Monday press conference: Barry Alvarez

Wisconsin football coach addressed his upcoming final game at Camp Randall and much more

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Audio file 1 (6:09)

Barry, it looks on the depth chart Matt Lawrence is out. Do you know what his condition is?

"It's the same sprained ankle that he had problems with earlier. But it's just re-aggravated and (he) probably won't be ready."

How difficult is that when you, the probably one area of the team that's been so constant all year, has been the offensive line?

"Well, you just deal with it. You move forward. That's all you can do. Marcus (Coleman) had, at least Marcus has played some as our jumbo tight end and played in the game and did OK. So whether it's hard or not, you just move forward."

I think you mentioned that he played some, I know he didn't play a lot Saturday, but did it look like he played well and he, and what have you seen from him in the limited time he's played this year?

"I thought he's played well in the jumbo formation. I did notice him on the, one of touchdown runs of Brian's (Calhoun). He did a nice job pulling and occupying a linebacker. I think he's been solid."

Barry, I know you've tried to stay away from this, but is it difficult not to get sentimental about the last time you'll run out on the field at Camp Randall Stadium?

"I really haven't thought of it much. My weekly schedule is pretty much routine and probably as it gets closer to Saturday and Saturday in particular it'll probably hit me. But right now it's Monday as usual, game week."

I know you've said that it's been such a long time since you've been at Iowa staff that the memories, you know, long ago faded. But what do you remember from that first Rose Bowl team and what you guys accomplished that year to get Iowa into that position?

"It was really an interesting year. We didn't know how good we were. Defensively we really had a very, very good physical (team), a group of guys that had been around a long time, been beat up, and now they were seniors. It was a senior-dominated team and just a bunch of tough guys, and really had some dominant players. Andre Tippett and some of those kids. Pat Dean was a great nose guard for us, and solid secondary, and people had a hard time moving the ball on us. Then you had Reggie Roby punting the ball, so people always had to march at least 80 yards against us. It was hard to score.

"And offensively, finally, Gordie Bohannon, whose son (Jason Bohannon) signed with us in basketball and is going to be here playing basketball, Gordie was a tough guy and really gave the offense a little personality.

"But all of a sudden, we beat a good Nebraska team, turn around the next week and lose to Iowa State, and then turn around and beat the No. 5-ranked UCLA. And then, we start off in the league and lose some games. It looks like we're going to fight to get to a bowl game. End up winning the last few and the right team wins the Ohio State-Michigan game. And with an 8-3 team we go to Pasadena. I think if we were still playing we might not score against Washington."

Coach, have you taken any time to look back at what the program was when you first got here compared to where it is now? And what do you think is your biggest accomplishment in those 16 seasons?

"Every once in a while we talk about it, exactly where it was and the situation that the program was in. And, I mean, it was the dark ages. Pat (Richter) and I laugh about it all the time. From just having, what, a phone out there if someone called the office for a coach, the secretary would have to go get up, go back and get the player, or get the coach to come to pick up the phone. I mean, everything was antiquated.

"Had a lot of players, but not many good players. The players didn't really believe they could win. There were a handful of really solid players, guys like Don Davey and Troy Vincent, a few of those guys. But the players really knew that in a lot of cases they were out of their league. And just we really had to start with scratch with everything from attitude to facilities really.

"If you go back and look at the, even the indoor facility in McClain, the walls, nothing was painted. It was just cement. You really had to go start from scratch, which sometimes that's really good to give everything a facelift and we didn't have a lot of money. I can remember my first year, we just wanted to get a different colored practice jersey and they turned me down. We didn't have enough money to buy practice jerseys. So that's kind of where we were.

"And then you go play a game. And I remember getting in that bus the first game with Dan McCarney and we're driving down lower University. I mean, you could have shot a cannon down there. I said, ‘Mac, we're going to change this'. So, we've changed everything, just from even the offices and how the offices ran to people in the stadium, interest in the program, the type of players that we have, facilities, the whole thing."

Audio file 2 (5:54)

Let's take you back one step further to Mason City, Iowa. How important was that experience in high school and what were your goals as a coach at that time?

"My goals from the time I started coaching were I wanted to take a program that was down, a Division I program, build it up and sustain it, just like Bob Devaney did. I said that when I was an assistant in high school. You know, I'll go back a little further than that, Jay. My first job after my grad assistantship at Nebraska — If you're in Teacher's College at the University of Nebraska, the Harvard of the Midwest, you want to stay in Lincoln and teach. And they'd probably hire five graduates a year to stay in Lincoln.

"And a lot of teachers around the state, they're always trying to get back to Lincoln. And I was hired there right out of school and coached at Lincoln Northeast as an assistant. My wife, Cindy, was hired as a part-time coach. We built a brand-new house about one house away from the junior high where she taught. So people thought we had it made. We're 22 years old, both teaching in Lincoln, living in a new home.

"And after four years looking around, I knew I wanted to be a head coach and I couldn't do that being an assistant in Lincoln. So we took a job at Lexington, Neb., as a head coach. And she cried all the way home when we were going to take the job, a town of 6,000 people.

"Mason City was a job that she really liked the community. And when they contacted us about the job, we didn't know anything about it. If we had had anything else to do that weekend, we wouldn't even have gone to the interview. But they flew us up there and she really liked the community.

"If I was smart enough to research it enough and know how bad it was, I probably wouldn't have taken the job. But once I got there, I realized we had some very good young players and the program hadn't won for a long time and we were able to turn it around, get the kids rallied, and win a state championship. And what it did was open the door for me to get into Division I coaching because that year Hayden Fry and Donnie Duncan both were hired in the state. And so it really gave me an opportunity and opened the door for me."

Barry, given your Iowa connection, is there anything special about playing them here and how big is it, I mean, is there an irony involved or how big is it given that you can kind of, you know, to go out on your Big Ten career against the school you started with?

"I think it's ironic both last week, my last two games as a coach here, play in my home state and then play the team that, play the school that gave me the opportunity. I had a great experience at Iowa. I'm really fond of the eight years that I coached at the University of Iowa and fortunate enough to be around some unbelievable coaches. I learned a lot from Hayden…And it's been well-written about all the staff that we had and how successful they've been."

You've had a tough time with them the last several years. One of the reasons obviously is they've been a really good team. Is there anything specific with what they do or how they play or are coached that makes them tough to beat for you?

"Well, it's been tough for everybody, not just for me. Hell, he's won 10 games the last three years. So, no one's had a lot of success against them… I think it's cyclical. We've had our runs like that where we've won several games in a row against them. Now he's won a few against us because those were some of his better teams.

"And they were very good. They're well-coached. Their defense is always very good. They're hard-nosed, play very sound. They don't beat themselves, much the way we've tried to build our program. I think if you go back and listen to the things Kirk said when he took over that program, he wanted to build the program much like we did and pattern it after the things we did here."

Whenever someone leaves or makes a transition to a different job, I'm sure at some point you might look back and say I regretted not being able to do something. Is there anything in your mind that if you'd list regrets would be at the top of that list that you weren't able to accomplish or achieve here? Anything you'd do over?

"I don't know if I'd do anything over. I'm sure I've made mistakes, but nothing that we haven't been able to overcome. I wish I'd have been more patient with that first group of kids. It was very frustrating, having come from a period of time where we really hadn't lost many games (at Notre Dame) and then knowing you don't have much of a chance. I wish I could have been a little more patient, although I wanted to set a standard of work ethic that we did. We lost a lot of players, but there wasn't one player that left the program that I regretted leaving the program.

"And I think we did build a work ethic that has stayed with us, a foundation of a work ethic that our older players carry on to the young players now when they show up in the summer, when they show up in out-of-season conditioning. Our first group of kids thought we were punishing them in the out-of-season. That's just how we work. And we had to get that foundation built. But I don't know if there's anything else I'd really would change."

Audio file 3 (5:57)

Barry, you usually say your good teams have great senior leadership. It's been a different year. Some of your seniors have been hurt, like Bernstein and Owen Daniels, Brett Bell. What have you thought of this group and how has that leadership been?

"We really haven't had, the adversity we've had has been through injuries. We haven't had a lot of chance for seniors to have to stand up and be counted as far as leadership.

"We've found ways to win. The young guys have stepped up. So I really don't think the leadership has really been challenged. So, I could sit here and blow smoke and tell you all those things, but it really hasn't been challenged because it's really been an easy year.

"I mean, the kids have followed us and done what they've had to do. They've been really a fun group to coach because they've done what we've asked. We knew we had some holes coming into the season, then you add the injuries that we've had, you know, we've dodged some bullets, but the guys have always kept competing and always kept hopeful and found ways, even last week. I thought in the fourth quarter there was a lot of energy on our sidelines. We felt we had a chance to win that football game."

How would you judge your job as a coach this year compared to past years? You've talked about how great a job your assistants have done this year, but in your mind how does this year rank compared to past years?

"Well, I'm pleased with it. I think we've done OK. Compared to past years, you know, probably there have been some years we've coached and had the same type of year. I think Ron Dayne's sophomore year maybe was every bit as good a year of coaching and getting things out of kids.

"I think last year was an exceptional year. I know it's easy to sit back and think, boy, you lost the last two games, but people forget how many people — Erasmus didn't play a lot of games. Our two defensive ends, you know, the things that carried our team a year ago was our defensive line and our defense, and we didn't have them at full strength. And they were gone for a number of games and we lost four tailbacks and started a fresh quarterback. So I know people were disappointed we didn't finish it right, but when you really sit back and take a look, there were a lot of holes on that football team too that we overcame.

"Granted, we didn't like the way we finished. The last two teams we lost to, Georgia is a team that very well could have been a national champion or played in the national championship, and Iowa showed what type of team they were. So we lost to some very good football teams. So I thought that was a very good coaching job also. This one stands on its own merit. We'll see how it is when the season's over, but I've been pleased with the job we've done this year."

Coach, in the last four out of the last five weeks, not including the Illinois game, you guys have really cut down Brian Calhoun's carries. You know, he's been under 25 in four out of those five weeks. Is this just something to keep him fresh for the end of the season or have you, is there any reason that you guys haven't been able to get the rushing game going as you were in the beginning of the season?

"I thought two games ago we did OK."

Not including that game. The other games you really haven't gotten the rushing game started very well.

"You know what? Early in the year you asked me how can we keep going and giving him the ball 40-some times. Now you want to know why we don't give it to him enough. We're just trying to pace how many times we give it to him. Last week we couldn't run the ball. We could not establish a running game against Penn State. We couldn't block them. So when you can't do that, instead of banging your head against the wall, then you throw the football.

"Some of the other games, we just decided we wanted to throw it more. We want to get Booker involved more in the running game, so that takes some runs away from him. It's not just about giving Brian Calhoun the ball. It's about trying to find ways to win and spreading the ball out a little bit."

Other than trying to get the walls painted when you first came here, what were some of your initial goals in terms of wins and losses? I mean, did you and the staff really think that multiple Rose Bowl victories was a possibility in those early years?

"I thought someday we could be very competitive. The first thing, I think if you go back and look at the things we talked about, I wanted to build a foundation, teach guys how to work. I didn't want to cut any corners, didn't want any quick fixes. I wanted to build a good solid foundation, teach the guys how to play, how to play the game, how it's supposed to be, how you have to win in this game. You have to stop from losing before you can win. I wanted to do all those things.

"And we had to really start with young players and I think that paid off. The first recruiting class that we brought in really panned out to be the group that took us to the Rose Bowl and was very competitive at a very early age. The vision that we had, I thought we could get to, you know, we could win the championship.

"We tried to… look and see how can you beat Michigan and Ohio State? How can we do that? Can we go out and get a lot of skilled players? The one thing that we felt we could get were big linemen. We could get physical linebackers. We could get guys that play those type of positions.

"So let's try to build a program that plays a physical brand of football and will give us a chance to beat the top teams in this league. If we can beat them, we should be able to beat the rest of the guys and win a championship. So that's how we tried to pattern it and move forward."

Audio file 4 (4:00)

You've said in the past whether it was a big win, big loss, whatever the case may be, that the team had 24 hours to put it behind them and focus on the next week. How have you been with that, especially this week? Do you feel like last week is behind you in the fact that there are so many things going into this week that might make it easier for everybody to turn that page?

"I've got to tell you, Rob, and I'll be as honest as I can be. When I talked to you guys after the game, it was beyond me. I put that game behind me as soon as I talked to the kids. We were beaten by a better football team. I felt our guys competed, but Penn State was a better football team than we were.

"And I just sat back and you just take a look at all we have to play for in this game, all the things that are on the line in this game, coming back home, we've got a home winning streak, you have a chance to still play in a Jan. (2) bowl game, you know, just have a chance to be a 10-win team, you know, just it goes on and on and on, all the things that you still can accomplish in this game.

"So I put that game behind me. I really did. And we got in yesterday and had a chance to break it down. We want to correct some things. We'll get started on Iowa today. I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on Penn State at all. We're going to get right on Iowa and try to get the best preparation we possibly can."

Barry, you mentioned the seniors earlier and one guy who hasn't been able to help for most of the Big Ten season is Bernstein because he's been out. Can you at least talk about what he has meant to the team, the program, up and through the time he has been able to play. And has he been able to do anything to help out, just the fact that he's been sidelined, just motivationally anyway?

"He really hasn't. He really hasn't been involved. They had a workout scheduled for him that he's in there doing some — a rehab schedule, not a workout schedule — a rehab schedule that he's doing most of the practice. He'll come out towards the end of the team work.

"Unfortunately — The thing you always liked about Bernie is his attitude and he loved to play the game. It's contagious because he made practice fun. And you miss that. You really miss that. And you like for the young guys to learn from him, because when you can, football practice normally is not a lot of fun. But when you can make it fun then you have something, and he could make it fun.

"So I think some of the young guys, they miss that. They miss (that), particularly as the season grows older and can drag on a little bit, now ours hasn't been that way. We've done a good job I think in altering our practices. But you really miss him, his character and his personality as much as you do as him playing on Saturdays."

How would you compare Brandon Williams to the other great receivers you've coached such as Chris Chambers and Lee Evans?

"They're all different players. Every one brings a little something different to the table. Brandon has been very competitive and been a playmaker since he was a freshman. When he was a true freshman we needed some guys to step up and he and (Jonathan Orr) both stepped up. He was never intimidated.

"He was probably 170 pounds, maybe less than that as a true freshman, and caught 50-some balls, made some great plays in the Alamo Bowl to help us win that ballgame. You throw in the fact that he's a threat as a returner, and anytime he gets the ball in his hands, he gives you a chance. That's something neither one of those guys did.

"So he brings a little bit more to the table as a complete player and somebody you can get the ball to and he can hurt you other ways. But all those guys brought a little different dimension, but he's in their category. He's a playmaker and loves to play the game and plays it the way it's supposed to be played."

Audio file 5 (4:33)

I think you said before the season you might try to sit down with Bret Bielema and help him with the transition as the season went along. Is there anything special you've been able to do yet along those lines?

"Bret and I, you know, we talk daily about things. Thursday is our day. We normally take a walk on Thursday afternoons but as we go along, I just try to talk to him about different things that I'm doing and why I'm doing them.

"And just things to keep an eye on, and trying to help prepare him for what his schedule is like, what his responsibility is going to be, how to keep an eye on things, why you adjust things, why you pull back or why you put the hammer down or why you do, things one way or another. Then he can decipher it all and put it in his own personality. But I've just tried to kind of open the door for him, let him see what's really going on and why."

Barry, regarding this year's Iowa team, their record obviously isn't what they've accustomed to the last three years. I know they lost a lot of guys on the line. But how close are they to the team that's been here for the last three years winning 10 games?

"You watched the film on Saturday's game, and with three minutes and 40 seconds left, they've got the ball and a 13-point lead. And then the next time you see the film, there's less than a minute and they're down by one around midfield and complete a pass. I mean, they can go in and kick a field goal to win it. They complete a pass and get a holding call against them, which was the correct call, but still had a chance to win it.

"But you lose a game like that, the game prior to that, you lose it in overtime to Michigan, so that's two games right off the bat that you can, they very easily could have won. So they're not far away from the same team. That's the thing in this league. You're going to get some bounces some year.

"Sometimes you're going to go years and you're going to win all those close games. You take a look at their season a year ago. They won (6-4) at State College. There were a couple other games they won that were very close. Those games make the difference between a great year and just a solid year."

Barry, and this is, you're in a tumultuous business, but this year has been pretty successful and I assume a great deal of fun. Has there been any point where you said to Cindy maybe we're doing this too early?

"No. It really hasn't. It has been a fun year. It's been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed the players. And it's flown by.

"You know what? I never do that. I'm not one of these I-told-you-so's or, I try to think things out well enough before I make a decision. I never look back and say, ‘Boy, I shouldn't have done this.' I really haven't. I really felt comfortable.

"And I told you I was at peace with my decision and I still am very at peace with my decision and feel good about it. And just I'm really pleased that we had this type of year, that you can go out like this and enjoy the year and enjoy the players and they can have some success and have a little fun along the way."

Picking up on you just saying that this year has flown by, usually this week the seniors say they can't believe their career flew by so fast their four or five years there. Any of that sensation or feeling for you right now, these past 16 years here have kind of flown by in some sense?

"Not really. It feels like 16 years. You know what? As a kid when you start, you're 18 years old and those guys sitting down in the front of the room seem like they're old men — they're 22 — (and) you don't think you'll ever get in that seat. I remember that same feeling. You don't ever think you'll get there.

"And you think about getting by today and this week. You don't think about being a senior. And then before you know it, it's there, and I think that's really pretty common. I think all of you guys probably experience the same things, particularly during that time in your life."


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