Jan. 2, 1990, Wisconsin announced the hire of Barry Alvarez, a hotshot defensive coordinator from the University of Notre Dame, as their new head football coach.
Alvarez faced the daunting task of turning Wisconsin’s football program around. Wisconsin had just five wins in the past three seasons combined, and attendance at Camp Randall had dipped significantly.
Even when entering a difficult situation, Alvarez quickly instilled confidence in Badgers fans.
In his introductory press conference, Alvarez said fans, “better get season tickets right now, because before long they probably won’t be able to.”
What followed in Alvarez’s 31 years at Wisconsin was a complete culture change of not only the football program, but the entire athletic program.
Alvarez turned a program considered a laughing stock in the Big Ten into one of the nation’s elite. Here we take a look at Alvarez’s top moments during his illustrious career at Wisconsin.
Winning the 1993 Rose Bowl against UCLA
In Alvarez’s fourth year, he posted his first winning record at Wisconsin and completed a remarkable turnaround of Wisconsin’s football program. In 1993, Alvarez led a 9-1-1 Badger team to the Rose Bowl against UCLA. The Badgers defeated the Bruins 21–16 in Pasadena and the win put the nation on notice that the Badgers would be a force to be reckoned with moving forward.
Alvarez was named the 1993 Big Ten Coach of the Year and with his new “ground-and-pound” scheme, running back Brent Moss was named the conference’s player of the year —scampering for 1,637 yards and 16 touchdowns. The 1993 season set the foundation for Wisconsin’s dominant run of success moving forward.
1998/1999 Back-to-Back Rose Bowls
After a couple of modest eight-win seasons, the Badgers returned to the top of the Big Ten in 1998. Wisconsin secured a spot in the Rose Bowl, following their dominant 24-3 win over Penn State.
The Badgers faced a familiar foe — matching up against UCLA for the second time in the decade. Led by running back Ron Dayne, the Badgers outlasted the Bruins in a 38–31 shootout. The Badgers suffered from a bit of a hangover the following season, limping out to a dismal 2-2 record with a shocking non-conference loss to Cincinnati. The Badgers followed by winning their final eight games, knocking off Stanford to cap off their second consecutive Rose Bowl victory. Dayne ran for an incredible 2,034 yards and was awarded the Heisman Trophy.
2015 National Championship appearance
After the 2005 season, Alvarez stepped down as head coach and became the program’s athletic director. Expectations were high for the 2015 Wisconsin men’s basketball team, as the Badgers were coming off their first Final Four appearance since 2000 and returned seven key rotation players. Wisconsin entered the season ranked in the top three and didn’t disappoint.
The Badgers won an incredible 36 games and appeared in the national championship game after defeating unbeaten Kentucky in the Final Four. Unfortunately, Wisconsin fell short in the national championship, but their NCAA Tournament run will be remembered by Badgers fans for the next century.
Alvarez hires Head Coach Paul Chryst
In 2015, Alvarez arguably made the best move of his career at Wisconsin by hiring Paul Chryst as the football coach after Head Coach Gary Andersen left for Oregon State. Since Chryst was hired, the Badgers have continued their reign at the top of the Big Ten, winning the West division three times. On numerous occasions during the Chryst era, the Badgers have been in the conversation to be selected for the College Football Playoff. With two New Year’s Six wins, Alvarez’s hire should be paying dividends for years to come.
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Defeating Auburn in the 2014 Outback Bowl
The Badgers were in dire need of a lift coming off a disappointing 59–0 whopping to eventual national champion Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Andersen had his foot out the door, leaving for Oregon State. With an absence in the head coaching position, Alvarez decided to step in. The Badgers faced SEC powerhouse Auburn, a talented team that failed to live up to expectations after being ranked No. 6 in the preseason.
In a 34–31 thriller, the Badgers knocked off the Tigers and Alvarez walked off in his final game as a winner. The win was vintage Alvarez, and Wisconsin rushed for 400 yards, dominating their SEC opponent. The win was Alvarez’s 118th win — by far the most in school history.
A person can’t mention UW Athletics without talking about Barry Alvarez. In Alvarez’s 31 years, he elevated the program to standards that were considered unimaginable before he arrived. Alvarez will be missed among Badgers fans, and whoever replaces the legend will have big shoes to fill.