When Barry Alvarez arrived in Madison in 1990, the Wisconsin football program was a disaster.
The Badgers had gone from being a mediocre team in the Dave McClain era (1978 to 1985, 46-42-3) to being an awful team in the Jim Hilles/Don Morton era (1986 to 1989, 9-36). They hadn’t been a consistently above-average team since making two Rose Bowl appearances in the Milt Bruhn era (1956 to 1966, 52-45-6).
UW had won Paul Bunyan’s Axe from rival Minnesota in just one of six seasons. Michigan had shut the Badgers out 24-0 in an embarrassing nationally televised game in 1989, and home attendance was hovering at just over half capacity.
There wasn’t much to be proud of at Camp Randall.
Alvarez began to restore pride immediately. In 1990, with an entirely inherited team, Alvarez managed just one victory. But in his second season, the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator multiplied Wisconsin’s wins, leading UW to a 5-6 record.
By 1993 Alvarez had turned Wisconsin 180 degrees, changing a struggling has-been program into a national powerhouse. The Badgers went 10-1-1 and made their first Rose Bowl appearance in 30 years. Their 21-16 victory over UCLA was the team’s first bowl victory in more than 10 seasons.
Alvarez was named the Bobby Dodd Foundation National Coach of the Year in 1993.
In 1994 the Badgers again put together a solid campaign. They finished 8-3-1 and capped the season with a 34-20 win over Duke in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
The 1995 season saw another Badger bowl victory, this time over the Utah Utes. The 1998 and 1999 seasons brought two more Rose Bowl victories to Madison.
All in all, in 14 seasons at Wisconsin, Alvarez has brought the Badgers to a bowl nine times. Seven of those appearances ended in Badger victories, giving Alvarez a .778 bowl game winning percentage — good enough to make him the fifth-most successful coach in postseason matches in NCAA history.
Overall, going into the 2004 season, Alvarez had racked up a 99-67-4 record at UW.
Saturday’s 34-6 victory made Barry the 10th coach in Big Ten history to win his 100th game with the same program. He has the sixth-longest tenure of any active college coach, and — in the 15 years he has coached — he has ushered in a new era of home dominance (56-31-3).
“When you reminisce, the thing I can think of is all of the people that were involved in it — how many people since 1990 and where the program was and how far it’s come and what we’ve accomplished,” Alvarez said after Saturday’s game. “The former coaches and players and anybody that had something to do with the program — and there have been so many — but they all have a piece of this.”
In particular he expressed gratitude to Pat Richter, who handed over the title of athletic director to Alvarez after last season — making Alvarez one of just two men in Division I college football to hold the two positions simultaneously.
“I think I would be remiss if I didn’t start with Pat, in talking about him giving me an opportunity and then supporting our football program every step of the way for 14 years,” Alvarez said.
After the game Alvarez was presented with a small bronze statue in his likeness. He appeared to appreciate the gesture, but — as ever — kept his stoic front.
“I really never thought about it,” Alvarez said. “I’m one of these guys that I just worry about the next game. I really do. I didn’t think about how many years I’d be here, how many years I’d continue coaching or how many games I could win. I was just trying to win the next one.”
“I’m very proud of it,” he said of his UW career. “It’s very meaningful to me.”