Big Ten coaches celebrate Alvarez

UW coach's peers react to retirement announcement

CHICAGO — Just four days after hearing the longest-tenured member of their conference coaching family announce his retirement following the upcoming season, Big Ten coaches got the chance to reflect on Barry Alvarez's legacy at the University of Wisconsin Monday at the conference's annual football media event.

"I consider Barry a good friend and I wish him well," Purdue head coach Joe Tiller said. "He's done a great job. He was an assistant at Iowa when I was an assistant at Purdue in the early '80's, he was a big guy in the profession and a good football coach. He was a guy that really accomplished some things at Wisconsin, the back-to-back Rose Bowls that people really questioned whether that could occur or not."

Looking back at the late 1980's and early 1990's, Badger faithful likely echo Tiller's assessment. In the previous three season's before Alvarez's arrival, Wisconsin was a perennial Big Ten doormat, going 6-27 and winning only three Big Ten contests under Alvarez's predecessor, Don Morton. Alvarez took over a team in 1990 that hadn't had a winning season since or appeared in a bowl game since 1984

"When he went up there after the 1989 season, they were probably as low in the conference as any program going," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Alvarez managed to not just turn the stagnant program around; but to usher in a renaissance in a hurry. Just four seasons into his tenure at UW, Alvarez led the Badgers to their first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years. And by the end of the decade Alvarez had added two more Rose Bowl wins to his résumé .

Under Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletic department has enjoyed considerable financial success, with the recently renovated and expanded Camp Randall Stadium standing as the ultimate example.

"Barry this (Camp Randall Stadium) is a real testimony to you," Northwestern head coach Randy Walker recalled telling Alvarez after his team's 24-12 loss to UW at Camp Randall last October. "What you have here is just a tremendous statement about you and what kind of coach you are, what kind of leadership you've had at the top of the program and I can't say enough."

Wisconsin's turnaround under Alvarez quickly became the model for all coaches trying to rebuild similar "sleeping giant" programs within the Big Ten, and that trend continues presently with new Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner, who's using the story of Wisconsin's success as the basis for his reclamation project in Bloomington.

"I have a book on my desk at home called Red Ink and Rose Bowls," Hoeppner said, referring to From Red Ink to Roses, Rick Telander's 1994 book on the Wisconsin athletic department's journey from rags to riches. "The story about Wisconsin football and what they did and I think we can do the same thing. It's a tribute to Barry what he's been able to accomplish."

Despite more than a decade of success in Madison under Alvarez, the move to purely athletic director did not catch all of his peers by surprise.

"I wasn't surprised, I knew there had to be a retirement someplace on the radar screen for coach Alvarez when he took that dual role," Minnesota head coach Glen Mason said. "I'm very glad that he may be retiring from coaching but not from athletics because I think he'll be an asset to the Big Ten in his new position as athletic director."

Regardless of his retirement from the sidelines, many coaches, such as Michigan's Lloyd Carr, will remember Alvarez as a consummate competitor.

"I think we're going to miss him because seeing him on that sideline you knew you were going to watch a team, whether you were watching on TV or if you happen to be across the field competing against him, you knew you were going to be in for a fight that day," Carr said.

—Adam Parks and Tom Ziemer

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