Former Wisconsin coaching legend Barry Alvarez had no plans of returning to the sideline for his fourth career Rose Bowl after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. But a few calls later from seniors Mike Taylor and Curt Phillips, Alvarez was back in the reigns for one more game.
As his phone erupted with text messages and voicemails in the hours after news broke that Bielema was taking the new job with the Razorbacks, he first ignored several calls from a Green Bay area code. The persistent caller was Taylor, a fifth-year senior linebacker.
“Mike told me he and the captains and the leaders of the team have discussed the fact that they would like me to coach them in the Rose Bowl,” Alvarez said. “I told him I would be honored to coach them and I wanted them to understand that if I was going to coach, we weren’t going to screw around, we would go out there to win.”
At a press conference Thursday morning, Alvarez confirmed earlier reports that he will serve as the head coach for the Badgers against the Stanford Cardinal at the 99th Rose Bowl but said it is only a special, single-game commitment. Alvarez, whose last game as UW head coach was a win over Auburn in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, is 3-0 in Pasadena. Ironically, his last win at the Rose Bowl came in 2000 against the same opponent – Stanford.
The Wisconsin Athletic Director also stated that all assistant coaches on the team are staying with the team at least through the Rose Bowl.
Alvarez said he was very surprised by Bielema’s decision to leave and that Arkansas did not ask for permission to interview the Wisconsin head coach. The Wisconsin athletic director said he returned from breakfast Tuesday morning in New York – where he was being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame – to a message from Bielema saying he need to talk with his former mentor.
It was there that the 42-year-old UW head coach informed his athletic director that he was leaving for Fayetteville.
“I said you’re not telling me you’re going to visit with the Arkansas people, you’ve already taken the job,” Alvarez said. “And the answer was ‘yes.'”
Alvarez said he already has a short-list of potential candidates and has reached out to some of them, but will not start interviews until after the weekend. Though not ruling out those who have only worked as assistants, Alvarez said he will first consider those with head coaching experience.
“There’s been a lot of interest shown in the position because it’s a great job, it’s on solid footing, new facilities and a very good nucleus coming back,” he said.
Alvarez added that former Badgers’ offensive coordinator and current Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst – an early front-runner for the vacant head coaching spot – will remain with the Panthers.
“I asked some very close friends of mine to help get Paul that job and I think Paul’s already come out and said he’s committed to Pitt and I think he should be committed to Pitt,” Alvarez said. “I wouldn’t think it would be right for him to leave after one year, I wouldn’t feel right and I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to hire him back after I asked someone to do me a favor and help him get that job.
“Paul is going to stay at Pitt.”
Alvarez will handle Wisconsin’s upcoming recruiting weekend and said he will preach a simple message to recruits: that Badger football will still chug along behind a pro-style rushing attack and that the changing of the guard does not mean the program will experience a serious makeover.
“Bret used my gameplan to win,” Alvarez said. “The coach that I will hire will be someone that will have to understand who we are (and) how we go about our business.”
Many questioned if Alvarez’s returns to the sideline would be more symbolic than anything, and he said he will “manage the game” while relying on the game-planning of his coordinators.
The man often credited with turning Wisconsin football into a top Big Ten program emphasized several times that he did this for the players and that he does not want the attention to fall on him. But as a Rose Bowl Hall of Fame inductee coaching his first team in Pasadena in 12 years, Alvarez will have a hard time staying out of pregame headlines.
Only this time he brings in a 7-5 Wisconsin team (the first five-loss team to ever appear in a Rose Bowl) that has faced harsh criticism for being the Big Ten’s lone representative in the four BCS bowls.
“I’ve been through that before where we were the worst team ever to be represented at the Rose Bowl,” Alvarez said, a nod to an infamous remark by ESPN analyst Craig James. “So I bring history with that and I’m accustomed to answering those questions.
“The best comeback was I know there’s at least one team worse than us.”