Alvarez's departure no distraction

Coaches and players say they have been focused on the task at hand throughout Alvarez's last season

MADISON — Regardless of its level of success during the 2005 football season, a buzz was certain to follow the University of Wisconsin. Turn on a television broadcast of a Badger game and the commentary is sure to quickly incorporate the season's omnipresent storyline: the final year at the helm for coach Barry Alvarez. Every win and each defeat have been adjoined with an Alvarez annotation. The fact that this is Alvarez's last year has made an unexpectedly victorious season that much more poetic.

Alvarez's legacy has left an indelible impression on the university, its athletics programs and Badger fans. So it is fitting that his swan song has been an ever-present part of the media landscape this year.

Everyone, it seems, wants to talk about Barry Alvarez.

Yet, remarkably, Alvarez's forthcoming departure from collegiate coaching has not been a distraction — not for himself, for the Badger players or for their coaching staff.

In Wisconsin's locker room, the culmination of the most storied coaching career in school history has been, effectively, a non-issue.

"You're in such a tunnel from week-to-week you don't have time really to reflect," co-offensive coordinator Brian White said. "Just the nature of the business doesn't really allow much to be a distraction."

Of course, the Badgers are cognizant of the transition that is on its way, with defensive coordinator Bret Bielema taking over as head coach sometime after this season ends. But No. 19 Wisconsin (8-2 overall, 5-2 Big Ten), which hosts Iowa (5-4, 3-3) Saturday in Alvarez's final game at Camp Randall Stadium, has never used its head coach as motivation.

"It's been that way just because it really has nothing to do with this year," senior receiver Jonathan Orr said. "Most likely changes are going to be made in the program when this season is over but none of that stuff matters. The only thing that matters is what we do week-in and week-out."

Alvarez set the tone before fall camp. His July 28 announcement took place almost two weeks before the Badgers' first practice, allowing the news to recede to the background within the team.

"We certainly haven't used that as a motivation," Alvarez said in September, when asked if his players were striving to send him out with a championship. "The games themselves and the time that they put into… preparation for these games is motivation enough."

When asked, the Badgers have acknowledged Alvarez's impact on them and the program, but they have insisted all year that this season is business as usual.

"We focus on the team we've got ahead," senior tight end Jason Pociask said. "Of course that's in the back of our minds. You think about it. But you try to focus on the opponent."

UW's assistant coaches have maintained similar focus despite an uncertain future with a new head coach on the horizon.

"Change is not easy for anyone, and particularly when you don't know exactly where you're going to be," Alvarez said. "But to the man they've all been very professional. They have focused on this team. They have focused on doing a good job. And I couldn't be more pleased or more proud of the effort that they've given us."

Bielema has also put a clamp on potential distractions, refraining from discussing the particulars of the transition. His effective "no comment" has been to remind inquirers that he is honed in on his current job as defensive coordinator.

With Alvarez's final home game this week, however, it may prove impossible to keep a total lockdown on sentimentality.

"I'm sure (the Iowa game) will be emotional on Saturday, as well it should be, but the hours that we have to put in to prepare to be able to play well, you don't have time to allow a lot of other things in," White said. "It really hasn't been allowed to be a distraction."

Badger Nation Top Stories