"Coaching football is all about the team and coaching my position," Alexander said. "There are no nerves. If I was nervous about blending in, then I shouldn't be here."
Luckily for the Wisconsin wide receivers, Alexander is here and he's rebuilding the way Wisconsin's receivers play football.
When wide receiver/assistant head coach/assistant recruiting coordinator Henry Mason fell victim to a recurring spinal cord injury and was forced to step down from his position for the upcoming 2007 season, head coach Bret Bielema was forced to tinker with his staff that had worked so well together last season developing and recruiting talent. With Mason leaving a huge void in terms of experience and stability in his coaching staff, Bielema set off to find an interim assistant that would fulfill the two aspects he searches for in his assistants.
"You've got to be good coaches on the field, and you've got to be able to carry your weight off the field, which is like recruiting and just different aspects of teamwork," Bielema explained. "I was really looking for the best X's and O's guy out there."
Turning to offensive coordinator Paul Chryst for a suggestion on a coach that would fit into his offense, one of Chryst first suggestions was Alexander, who he coached with the NFL's San Diego Chargers and Oregon State. At Oregon State, Chryst was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach and Alexander was the wide receiver coach. After talking with Chryst, Bielema knew that there was a comfort level already established.
"What I knew was I needed to have a guy that had great coaching ability on the field and Del was our guy," Bielema said.
In his first three weeks of camp, UW's wide receivers learned just how technical and hands on DelVaughn Alexander really is. During warm ups and split work with the receivers, Alexander is all over the field, from throwing passes to teaching to defending his pupils – trying to engrain in their memory the proper way to play wide receiver in a big-time conference.
"I try to be a technician and working our way from the ground up," Alexander said. "What I am focusing on is body position, working in and out of breaks, using your hands, be physical at the line of scrimmage and physical and aggressive to the football."
If players were to question his tactics, Alexander's track record speaks for itself. Playing at Southern California from 1992 to 1995, Alexander played third string behind Trojan greats Keyshawn Johnson and Jonnie Morton. During his coaching career, Alexander had been either a wide receiver coach or a graduate assistant coach on four bowl-winning squads, including the 1996 Rose Bowl.
Being the new, young guy also has its advantages, as unsuspecting wide receivers have to be aware of how good Alexander's hands are, as well.
"He's the first wide receiver coach to have a pick in practice that I've been around," Bielema kidded. "He was pedaling like off-man the other day, and the quarterback overthrew and he picked it off, so all the kids were giving him a little bit of heat. But I really like the style that he brings."
All jokes aside, it's that hands-on approach that Alexander brings to the table. More importantly, he's not afraid to compliment or criticize one of his students.
"I'll be there at the start of the route and I'll be there at the end of the route," Alexander said. "I could be anywhere. The reason I'll be there is to use that moment to understand what just happened to be improved or what they just did right. For me, there's one way to do that – grab their attention and use that coachable moment. If there's something new or a hurdle a guy just accomplished, then I want to be sure to point that out to them."
It's that kind of approach that has earned him the respect among the rookies and the veterans in just three short weeks.
"This offense has been his baby for awhile so he knows the ins and outs," senior Paul Hubbard said. "What [Alexander] is saying is absolutely true and he's going to make us better everyday. For him to have that experience with this offense, it's only going to help us out a ton. The fact that he's so much younger and has more energy brings a lot to the table."
With Wisconsin's wide receivers now having Coach Mason's voice in their head – Mason still talks with his wide receivers and visits with Alexander on occasion – and Alexander learning each individual wide receiver's strengths and weaknesses to build upon on a daily basis, the new coach has big expectations for a group that seemingly set the bar to unreachable highs a season ago.
"What happened a year ago [with the wide receivers] is going to be the inside into the system," Alexander said. "It's something they want to build on and I wouldn't be surprised with the experience factor if their numbers don't skyrocket this year."