Bret Bielema

Firing ‘a surprise’ for ex-Badger OL coach Markuson


Somewhat curiously and even more surprisingly, reports surfaced late Sunday night that Wisconsin had parted ways with offensive line coach Mike Markuson just two games into his first season on Bret Bielema‘s coaching staff.

As it turns out, the general public wasn’t alone in scratching its collective heads over the abrupt turn of events.

In an interview on SiriusXM radio shortly after Bielema confirmed the change, Markuson acknowledged that he was indeed surprised by what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described as a firing.

“[Bielema] brought me into his office [Sunday] afternoon after a staff meeting and basically told me he was making a change.  We had talked a few times before just about certain things.  It was a surprise for me but in this business you’ve got to anticipate anything.  It can happen.  It’s just like the real world out there.  People get hired and fired and coaches get hired and fired.”

In a quote that raved about the school and the players in the football program, Markuson also hinted that his new approach may have rubbed some of those very players the wrong way and paved the path for his departure.

“They are great kids at Wisconsin.  They really are.  They’re very good students.  The reputation of the university with the academics, outstanding.  I mean, it is a top, top notch school.  Those guys had so much success and they had a coach in my position that they had before for four years that, man, they scored a lot of points, they ran the ball well.  I mean, them guys were used to hearing it a different way.  So now I come in, here’s the new guy on the block and I’m trying to teach them the way I know what’s right and the success that I’ve had.  It kind of threw a bump in the road.  So they had to get used to me.  I had to get used to them.  We had to work through some things and I really thought we were making good progress. In light of what has transpired I still believe what I was teaching is the right thing to do. Obviously it didn’t fit into what they wanted at Wisconsin.”

Prior to his hiring this past January, Markuson had spent the last 14 years as the line coach at an SEC school — Arkansas (1998-2007) and Ole Miss (2008-11).

USC’s Max Tuerk already questionable for Notre Dame game

TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 11:  Center Max Tuerk #75 of the USC Trojans prepares to snap the football during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.  The Trojans defeatred the Wildcats 28-26.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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As if the questions about the head coach’s future aren’t enough, now USC could have a rather significant issue in the middle of its offensive line to deal with as well.

Early in the first quarter of what would turn out to be an embarrassing loss to Washington Thursday night, Max Tuerk sustained a sprained knee. Upon further examination, it was determined that the veteran center would be unable to return to the game.

Not only that, Tuerk, who was wearing a brace on his right knee following the loss, is already labeled as questionable for what it in every sense of the phrase a must-win game for Steve Sarkisian against Notre Dame eight days from now.

With Tuerk sidelined for the remainder of the game, he was replaced by Toa Lobendahn. It’s unclear which direction the Trojans would go if Tuerk is a no-go this weekend, although Khaliel Rodgers, who had been dealing with a personal issue, has been Tuerk’s backup.

Tuerk has started 38 games in his Trojan career — 18 at center, 14 at left guard, five at left tackle, one at right tackle. Lobendahn started all 13 games as a true freshman last season, the first eight at left guard and then five at right tackle.

Was Washington loss the beginning of the end of the Steve Sarkisian era at USC?

Steve Sarkisian

Steve Sarkisian’s win totals in his six previous seasons are both a positive and a negative.

On one hand, he resurrected a moribund Washington program that went 0-12 under Ty Willingham in 2008 and took them to four consecutive bowl games from 2010-2013. He won nine games his last year in Seattle, then led a talented-yet-thin USC team to a nine-win season and AP No. 20 finish in 2014.

Those are good accomplishments. But the flip side of the argument is Sarkisian has never won double-digit games in a season, something that’s a necessity to keep one’s job at USC. The Trojans’ 17-12 loss to Washington last night — at home, no less — means the road to 10 wins and a Pac-12 title will be awfully difficult.

And worse yet, there are plenty of arguments to be made Sarkisian doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt and a little more time in Los Angeles to turn things around (#SarkAfterDark, his drunken rant at a booster event, certainly doesn’t help). The reaction from national media to last night’s loss looked like this:

Mandel, in his column, argued USC is right where it was two years ago with Lane Kiffin as its coach. And there’s this embarrassing thought, that looks more and more like a truth, for Pat Haden:

This one, however, was the most damning by far for many reasons, most notably that it came at the hands of Sarkisian’s old team. The sense among many Washington fans nearly two years ago was that the Huskies managed to upgrade coaches when the school lured Chris Petersen from Boise State upon Sarkisian’s departure to USC.

They were right.

USA Today’s Dan Wolken similarly wrote that USC needs to drop Sarkisian and bring in Chip Kelly from the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is the state of USC, and it may not get better. The Trojans start a brutal three-game stretch next Saturday at Notre Dame in primetime, then welcome Utah to Los Angeles the next week. A Halloween trip to Berkeley to face Jared Goff and Cal finishes it up. There’s a very real chance USC, for all its talent and all its hype, limps into November with a 4-4 or 3-5 record.

Sarkisian will have to engineer and sustain a major turnaround in these coming weeks, otherwise he’ll give Haden all the ammo he needs to unceremoniously jettison him after two years.