MADISON - Having been a head coach for 16 years and an interim coach two years ago, Barry Alvarez equates coaching college football to riding a bike, never truly forgetting how to prepare players or coach a game.
That doesn’t mean that getting a chance to roam the sidelines for another four quarters isn’t something that will be lost on him looking back.
“It’s humbling when the kids ask you to do it,” said Alvarez. “They want you out there. That’s why we’re all here. All of us here at the University are working here because of our student athletes. They are students. We can’t lose track of that.”
Alvarez said he has been more than pleased with how the assistant coaches and the players have approached these final practices in Madison before the team heads down to Tampa and the Outback Bowl later this week. He added that it was enjoyable for him to oversee his second bowl game in three seasons, as No.17 Wisconsin’s Jan.1 matchup with No.19 Auburn New Year’s Day will likely be his last on the sidelines.
After hiring a coach with no ties to the program two years ago, Alvarez hired former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst Dec.17 and has noticed a much smoother transition with the assistant coaches than when he was preparing Wisconsin to play Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
“Some of them were only in here for months,” said Alvarez. “There was a division there. Some of them had offers from Bret (Bielema), some of them had offers from N.C. State, some of them didn’t have jobs. There was much more turmoil then on this staff.”
Unlike the staff, however, Alvarez said both times the players were well prepared. Despite being heavy underdogs to a much more talented Stanford team, Wisconsin had a chance to win in the final minutes before an interception sealed a 20-14 Cardinal victory.
In much the same scenario, Auburn is a six-point favorite and brings a lot of speed, talent and balance that will test Wisconsin. UW hasn’t beaten a SEC program since the 2007 Capital One Bowl.
Much like two years ago when Gary Andersen and members of his future staff were on the sidelines in Pasadena, Calif., for Rose Bowl practices, Chryst has been a presence on the sidelines for Wisconsin during these on-campus workouts.
Unlike Andersen’s process two years ago that took two weeks to get him in place, Alvarez hired Chryst after a week, which allowed him more time to start formulating a plan going into 2015.
“It’s really good for Paul because he gets a chance to see all the kids, get a chance to watch the coaches coach and familiarize himself with the kids that have committed to us in recruiting,” said Alvarez. “He gets a good jump on his job. He puts a lot of thought together with what he’s going to do staff wise.”
It was revealed Monday through an open records request that Chryst was one of 46 people applied for the head football coaching job, but just a handful of legitimate candidates with previous coaching experience.
Many applicants submitted cover letters and resumes citing their abilities to win championship in football video games or other non-football related activities.
Chryst submitted his application on Dec.12, a day after he spoke to Alvarez in Florida about the position. Alvarez said Chryst actually submitted two applications because the first was hand-written, prompting a laugh from Alvarez.
Mums the Word
Former Madison Memorial safety Joe Ferguson is starting to carve out a niche for himself in his second year as a walk-on in the program. Playing four games last year before injuries cut his season short, Ferguson – now a redshirt freshman – has made 13 tackles in 13 games this season, mostly on special teams.
He’s also got the distinction of being the grandson of Alvarez, although he’s not trying to publicize that fact that he’s likely Alvarez’s favorite player.
“He doesn’t want to advertise that, and I respect that,” said Alvarez. “We had Christmas dinner the other night with all my grandkids and my children and he came in and called me ‘coach.’ I thought that was pretty cool.”
Before taking the interim role, Alvarez reached out to Ferguson, who was a senior at Memorial the last time Alvarez coached a game, to make sure he was OK with grandpa being more involved with the program for a short period of time.
“I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable,” said Alvarez. “He said I thought it would really be unique.”
Alvarez on this senior class being through a pair of coaching changes
“They are resilient. They are great kids. They like to play. They are what Wisconsin football and Wisconsin athletics are all about.”
Extra Points: Alvarez said he would not reach out to Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema for help with Auburn game prep, mainly because the Razorbacks played the Tigers back on August 30. He did add that the former UW head coach called Alvarez recently, but didn’t elaborate … Minus Konrad Zagzebski (torn ACL), Alvarez expects Wisconsin to be close to 100 percent…Alvarez called Melvin Gordon as “probably” the best back that has played at Wisconsin, adding Ron Dayne would probably agree with him.