Despite a push by the University of Wisconsin to keep him, running backs coach John Settle will be leaving the Badgers football team and joining the staff at Kentucky.
News of Settle’s departure began circulating Thursday night and was widely reported Friday morning, but it wasn’t official until Friday afternoon as multiple State Journal sources said UW tried to entice Settle to stay. Details of those efforts weren’t revealed.
Settle, who made $462,000 in fiscal year 2020, has been a part of the Badgers staff for a total of 11 seasons, including the past six since returning to the program with head coach Paul Chryst.
Settle has helped the Badgers produce a number of stellar backs in his time, including Jonathan Taylor, Montee Ball, John Clay, Corey Clement and James White. He also fostered the talent of other future NFL backs such as Alec Ingold, Dare Ogunbowale and Derek Watt.
"He's a cool, calm, collected coach," White told the State Journal on Friday. "Never really raised his voice, he demanded the best out of his players, pushed each and every day at practice and had you prepared and ready to go on game day. I wish him the best of luck at Kentucky."
Settle will become the second new running backs coach at Kentucky this offseason — he’s replacing Jemal Singleton, who left the Wildcats for a job with the Philadelphia Eagles a month after being hired at Kentucky. Singleton’s salary at Kentucky was reportedly $500,000 per year.
Losing Settle continues an offseason of upheaval on the Badgers’ coaching staff, which has lost three assistants since winning the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30. Inoke Breckterfield left UW for the same defensive line coaching position at Vanderbilt and Jon Budmayr left UW’s quarterbacks coaching role to become the offensive coordinator at Colorado State.
Ross Kolodziej, UW’s former strength and conditioning coach, filled Breckterfield’s position, while Chryst will assume QB coaching duties and brought in former NFL cornerback Hank Poteat to coach UW’s corners.
UW is slated to begin spring practices March 30, which leaves little time to recruit and hire a replacement.
After his playing career at Appalachian State and six seasons in the NFL, Settle joined the coaching ranks with the Cleveland Browns and made the move with the franchise to Baltimore. He then coached eight seasons at Fresno State before his first stint at UW. He also coached with Chryst in the latter’s last season at Pittsburgh in 2014, helping running back John Conner become the Big East player of the year.
Settle has been an important recruiter and mentor of players during his time with the Badgers.
“I think coach Settle does a great job of kind of knowing what each guy needs and maybe where their strength is, kind of how they’re spending their time they want to devote to football,” Chryst said of Settle in November.
“Even learning how to study film and learning how to self-evaluate. And that takes a coach, and that’s where I think coach Settle does a great job of truly assisting our guys and that’s as much of coaching as what to do on a play or what technique to use in different situations.”
Speaking of the running backs group this season, assistant head coach and run-game coordinator Joe Rudolph said Settle established the tone of the room.
“There’s such great leadership in the room, starting with coach Settle, helping those guys to develop,” he said.
Offseason development crucial for Badgers' offense
Offseason development crucial for Badgers' young offense
On the roster: Graham Mertz (RS Fr.), Danny Vanden Boom (RS Jr.), Chase Wolf (RS Soph.), Daniel Wright (Fr.)
Incoming: Deacon Hill
Departing: Jack Coan (transfer)
Projected starter: Mertz
Mertz (above) had moments of brilliance this season, but those were few and far between after his COVID-19 diagnosis and the outbreak the Badgers experienced. Not having his top two receivers certainly didn’t help, but Mertz missed open receivers and had ball-placement issues against the tougher defenses he faced.
COVID-19 also wiped out the Badgers’ typical offseason last year. How much the virus affects winter and spring workouts has yet to be seen, but Mertz and the offense would certainly benefit from getting spring practices in.
The backup quarterback spot is intriguing. It’s likely Wolf’s job, but outside of some designed QB runs, he didn’t show much in his chances on the field this year. In three appearances, Wolf was 6 for 8 for 29 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
On the roster: Jalen Berger (Fr.), Julius Davis (RS Fr.), Garrett Groshek (RS Sr.), Isaac Guerendo (RS Soph.)
Incoming: Jackson Acker, Loyal Crawford, Antwan Roberts
Departing: Nakia Watson (transfer), Groshek (NFL)
Projected starter: Berger
Berger emerged as the Badgers’ top tailback this year, using an explosive running style to get through the holes quickly and challenge defenses. Two of his longest runs of the year were called back by holding penalties, but he led all backs in gains of 10 or more yards.
Berger (above) also contracted COVID-19 late in the year, which forced him out of the Iowa and Minnesota games. Groshek had the best day of his Badgers career against the Gophers, rushing for more than 150 yards and he remained a solid change-of-pace back. That's a role UW will need to fill now that Groshek has gone pro.
The Badgers are thin on experience behind Berger, who only played five games this year. Davis and Guerendo each played in just one game in 2020. All three running backs in the Badgers’ recruiting class are ranked as three-star players.
On the roster: John Chenal (Jr.), Quan Easterling (RS Fr.)
Departing: Mason Stokke (NFL)
Projected starter: Stokke or Chenal
Stokke became a go-to guy in the red zone for the Badgers this season, with three receiving TDs and one on the ground. He also split out and caught passes as a receiver when that unit was hit by injuries.
Chenal (above) should be able to handle the short-yardage running and blocking duties, but he hasn’t shown the same versatility that Stokke had. Easterling didn’t play in a game this season, but he’d be a playable reserve, especially in goal-line personnel.
It’s also possible (read: likely) the Badgers move a player from another position to fullback heading into next season.
On the roster: Clay Cundiff (RS Fr.), Cole Dakovich (Fr.), Jack Eschenbach (RS Soph.), Jake Ferguson (RS. Jr.), Jaylan Franklin (RS Soph.), Cam Large (Fr.), Hayden Rucci (RS Fr.)
Incoming: Jack Pugh
Departing: Lloyd (transfer)
Projected starter: Ferguson
Ferguson announced he would return for his senior season, which is a huge boost for the Badgers. Ferguson led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns this season, and emerged as a leader of the young tight end group.
Bringing along another option at the position is crucial this offseason. Rucci and Eschenbach played the most as the No. 2 TE this season — Rucci is primarily a blocker at this point while Eschenbach had a few nice plays as a receiver. There’s a lot of young talent in the room — Cundiff, Large, and Pugh were sought-after recruits — so getting them a full offseason would likely lead to more production behind Ferguson.
Franklin is an intriguing option to keep an eye on. Arguably the best athlete in the group, he made the switch to tight end last year after starting his UW career as an outside linebacker. Given an offseason to learn the position at a deeper level, he could be a mismatch for opposing linebackers and safeties.
On the roster: A.J. Abbott (RS Soph.), Haakon Anderson (Fr.), Stephan Bracey (RS Fr.), Devin Chandler (Fr.), Danny Davis (Sr.), Jordan DiBenedetto (RS So.), Chimere Dike (Fr.), Jack Dunn (RS Sr.), Mike Gregoire (RS Soph.), Adam Krumholz (RS Sr.), Taj Mustapha (RS Soph.), Cooper Nelson (RS Fr.), Kendric Pryor (RS Sr.), Isaac Smith (Fr.)
Incoming: Markus Allen, Skyler Bell
Departing: Possibly Dunn and Krumholz
Projected starters: Davis, Pryor, Dike
Injuries depleted this group in 2020 and exposed the lack of readiness from the sophomore and junior classes.
Pryor (above) has already announced he’ll return, but Davis has not yet made a public statement on coming back for another year. Dike became a starter with those two out, but had trouble consistently creating separation. He’ll benefit from a real offseason as well, because even as an early enrollee last year he missed significant on-field reps with the cancellation of spring practices.
Allen and Bell are players who will “change the room,” according to UW’s director of player personnel Saeed Khalif, but the Badgers will need Bracey and Chandler to become more consistent threats next year.
If the Badgers dip into the transfer market again, expect them to try to find a receiver.
On the roster: Dylan Barrett (Fr.), Ben Barten (Fr.), Tyler Beach (RS Jr.), Tanor Bortolini (Fr.), Logan Brown (RS Fr.), Logan Bruss (RS Jr.), Jon Dietzen (RS Sr.), Michael Furtney (RS Soph.), Kerry Kodanko (Fr.), Kayden Lyles (RS Jr.), Jack Nelson (Fr.), Cormac Sampson (RS Soph.), Josh Seltzner (RS Jr.), Blake Smithback (RS Jr.), Sean Timmis (Fr.), Joe Tippman (RS Fr.), Cole Van Lanen (RS Sr.), Aaron Vopal (RS Jr.), Trey Wedig (Fr.),
Incoming: JP Benzschawel, Riley Mahlman, Nolan Rucci
Departing: Possibly Dietzen and Van Lanen
Projected starters (left to right): Brown, Seltzner, Lyles, Bruss, Beach
UW’s offensive line will have as competitive of an offseason and preseason as any position group on the roster.
Outside of Bruss (above) at either right guard or right tackle, all of the spots might be up for grabs. Add in the fact that the past two recruiting classes have added standout talents like Nelson and Rucci, there will be battles across the board. Losing left tackle Cole Van Lanen, who’s likely to make the jump to the NFL, will be a blow, but former five-star recruit Logan Brown played in all seven games this season, including a good showing in the second half of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against Wake Forest.
With a good amount of young talent, Rudolph could create a rotation at a number of spots to keep players fresh and keep from putting too much pressure on an inexperienced player.