Alvarez: 'I will enjoy every second of it.'

Although emphasizing that this was a one-game event, Wisconsin interim head coach Barry Alvarez, after some initial hesitation, couldn't be more excited to lead the three-time defending Big Ten Champions to the Rose Bowl, his favorite venue in sports.

MADISON - With his phone vibrating and ringing off the hook, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez felt the last person he needed to talk to was somebody with a Green Bay area code in the hours after word got out that Bret Bielema was unexpectedly leaving Wisconsin to take the head coaching job at Arkansas.

"I didn't think there was anybody in Green Bay that I needed to talk to," said Alvarez.

It turns out that he did. The call was coming from senior linebacker and captain Mike Taylor who, along with senior quarterback Curt Phillips and other team captains, decided that the person they wanted to lead them in the 99th Rose Bowl was none other than the coach who dominated the Pasadena sideline during his tenure.

"I told him I would be honored to coach them," said Alvarez, who is a perfect 3-0 in the Rose Bowl with wins in 1994, 1999 and 200. "I wanted them to understand, if I were going to coach, we weren't going to screw around. We were going to go out there to win."

A 2009 inductee of the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, Alvarez is the only Big Ten coach to win back-to-back Rose Bowls and joins Ohio State's Woody Hayes (4) as the only Big Ten coach with at least three Rose Bowl game wins. He'll be the second person to coach the game after being enshrined in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, joining former UCLA quarterback and Washington coach Rick Neuheisel.

"After the news, we tried to get a core group of guys to talk about where we were at, how we felt we should move forward with the team," said Phillips. "Originally it didn't really cross my mind of (Alvarez) stepping in, but once it was brought up it was something everybody was extremely excited about."

Wisconsin will be making its third straight Rose Bowl appearance as Big Ten Champions after beating No.14 Nebraska, 70-31, in the second Big Ten Championship game last Saturday in Indianapolis. Wisconsin has lost its last two Rose Bowls by a combined nine points (two points to No.4 TCU in 2011 and seven to No.6 Oregon last season).

"It couldn't be a better opportunity to have Coach Alvarez step in here; somebody who has had success on this stage," said Phillips. "For him to be able to lead us and kind of show us how this needs to be done, I think guys are extremely excited to play for him."

After originally declining Bielema the opportunity to coach in the Rose Bowl, Alvarez, 65, said he wouldn't feel right about doing it himself until approached by the players.

"It did not cross my mind," said Alvarez. "But when the players asked - it's about the players. I don't want this to be about me. I want it to be about the players. I want to give them as good an opportunity, as good a chance to win the Rose Bowl as we possibly can.

"No one likes change, but you can grow through change, and there's opportunity through change, and we'll take this opportunity, but they'll be coached hard. They'll be prepared well. I want them to have an experience. I want the seniors to go out the right way, and I want the young players to understand that I will put a coach in place that they'll be pleased with."

Acknowledging the amount of duties associated with the Rose Bowl and the head coach, Alvarez said he would take the role of interim coach to allow the assistant coaches to concentrate on game planning and coaching their position players.

"I felt this was the best way to go about it and give the players the best opportunity," said Alvarez. "I'll manage the game, but I can't step in there. I will oversee both sides of the ball.

"I'll oversee practices. I'll oversee the game. I'll manage the game. I'll take that pressure off of them, but I expect them to game plan, and they've already started breaking down film."

And from what Alvarez sees will be a Stanford Cardinal team that does a lot of similar things to his squad and from the team he beat, 17-9, in his last Rose Bowl appearance.

"I like playing teams like this because I have great respect for how Stanford plays," said Alvarez. "(Current San Francisco 49ers coach) Jim Harbaugh brought a toughness there that remains, and I had a chance to watch them play a few times this year. I said it several times. They have a system much like ours, and they're physical on both sides of the ball. They're disciplined. They're coached well.

"So it will be a great challenge for us, but I think it's a good matchup. I think it's a great bowl matchup."

Alvarez said the only time he missed coaching was in the ‘big games' and it doesn't get any bigger for him that Pasadena.

"Four years ago, I was inducted into the hall of fame," said Alvarez. "I said it since the first time I coached that game in '81 when I was an assistant at Iowa. There's no venue prettier in all of sports than the Rose Bowl. I feel it's a special place. I love the atmosphere. I love the week leading up to it. There isn't anything that I don't enjoy more.

"It doesn't get a bit old to me. I will enjoy every second of it."

After being the brunt of outside criticism by college football fans for saying a five-loss team shouldn't be playing for a conference title, many of those same outlets are saying the Cardinal deserve a better match-up in the Rose Bowl.

For a team that has relished the underdog mentality all season, it's been a week that has provided more motivation.

"If anything (this week) gives us a better chance to win the Rose Bowl," said Phillips. "Obviously he knows the formula for success there … He gives guys a chance to really rally around him and have something extra to play for."

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