LOS ANGELES — Barry Alvarez hasn’t coached a football team in seven seasons. His last Rose Bowl appearance and victory came 13 years ago. This time around, he’s the new guy on the sidelines.
But with more than a decade between his last Rose Bowl as a coach and seven seasons from last time he commanded the Wisconsin football program, Alvarez had no issue sliding back into the rhythm of things or getting back in the feel of bowl prep.
“Just give me a whistle,” Alvarez said. “That’s all I need is a whistle and a bunch of guys to coach and I feel very comfortable with that. And it’s been fun for me. This has been like a gift to be able to do this and on this stage is truly special.”
In his return to the Granddaddy of Them All in its 99th year, Alvarez maintained that he will be a game manager while giving his coordinators parameters to work under.
This style of coaching is the system Alvarez used to achieve historic success during his tenure at Wisconsin and the system he stepped into when he was first hired by Lou Holtz as a defensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 1980.
“I hire people; I give them directions and let them do their job,” Alvarez said. “As an assistant coach, that’s what I wanted. When Lou Holtz hired me as a defensive coordinator, he let me run the defense. He would give me parameters to follow. I like that. So this is no different.”
Alvarez’s style has not only influenced the coaches, but has also made its mark on the team and how it operates on a day-to-day basis. Alvarez certainly isn’t changing Wisconsin’s traditional bruising style of football or how it plays the game, but how the team approaches it — starting with practice.
Since accepting the head coaching position for the game at the insistence of the players, Alvarez has changed the Badgers’ practice structure, removing unnecessary breaks and having the players scrimmage to get used to the game pace after weeks off.
“I really value and respect the players’ time so I want to be very efficient in how we practice,” Alvarez said. “I want to get X-amount of repetitions in, that is the important thing. If we can get it done in an hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half rather than two and a half hours, that’s what I’d prefer to do.”
This belief in efficiency actually caused Alvarez to cancel the team’s final Wednesday practice. Initially, they had a short practice scheduled with no pads, but, according to Alvarez, tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner suggested that if he were a player, he’d be hoping for rain.
Upon hearing what Faulkner was thinking, Alvarez cancelled practice and decided to do a walk-through at the hotel.
“I felt Eddie was thinking like a player; that’s how I normally try to think, what is best for them,” Alvarez said. “Sometimes they need to be pushed, but in this case, our guys have done everything that we’ve asked them to do they needed a little break.”
With the concentration on quality, efficient practices, Alvarez is largely focusing on what he can control in the upcoming bowl game: Wisconsin’s preparedness.
He’s not worrying about what Stanford might bring or whatever wrinkles it might introduce on game day. Instead, Alvarez said he is just trying to make sure his team is ready Jan. 1.
“I always worry about if our guys are ready and that they’re ready for the tempo and the speed of the game,” Alvarez said. “That’s what I’ll judge early on. Other than that, I’m really not worried about anything. I just want them to play. I told them I want the same team to show up … I want the same team to play that played in Indianapolis, to play in the Rose Bowl. That’s what I want to see, that’s what concerns me. I don’t worry about Stanford. I can’t control Stanford, but I can control us.”
As a legend of Wisconsin football, Alvarez had no issue immediately commanding control of the team — especially a team that affectionately calls him “The Godfather.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Alvarez said with a laugh. “I take that as a compliment, but the Godfather was Italian. I’m Spanish.”