

How would you define your defensive philosophy?

"We're going to be fundamentally sound. We're going to be well-coached. We're going to execute what we teach and be a tough team that stops the run, but we're going to be disruptive. We'll blitz. We'll zone blitz. And we'll be aggressive trying to disrupt the offense. A lot of ways to do that. You can do that with four-man rushes. You can do it with zone blitzes. You can do it with man blitzes. We'll have a blend of that as we get to know our personnel a little better.

"They've done some great things on defense there in the last 10 years and we just want to build on it."

Will you have any position responsibility, or will you kind of be floating around?

"I think Bret's initial thought is I could be more of a walk around, where I can help take the defensive ends in our zone blitz coverage, or I can help and work with the safety, or I can work with the sam linebacker. I've coached inside backers, outside backers, defensive ends, secondary. So I've coached about every position. So when you can do that, it just kind of helps to maximize your time on the field.

"Because when you zone blitz, you are going to have an end dropping off in coverage. Well, if the line coach has to coach that he's got three guys that aren't involved in that. So what do they do? So if I can help take that guy and work with him a little. Same thing with the sam backer. If Dave needs to work some specific things with the inside guys, I can take the sam and do things or I can help with a safety.

"There's obviously different ways to do it. I've coached positions and coordinated most of the time. But I've also had the luxury of walking around at a few places. It was certainly a benefit to be able to do that."

Do you know much about Wisconsin's personnel?

"I watched the bowl game. It was a tremendous win, the way they got after Auburn. I noticed that there are a lot of guys coming back and that excited me. I know they also had some injuries on the defensive line. They'll get some guys back there. It looks like a great bunch to start working with."

Your coaching experiences matches Bret's age… what can your experience add to the staff?

"Well, I hope I can bring something to the table with my experience. I've been a lot—I've coached in a lot of different places in different leagues, and I'm hoping that that experience can be a big benefit to us. To me it's when you can have a blend of experience and youth, it's the best of both worlds. Because I'm darn sure going to make sure they don't, you know, they're not more enthusiastic than me coaching. And hopefully I can help them—I can learn from them and they can learn from me."

Who or what have been the biggest influences in your career?

"I've been fortunate. I've worked with some outstanding coaches. I played and coached under Coach Schembechler. Well, Jim Young would be the guy that I consider my mentor because he was the first head coach I worked for. I worked for him for 12 years and he started the defensive tradition at Michigan.

"Then Bill McCartney at Colorado and then R.C. Slocumb. But I've learned from every coach I've worked with. To me that is the advantage of having worked with different people. There's different ways to do things. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, but I've had a chance to work with a lot of good people. From Bo, and then I went with Jim Young and then it was Jack Harbaugh, and then Bill McCartney and then Glen Mason and R.C. Slocumb and then John Mackovic for a short time and then Gary (Barnett).

"I've learned something everywhere I've been. I feel fortunate I've been able to work with a lot of top coaches."

What do you expect out of Bielema as a head coach?

"Bret's been in some top programs too and got to work under some outstanding head coaches. I'm sure he'll take things that he's—as an assistant you're watching how things are done. You're trying to prepare yourself for that opportunity and you watch how things are done at different places, under different head coaches, under different coordinators.

"And then you kind of say, ‘Well, when I get in that position, this is what I would do.' It's not that you question the decisions that are made but you're also evaluating and… well, going into the next time you might be in that situation and the guy handles it differently.' Go, ‘Oh, that's a better way to deal with this or a better way to handle that."

"He's been in different roles. He's been an assistant, he's been a co-coordinator, he's been a coordinator. So he's moved up the ladder responsibility-wise and I'm sure he's prepared himself each step for the next step…

"My first assistant job was with Jim Young, and I want to say he was 36 or in that age at Arizona and he became a highly successful head coach."

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