Alvarez surprises players with announcement

Current, former players express astonishment and respect for head coach's decision

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin football team's meeting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning was supposed to be run-of-the mill. Instead, head coach Barry Alvarez told his team that this season will be his last as a football coach, while he will retain his role as UW's athletics director.

"That was the furthest thing from my mind," senior wide receiver Jonathan Orr said. "I thought it would be about camp coming up or something like that. I had no clue."

"It was probably just a shock because I hadn't gotten any wind of it," senior cornerback Brett Bell said. "I had heard, you know, maybe he had been considering it, but not to the extent that he's actually going to do it."

When Alvarez announced his decision publicly at a 1 p.m. press conference, he fought back tears, particularly as he thanked his family and while recounting the best moments of his career.

He also became emotional talking to his team four-and-a-half hours earlier.

"Yeah, he was emotional," junior quarterback John Stocco said. "It's got to be hard for him, it's got to be a tough choice. He's been doing this for so long but you've got to respect his decision."

Before Thursday, the Badgers were rallying around the fact that few outside the UW locker room expect much out of them this season. Now, there is the added motivation of seeing Alvarez out on a high note, especially for the program's senior class.

"Absolutely. You look at some of the things he's done since he's been here," Orr said. "It's just a great opportunity to send him out the right way. It is special being in his last class as coach."

"You hope that they would do that, but we were planning on turning some heads this year before this," secondary coach Ron Lee said. "The players have been working hard in the offseason and working hard this summer and it may be a little more motivation to go out there and play well for a great coach."

Alvarez said Thursday that he needed to set aside his coaching duties before the dual roles became too much to handle effectively.

"A lot of people had doubts if he could do both at the same time," said recently departed UW defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne, now with the Oakland Raiders. "He did a great job, we had a great team last year and won a lot of games. I just thought that he would be able to keep that up."

"It's a surprise but he had a great career at Wisconsin," Hawthorne said. "Players loved him. We all played hard for him. And it's kind of sad to see him go. There will be a lot of people that are going to miss him at Wisconsin."

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