Trading his red sports coat, slacks and loafers for sneakers, sweatshirt and a whistle, Alvarez has balanced trying to find a new head coach with preparing Wisconsin for its third straight Rose Bowl appearance with the greatest of enthusiasm.
"It's fun to be around these kids," said Alvarez Sunday following Wisconsin's fourth bowl practice. "It's just a great group of guys. It's fun for me to be around this staff, be a little closer to this staff. It's been enjoyable."
Alvarez announced December 6 – two days after his hand-picked successor, Bret Bielema, accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas - that he was coming out of a seven-year retirement for one game after Wisconsin's seniors asked him to coach them in Jan.1's Rose Bowl against No.8 Stanford.
It was a natural decision for the players to choose Alvarez, who led Wisconsin to all three of its Rose Bowl triumphs (1994, 1999 and 2000) and has an 8-3 record in bowl games (the best mark in college football history among coaches with at least 11 bowl appearances).
His players are responding to the energy. Shortly after the first practice under his watch was completed, junior tight end Brian Wozniak tweeted out that it was Wisconsin's best practice of the year, and subsequent players have agreed.
"They were shorter, more crisp and attacked the practice a little more knowing they were shorter," said receiver Jared Abbrederis. "We were really getting after it and getting some good work in."
Alvarez also feels that he is close to finding a replacement for Bielema. Although he toyed with the notion of returning for the 2013 season for ‘like a day,' Alvarez has interviewed two candidates (sources say new South Florida coach Willie Taggart and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker) and is expected to meet with another one this week.
An official announcement of the next head coach could come sometime this week.
"I feel good about the candidates we have interviewed," said Alvarez.
As much fun as Alvarez is having on the field, he has become irritated with the fact that he's lost five assistant coaches in the past week, most of whom were given hard deadlines to decide their futures.
Officially, Bielema has hired defensive coordinator Chris Ash and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge to the same position at Arkansas while receivers coach Zach Azzanni (Tennessee) and offensive coordinator Matt Canada (North Carolina State) have also accepted other jobs despite their desires to stay with the Wisconsin program.
"I like for them to stay, but they had to protect their families," said Alvarez. "A coach says, ‘You've got 24 hours to make this decision or the job isn't there,' they have to do something because I couldn't promise them that the next coach would retain them."
When asked if he planned to make a run at some of these assistants when a new coach is in place, Alvarez didn't commit.
"We'll see when that time comes," he said.
With Wisconsin being one of his dream destinations, Canada says he can feel good about the things his unit accomplished and can leave with his head held high knowing the Badgers won a Big Ten championship this season. But the fact that he is leaving after one year has got him irritated.
"There are some frustration with how all this went down," said Canada. "There are a lot of people's lives who were affected by things like this … I think everybody probably deserved a little more time to celebrate the championship."
Canada admitted that accepting the job in Raleigh was difficult on him and his family, but that he had to accept a job ‘in a good place' because there were to guarantees if he was going to be retained next season. Canada declined to answer if Alvarez offered him a chance to stay, saying Alvarez's first priority if finding a new head coach.
"I came here with the intention of being here for a long, long time," said Canada. "That's what we came here for. That was the plan. Sometimes plans change and you have to trust that and move forward.
"I think everybody knows how I appreciate the place and how fond I am of it. Came in here and respected it to a point of probably sticking with things longer than we needed to."
When asked if there was a situation where he could see himself returning to Wisconsin next season, Canada said no.
Opportunity for Ash
Like Canada, Ash said the most challenging aspect of the last few weeks were the uncertainty surrounding the head coaching search. Even with his future supposedly secure, Ash still faces the possibility of staying at Wisconsin, as sources indicated he is looking to be the head coach.
"You never know if you are ready (to be a head coach) until you get the opportunity to do it," said Ash, who declined to go into more specifics about the Wisconsin coaching job. "All great coaches had to get an opportunity at some point. I would like an opportunity anywhere.
"My main concern is the Rose Bowl. I want to make sure we finish things out right with these kids. Whatever happens from there happens.
"I love it here. Wisconsin has been a great place for me for my three years. It's been a great place to come to work and we have great kids here. They take care of the business and allow you to coach."
Partridge Decision ‘Very Hard'
There was only one thing harder for Partridge deciding to leave a good university for another one: tell the players who have been so loyal to him throughout his tenure.
"It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do," said Partridge. "I was just honest with them. I explained the situation. The character of the kids that we have brought in here that continues to shine. That was an example of a group of young men that understand. They work every day like nothing has happened. They have every excuse in the world to be distracted, but they continue to work."
Partridge also said it was hard to leave a group of men he recruited for the classes of 2013 and 2014, but the message he delivered to them was easy.
"I tell them that Wisconsin is on as solid ground as any program on the country," he said. "This program was built by Barry Alvarez. The formula will not change. Wisconsin will continue to win and (I say) to have faith in what was built here for a long time."