Monday press conference: Barry Alvarez

Wisconsin football coach discussed trip to Hawaii, bowl implications, UW's cross country national championship and more

Audio file 1 (6:00)

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Barry, before we start talking to you about football, can you talk about what a championship like that means as the athletic director?

"First of all, Jerry (Schumacher) and his team have been phenomenal. What they did amazes me, in the Big Ten Tournament, I mean the Big Ten meet, to almost have a perfect score. To be at that level really sets a very high standard of excellence for the entire department… All of our athletes work extremely hard, but those guys are really grinders and just, I think it's good for all of us. It's great for our entire department for any sport to have the success, but to have the continued success as Jerry and that cross country team have had is exceptional."

I understand talking to some of the people at Capital One Bowl, just how confident are you that if you guys win in Hawaii that you'll end up down in Orlando?

"I think you have to be very careful as far as saying we're confident or that's going to happen, they're very interested. They've indicated they're very interested. There are just, there are some scenarios in the BCS where Ohio State may not be included, and if they're not included, then that throws a wrench into it. So that's something that we don't have any control over. So I know they are interested, but nothing can happen until Ohio State locks up a BCS berth."

Barry, under what circumstances would you endorse a playoff?

"I wouldn't endorse a playoff."

Under any circumstances?

"What type of a playoff?"

Eight-team, whatever, any type of playoff that would include more than two teams, that would eliminate the Bowl Championship Series format.

"I said this before. I think, number one, I think the bowls are good for college football and really good for the athletes. And that's what this is all about anyhow, is treatment of the athletes and betterment of the athletes, experience of the athletes. And having experienced it as an athlete, bowls have always been special to me. I would be in favor of adding one more game. I think as you take a look at the, over the years, normally there are four teams that separate themselves.

"So I know if somebody says, well, if it's four then there's going to be argument who's going to be the fifth, but you have to draw the line someplace. If you add one more game, which we're going to add anyhow, we're going to have a plus-one game anyhow. You keep the bowls intact as they are. You have a lot of athletes who are rewarded with a bowl. I think you can get closer to having a true national champion by letting four teams have an opportunity to play for it. That would be my suggestion. I would endorse that.

"The only negative I heard on that was, I told that to (Oklahoma coach) Bob Stoops at the national convention. We were sitting in the head coaches meeting. We were sitting together and I mentioned it, and he just lost in the national championship game, he said, ‘I'm burned out, I wouldn't want to play another game.' But I think if it's laid out beforehand then naturally if you win, you're not burned out."

How tough was it for you guys to persuade Hawaii and the WAC to go with neutral officials? And I guess in general, in non-conference games, how does that generally work?

"It was a very touchy situation because naturally, I happen to know (Western Athletic Conference commissioner) Karl Benson pretty well, and I know (Hawaii athletic director) Herman (Frazier) pretty well. I shared with them the concern after the Michigan State and Northwestern—the things they shared with me. You have to be sensitive to Karl. He's the commissioner and what do you tell your officials? Quite frankly, all football coaches are paranoid, and so you worry if you go that far, you have someone else's officials, so on and so forth.

"It'd be nice if you had neutral officials anytime you had inter-conference games, if you had neutral officials. What we've done most recently, anytime we play someone, like the North Carolina series, West Virginia series, we swap. When we play there, we take our officials. When they play here, we use their ACC officials. It used to be you used a split crew. If they don't work together, you know, no one was really satisfied with that.

"It would be nice if you could have neutral officials anytime you played non-conference games, but you'd have to have cooperation. And I think the official groups led by Dave Perry are getting closer and closer together. But I think they were reluctant, but they were still sensitive because they want to continue a relationship with the Big Ten and scheduling Big Ten. We certainly appreciated them making that consolation. And I know it wasn't easy for them to do."

Audio file 2 (5:42)

Barry, could you just recap the season that Matt Shaughnessy had and the type of person he is to battle back from the injury he suffered?

"Well, he really probably is the biggest surprise of the year. We saw right away that he's someone that could help us, that he could play maybe 10, 15 snaps a game. He could help in pass-rush situations. But as the season went along and with the injuries, he was asked to play more. You watch him play 85 snaps against North Carolina and play well and play hard. (He) never complained, really just, even though he's outsized sometimes, because of leverage and athletic ability held up very well.

"I think he's a guy, now he didn't have a lot of swelling, which is good. He hasn't had surgery yet, but hopefully when he does it'll be a good surgery. I have a feeling that he'll be the type of person that will work very hard to rehab it and get back to his form. But I think his, the sky is the limit as far as his ability and how good a player he can be. He can get much bigger. And you've already seen what he's capable of, and he, with more experience, he should get better and better."

Barry, you said your bowl destination will depend largely on what Ohio State does, if they get in the BCS. How much or how much will it not, Friday night's outcome impact your bowl destination?

"I don't know… The Big Ten as it's laid out and the tiebreakers and so on and so forth, and the tiebreakers really are for who goes to the championship game, BCS game, they don't include anything after the 11th game, yet I think the 12th game is important to sell if you win it. If you win it, you've got a nine-win team. I think it's very attractive. So I don't know. You know, I would guess that the Capital One Bowl, even if Ohio State was in the BCS, would expect us to win before they would extend an invitation."

Barry, last week Bret said that he'd not made any decisions on his assistant coaches. How difficult is it for them to then go out and recruit, the guys that are still on staff?

"I think he's given them that option. And Bret has been in charge of recruiting and if they didn't feel comfortable calling people in their area, all he asked was for their top five guys in that area, and Bret called them all… Quite a few just said, ‘it's hard for me to pick up the telephone and call someone and recruit him if I don't know for sure if I'm going to come back.' And Bret said, ‘I understand that.' And so he hasn't asked them to recruit, so they haven't been involved in it. The ones, we did put a few guys out on the road just to make contact with, or Bret did, make contact with some of the players in specific areas last week."

After Friday's game, what do you do to keep your players mentally thinking about football and staying in shape for the four or five weeks that you have until your bowl game?

"Well, the first thing we do is give them a week off. And then they'll come back, and actually the day of the banquet. We get back Monday. That Friday they'll lift. But other than lift, they won't have anything else. The next week they'll just lift and condition. So we'll start working on their conditioning. That Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we'll start with practices, very fundamental practices. And then we start getting involved with schedules and finals. So then we space our practices out, but from that point on, it's not every day, but we've conditioned already and we've started to implement the game plan and start practice. And I would guess we normally, on an average, get about four a week. So there's a plan in place to do that."

Barry, can you talk about J.P.? You were out of town I think last week when that came up. But John Palermo had been with you a long time and his announced retirement, can you talk about his contributions?

"Well, John and I coached together two years at Notre Dame and he came after my first year here and has been a very loyal and been very instrumental in our success. I think everybody recognizes how good a football coach he is, particularly in the defensive line, and how he develops players, and this year in particular with all the injuries that we've had, that he's been able to, regardless of who plays, have them play and play at a high level. But, no, he's been very loyal. He's had opportunities to leave here, but he's chosen to stay. And he's had a great deal to do with our success here."

Audio file 3 (4:52)

Barry, some people have talked about this ballgame and mentioned Bowling Green because Hawaii throws the ball around so much. Can you talk about what sort of ballgame you're expecting on Friday?

"Well, we've played a lot of teams that have thrown it around a lot, not just Bowling Green. I hope they don't have as much success as Bowling Green had. It's a very difficult preparation on both sides of the ball. If you watch the other side of the ball, they're blitzing from everywhere, so you have to have an answer for the blitz. And so it's a totally different preparation for our offense than they've had any other week.

"Thank goodness we've had some time off and we've had a couple extra days to practice it and teach and make our guys more familiar with the system. Offensively, it's very similar to what we've seen in a number of schools—one back, no back, four wides, no tight ends. We've seen more of that than we've seen traditional offenses."

Barry, do you ever care or are you concerned about who you play in a bowl game, or is it just go to the best bowl and whoever you get paired up against that's it?

"Yeah. I don't, I really don't care. It's kind of fun to play teams from different leagues, although the one league we haven't had that much success with. We've had two good games, the last two games with Southeast Conference teams, I felt like we had Auburn on the ropes with three-and-a-half minutes left and let them off the hook. That's our fault. And last year we didn't play particularly well but had a chance.

"But I don't know. I think it's fun to play different styles. Doesn't make any difference who you play. I think bowls are rewards for the players. I like to go to whatever bowl we go to and let the kids experience whatever the city has to offer. We've had a great time with great hospitality in the Sun Bowl. If you had your druthers, you'd rather go where it's going to be the warmest because obviously we don't have that here at this time of year. But it doesn't make any difference who you play, or I don't look at it that way."

Barry, I don't know if you saw what happened to the Michigan State basketball team on Saturday with several of their players having problems with cramping, out in Hawaii, but how have you prepared in the past going out there for the heat and the humidity, and does it complicate matters at all with how long the travel is?

"The first thing I would ask with Hawaii was, or with Michigan State was how long before the game did they get there.

"… They've got an extra hour of flying time. If you flew for 13, 14 hours and weren't hydrating and then get there and then play in that heat, I would guess that you're very susceptible to cramp.

"We started hydrating our players yesterday. Now there's no way we can simulate the heat even in the McClain, but we'll try to hydrate. We've been conditioning more than we normally would at this time of year. We'll get out there a little earlier. We'll land tomorrow night and go right to the stadium and get a light workout in. And so that'll give us three times that we'll be out in that weather to get some type of practice in."

[Editor's note: Michigan State flew into Hawaii last Thursday, practiced Friday, and played Saturday.]

Coach, have you seen the effects of having the week off? Can you see it at all? I know you still have a week before you go out and play and really practice again. But have you seen any effects with the kids?

"You know, it was interesting. I asked (strength and conditioning coach) John Dettmann how they were in their lifts, and he said I could tell they were really tired, just mentally and physically they were tired. I thought we bounced around pretty well. I think they've practiced well. They seem to be refreshed a little bit. But, Dett as the strength coach, I think the fact that he recognized that sends a pretty strong message that they were tired.

"And you get worn out and it's a relatively young group. If it's a veteran, if it's all seniors, you really don't worry about them much."

Do you expect to have Matt Lawrence back this week?

"Matt practiced yesterday, so I expect him to play."

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