Feb. 6, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner has some solid references.
Barry Alvarez, Brady Hoke and Paul Chryst are among them.
Alvarez gave Faulkner a chance to play football in the Big Ten at Wisconsin.
Hoke gave Faulkner a chance to learn the game on a Mid-American Conference staff at Ball State.
Chryst gave Faulkner a chance to weigh where he was in his career, and where he needed to be.
For less than a month, Faulkner was on Chryst’s staff at Pittsburgh. He was hired on Jan. 12 after spending last season as the special team’s coordinator and running backs coach at Northern Illinois.
But when coach Bret Bielema gave Faulkner a chance to “come home again’’ and rejoin Matt Canada -- another solid reference -- Faulkner could think only one thing.
“It’s a no-brainer,’’ he said.
Faulkner developed a strong working relationship with Canada, who was the offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois before replacing Chryst and taking on the same title with the Badgers.
When asked how that factored into his decision, the 34-year-old Faulkner said that “ultimately working for Coach Canada was the brunt of it; we were able to do some good things last season.’’
On Chryst’s reaction to his departure, he added, “All in all, he was absolutely understanding. He’s not about holding anyone back from what they think is best for their family and their situation.’’
In the midst of the transition on the UW’s offensive staff, Canada and Faulkner bring some continuity because of what they accomplished during their one season together in DeKalb.
“I know Matt’s offense,’’ Faulkner said, “and what he wants to try and get done.’’
Faulkner also has a connection with UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock.
“We both kicked off our careers at about the same time,’’ he pointed out.
That was in 2003.
Hammock, the former Northern Illinois tailback, was a grad assistant at Wisconsin.
Faulkner, the former Wisconsin tailback, was a grad assistant at Ball State.
“We’ve stayed in touch since then,’’ Faulkner said. “I have a lot of respect for Thomas.’’
As a player, Faulkner earned respect for the way he handled his role. He was not only the backup to Ron Dayne, the Heisman Trophy winner, but also to Michael Bennett, a first-round NFL draft pick.
In 1997, Dayne injured his ankle on the first series against Iowa and didn’t play the rest of the game. Faulkner stepped in and rushed for 119 yards and the only touchdown in a 13-10 victory.
That broke an 18-game winless streak against the Hawkeyes.
In 2000, Faulkner took over for Bennett, who was serving a one-game suspension, and rushed for 124 yards and the winning touchdown in overtime against Cincinnati.
Bennett once said of Faulkner, “I look at him as a coach. Eddie knows the offense like the back of his hand. He can read defense, he can pick out any little thing on film.’’
Faulkner, the coach, has an obvious reference point in Faulkner, the player.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times I have used that as a reference,’’ he said. “I use that -- my experience in college with such a great player like Dayne -- as a teaching point with my kids.
“I tell them, ‘If you’re looking for sympathy from someone because you’re not getting on the field, I’m not necessarily that guy.’ Any snap I got at Wisconsin I was fortunate to get.
“Ron was obviously a special player. The reason I got on the field wasn’t because I was the most talented. It was because I worked hard and the coaches trusted me.’’
Expanding on that profile, he said, “Trust, hard work, how you apply yourself and accountability are all things that go a long way in determining what is going to happen on the field.
“Sometimes that may trump talent.’’
And that message, Faulkner said, can frequently connect with younger players “because it’s a real situation and it’s coming from the heart and it’s something you’ve experienced on your own.’’
Maybe Faulkner’s greatest experience of all was his first coaching assignment. After a brief fling in the Canadian Football League, he was hired at Anderson University, an NCAA Division III program in Indiana.
“To be completely honest, it kind of put things in order for me, and prioritized what was important’’ said Faulkner, a native of Muncie.
“I was a little bit spoiled; a lot of D-I football athletes are. Early on, you’re still thinking that you’re entitled to everything.
“When I went to Anderson, it was one of the better decisions that I have ever made in my life because those kids play football because they love it.
“That brought me back down to earth and it gave me a great start to my career.’’
From there, Faulkner came under the influence of Hoke, now Michigan’s head coach. During his second year as a grad assistant, Faulkner gained some experience coaching the tight ends.
“He’s an outstanding coach and a better person,’’ Faulkner said of Hoke. “Whenever possible, I try to reach out to him and pick his brain, whether it’s about life or something in our profession.
“You know that he’s going to give you an honest opinion.’’
Alvarez, however, had the greatest impact on the type of coach that Faulkner is today.
“Those principles I learned coming out of Coach Alvarez’ program are life-sustaining -- fundamentals and doing things right,’’ he said. “It was a reinforcement of my parents.’’
In this context, Faulkner noted, “My parents still have Wisconsin in their blood, they still have the bug and they always cheered for the Badgers regardless of my career ties elsewhere.’’
Picking up again on the Alvarez foundation and influence, he said, “Coach did a lot for me and I want to be part of administering that to the next wave of young men.
“I loved every second in Madison. Now to have the opportunity to go back to Wisconsin and coach football, are you kidding me?
“Who wouldn’t want that chance?’’
Such is Faulkner’s loyalty to the school, and the coaching profession.
“Like I told Coach Bielema, ‘I’m a ball coach,’’’ Faulkner said, adding that he believes “my strengths lie in my ability to communicate and relate to the kids.’’
Faulkner sounded like one -- a kid at Christmas -- at the mere thought of coaching at Wisconsin.
“It’s a great situation to be walking into,’’ he said, “and I’m ready to dive in head-first.’’