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January 19, 2012

Get to know: Zach Azzanni

MADISON - Like his newly hired colleague Matt Canada, Wisconsin's new wide receiver coach Zach Azzanni spoke with a high level of conviction during his first meeting with the Madison media.

With ties to some very successful coaches, including recently hired Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, Azzanni is set to begin his tenure at UW. The following is a transcript from Azzanni's Wednesday press conference.

Azzanni: I'm extremely excited to be here. I'm extremely excited to be part of Wisconsin. I've known Bret Bielema for a number of years and always kept in touch with that glimmer of hope that maybe someday I'll get to be a Badger. I had an opportunity to play against Wisconsin twice when I was at Bowling Green.

One time we scared the mess out of them. I think that really helped me this far down the road get a job here at a great place. I'm really excited to work at a tradition rich place. I love the pageantry of college football and I love the tradition of college football. This is just a great fit for me and my family. We're very, very excited.

Someone had said that you saw one of Wisconsin's games and said that you had seen wide receiver No. 4 (Jared Abbrederis). What did you think of him when you watched him play?

Azzanni: Well it's funny, because I get a lot of…Everybody knows how I coach and the kind of guys I've coached and the kind of guys I like. I've been getting some text messages from some colleagues the last couple of days on how much I'm going to love coaching Abby. I'm really excited.

I've watched him play. I've (nudging) my wife on the couch during a couple of games and saying, 'Watch this, he does everything. He punt returns, he's blocking and he does everything.' I'm really excited. I haven't had the opportunity to reach out to him yet. I'm going to reach out to those guys later on, if not tonight. But I'm excited to coach him.

How do you coach? Are you a pretty enthusiastic guy?

Azzanni: Yeah, I'm high energy and it goes back to the no huddle spread that I've been brought up in. You have to be. You're running around like a madman out there. That's just the way I've been brought up, too, in the business under some great coaches. You're young, you're energetic, you're high energy and you're intense. It's not always puppy dogs and roses out there. It gets a little hard. I coach intense.

I think Urban referred to you as a relentless recruiter. Can you define relentless on the recruiting trail?

Azzanni: You know, I don't know what that means. I think that just means doing your job really well and staying after a kid if you want him. It's sinking your teeth into them and opening your arms to all the people that are helping make the decision for him and with him. From parents, to aunts and uncles, to cousins and all that kind of stuff. It's knowing how to get to a kid. I think that's probably what he meant.

Do you think last year in a pro-style offense is going to help you for what you'll face here?

Azzanni: Yeah, absolutely. Everything happens for a reason and I believe that. Gosh dang it. Last year, when coach Meyer decided to resign for the second time it was one of those things where, 'Okay, now what?' I got a call from Western Kentucky and Willie Taggert. He gave me an unbelievable opportunity to be an offensive coordinator for the first time. Part of the deal was, 'Hey, Zach. I love the way you coach and I love the things you've done, but we're going to run Stanford's offense.' I said, 'Oh, I've never done that coach.' He goes, 'You're a great coach. You learn that quick.'

I did. And I tell you what, it opened my eyes to a lot of different things. A year down the road I think it helped me get this job. Now I can come in and I understand. It's a lot easier to go from that to this now that I've done it and called it.

So what do you think of the style here based on what you've done for most of your background?

Azzanni: I tell you what, at first I didn't know what to think of it. I was just a little unsure. All of a sudden we really started pounding people. And we were kind of taking the will away from other teams and I kind of got excited about it. You take some things you did in the spread and you make it work in a pro-style offense. It's all intertwined somehow. I really ended up enjoying it and I'm excited to be in it again.

Is it going to be hard going back from offensive coordinator to position coach once you get a taste of that?

Azzanni: I don't think so. Like coach said, he wanted to hire some guys without egos. I don't have an ego. I just want to win. I want to win that third Big Ten championship. I grew up watching the Big Ten, I'm from Michigan. I'm just excited to win. I don't care who calls plays or how we do it. I'm just going to coach as hard as I can every day and try to get another ring.

What do you expect out of your guys? How would you describe what you're looking for?

Azzanni: Well, number one we're going to block. We're going to be the best blocking receivers in the country. I know there are some other coaches around the country that might say that. We're going to do that. You're going to turn on the film and you're going to see a relentless group of receivers blocking. The reason I believe in that is because it opens up the pass game for those kids later down the stretch of a game.

It's a team game. It's all about the team. We're going to block, we're going to be high energy, we're going to go through the whistle and we're going to be great fundamentalists. I believe in that and my track record speaks for itself. I got taught a long time ago to just press play if you want to see how a coaches players play. So we're going to be high energy. We're going to block our tails off. We're going to try to make some plays after the catch. I think that's big because 85 percent of your yards at receiver come after the catch. We're going to try to work on that. That's a skill that can be taught and learned, too.

Blocking, how does it open pass plays later in the game?

Azzanni: I think you wear down a secondary. You just wear them down, wear them down and wear them down. All of a sudden, after you've been blocking a guy for 15 plays where you're getting after them, the next time you run right past him when he thinks you're going to block him. It's all mentality that we're trying to bring. I've always tried to bring that. I think that's what's unique about our offenses the last couple of places I've was. In the no huddle, we brought that pro-style mentality of toughness and attitude to that no huddle. It's more finesse. I think that helped me down the road.

Being a former walk-on, does that influence how you coach?

Azzanni: Absolutely. I've got a Napolean complex. I'll tell you right now. I have an edge to me and I've always been like that. I've always been the smallest, skinniest and whatever. I had to earn a scholarship at Central Michigan so sure, absolutely. I always thought if I had to do all this stuff just to get 15 snaps in a game, imagine if I can have a guy that's three times as athletic as me and teach him how to do all this stuff, wow, what would we have. I think I've been able to do that some places.

You've been in the SEC for a year, but when a guy comes from the MAC and then Western Kentucky, what does it seem like? Especially all the benefits of this place. Do you appreciate it more?

Azzanni: I appreciate it a ton. When me and my wife were lucky enough to go to Florida and now this, I can tell you that my family appreciates all that. We don't take any of that for granted when we're at a place like this. We've seen some coaches that do and it makes my stomach turn. This is a great place that people would cut off their right arm to coach at. I appreciate it and I don't take it for granted.

We were sitting last night at dinner and the Michigan-Michigan State game was on and Iowa and Purdue were playing and I go, 'Man, I'm in the Big Ten.' I grew up watching the Big Ten. The SEC is great, don't get me wrong. That was fun, but I'm a Midwest guy. This is a dream come true for me.

You must have an understanding wife.

Azzanni: I do. I have a football coaches' wife. She's great. I have a great family. I have two daughters and a daughter on the way. It's going to be a house full of princesses not football players.

What did Urban see in you initially that led him to believe you'd be a good coach?

Azzanni: You know, I don't know. Just hard work, attention to detail. A lot of the same ideas that he has. A lot of philosophical things that he has on how to coach players, how to be intense and being personal and being really involved in their life. That's why I don't really have a lot of aspirations to go to the pros ever. I like to see a kid develop from freshman year to senior year, not only on the grass, but off the grass. That's important.

Me and my family get very involved with our players on and off the field. I think at the end of the day they're going to be playing hard for you. I don't know how much you can do that up when you're getting a paycheck every week at the next level. That's important for my family. We invest everything we have into our player's lives. On the flip side you get more out of them.

Have you seen any tape of the guys besides Abbrederis? Or seen anything else?

Azzanni: You know, I watched a little bit upstairs. People were talking to me and I was kind of being rude because I was still watching the computer. But I'm going to watch some more for sure. I've got to form my own opinion here the next couple months and get after it in the spring.

I'm sure Urban Meyer's staff has had it to when some of these assistant coaches progress to become head coaches. It's happened here with Paul Chryst and Dave Doeren over the past couple of years. How much does that intrigue you when you take an offer like this?

Azzanni: It intrigues me tremendously. I'd love to be a head football coach someday. I know Dave Doeren really well and I saw his career develop. Obviously coach Bielema, too. I met him when he was a linebacker coach at Kansas State wearing a purple coat at a high school one time. Ten years down the road he's the head coach and he's got a couple Big Ten championships. I'd love to do that. That's another reason I jumped at the opportunity here. I know that coach Bielema is going to develop coaches and help me be a better coach as well.

What appeals to you about Matt, too?

Azzanni: I've known coach Canada for a long time. Like he said, on the recruiting trail, and I also coached against him. I was at Bowling Green and he was at Northern Illinois. I played against him when he was at Indiana. He's like me, he's been in and out of a couple different styles of offenses, which is neat. We can kind of put all of our ideas in a pot and stir it up to see what we can get to follow the blueprint here at Wisconsin. I'm excited to work for him. I've heard a lot of great things about him. I've got a lot of good friends that have coached with him on staffs that I know really well that have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I think it's going to be a great fit.

Do you think there's a chance to put your own imprint on things here with all the new offensive coaches?

Azzanni: I hope so, yeah. Absolutely. I think every good coaching staff, offensive staff, defensive staff sits down and kind of sees what fits the players we have, just like coach Canada said. We all put it in a basket, mix it up and kind of pull out the things that are going to best fit us. I think we're going to utilize all of our minds, hopefully.

Any idea what your primary recruiting area will be or is it too soon?

Azzanni: I do not. Nope. Right now we're just trying to hang on to this class and I think we'll get to that in a couple weeks.


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