The embarrassment on the field was surely enough, but it's yet another blow-off that has Wisconsin reeling.
Losing 59-0 in the Big Ten title game is one thing. That was a short-term setback, and it didn't change the fact that Gary Andersen had just won the West Division and was starting to load up his roster with talented, athletic players who could continue to make his program an annual contender.
Losing another coach to what the Badgers would almost certainly view as a less-prestigious program is the bigger shot to the ego, though, and it will be the cause of some seriously difficult looks in the mirror for Barry Alvarez and his athletic department. This might well be another hurdle that can be cleared in a small time frame, but it suggests there might be more long-term issues for Wisconsin if it can't keep its successful coaches around in a conference that appears to be back on the upswing.
No offense to Oregon State or Arkansas, but those aren't the kinds of programs that Wisconsin would like to consider as its football peers, and yet Andersen is on his way to the former after Bret Bielema surprisingly bolted for the latter. And while it's hard to consider Wisconsin a stepping-stone job based on what appear to be lateral moves, there seems to be something keeping it from becoming a final destination.
"The last two coaches have proven that," Alvarez said. "It wasn’t a destination job for them, but it was for me and it is for [basketball coach] Bo Ryan. Everybody is a little bit different. I don’t worry about that.
"We’ve got a good job, we’ve got a good place, we’ve got a consistent program. We’ve got a lot to sell. I’m not trying to paint any other picture other than a very positive picture, because it is positive."
The list of pros is indeed long for anybody who would like to come take over for Andersen, and Alvarez was expecting a long night on Wednesday with his "phone ringing off the hook" with candidates interested in leading a program that has played in five consecutive New Year's Day bowls. There are upgraded facilities on hand, including a new weight room and an academic center. And the path to the College Football Playoff currently isn't the most arduous around, though winning the Big Ten West isn't exactly a cakewalk with Nebraska, Minnesota and occasionally Iowa on hand in a division that can hand out a few bruises.
But there are certainly cons that come with the Wisconsin job, from a shallower recruiting pool in its backyard to high academic standards that can potentially trim its options to fill out the roster. But those didn't stop Andersen or Bielema from winning games, competing for championships or heading to prestigious postseason bowls. The issues in retaining those two coaches appear to be things Wisconsin actually has some control over and could change.
Is there really no room for flexibility in terms of getting in a few more recruits who might not have traditionally qualified? There's nothing wrong with a program rigorously holding itself to tough academic standards, but that makes it tougher to put together the best possible team and to possibly keep coaches who could more easily craft a squad in their image elsewhere.
Why doesn't Wisconsin have an assistant ranked higher than No. 77 in the nation in annual salary, according to the most recent USA Today database? There's no cap on spending for coaches, which makes it the one commodity in which schools with title aspirations should never get thrifty.
How can Wisconsin expect to keep a coaching staff together if it doesn't rank any higher than No. 9 in the league in combined compensation for assistant coaches, behind the likes of Maryland, Rutgers and even rival Minnesota? Bielema had already railed against the lack of financial support to keep his assistants around when he left to take over the Razorbacks.
The possible academic hurdle can't be cleared with a checkbook, but certainly the other problem can be addressed simply by spending more money, and no school in the Big Ten can make any sort of legitimate claim that it doesn't have cash rolling in, thanks to its television contracts. With Wisconsin's passionate fan base filling Camp Randall Stadium, it's also unlikely that its revenue stream is going to dry up any time soon.
With Andersen, though, dollar signs probably weren't the tipping point; Oregon State actually checked in one spot behind Wisconsin nationally at No. 41 in payroll for assistants.
So what else is there? Perhaps the problem is with the boss, with Alvarez looming over a program he led for so many years. Given that he was able to win at a high level despite some of those limitations, might he or the athletic department be unwilling to make concessions that the game has truly changed since Alvarez was on the sideline? That question might be more difficult to answer and even more challenging to fix, given Alvarez's iconic stature with Wisconsin.
Either way, Alvarez is the guy looking for a new coach again. He joked that it would be the last time he would hire a football coach, but then he obviously wasn't ever anticipating the need to do make one after just two seasons with Andersen.
"I’m a big boy," he said. "I understand this business; just take a look around the country. People move for different reasons. That’s why I’m always prepared; that’s why I have a short list. I feel very confident we’ll put a good coach in place, and I promised the kids that. ... I know one thing, I won’t flinch.
"Our program will not take a step backward. We will replace Coach Andersen with another excellent coach and staff."
The trick this time is to make sure there's absolutely no reason to leave.