Thursday, December 6, 2012
Rose Bowl now becomes Alvarez's show
By Brian Bennett
Barry Alvarez doesn't use search committees. Search committees use him.
When a coach tells Barry Alvarez he's taking another job, he tells them to hit the road and then invites a possible successor into his hotel room suite five minutes later.
Barry Alvarez isn't worried about replacing a three-time Big Ten winning coach, because that coach used Barry Alvarez's game plan the entire time.
He is the most interesting interim coach in the world.
OK, we're having a little fun here, but how could you not after Thursday's virtuoso news conference by Wisconsin's athletic director/legendary former/for-one-game-current head football coach? Those who thought Bret Bielema was brash were reminded that Bielema didn't just learn how to recruit offensive lines from his mentor.
Alvarez said that Badgers team captains, led by linebacker Mike Taylor and quarterback Curt Phillips, approached him with the idea of coaching the Rose Bowl. Alvarez agreed because he said his main goal is to make sure the players, and especially the seniors, have a positive experience in Pasadena, and he wants the spotlight to be on them for the next 26 days.
But let's be real here. The Rose Bowl just became the Barry Alvarez Show.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Wisconsin fans and players who were stunned by Bret Bielema's unexpected departure for Arkansas just got a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. As Phillips said Thursday, "guys are extremely excited about [playing for Alvarez]. It provides a little extra motivation."
It also gives Badgers fans one more reason to buy tickets and travel to California to see an 8-5 team play Stanford. There's no way Alvarez could have found another interim coach with such impeccable qualifications. He's already in the College Football Hall of Fame and will be just the second standing member of the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame to prowl the sidelines in the game (Rick Neuheisel -- '98 class, '01 game with Washington is the other). Alvarez said that while he'll let the assistants formulate the game plan, he would "manage the game." That has to be sweet music to the ears of Wisconsin fans who were driven to consume Spotted Cow by the barrel while watching Bret Bielema's in-game decision-making.
Make no mistake, though. The storyline leading up to and during the New Year's Day classic will of course be all Alvarez, all the time.
How could it not be? Alvarez is going for his fourth Rose Bowl victory while coaching his first game since 2005. Even if he weren't so quotable and, um, self-assured, this would be an irresistible story of a legend coming out of retirement for one last fight, Rocky Balboa style. It would be no different than if Tom Osborne came back to coach a bowl game for Nebraska, or if Barry Switzer -- maybe the one man who could top Alvarez in the news conference battle -- did the same at Oklahoma.
Guys like Phillips, Taylor and running back Montee Ball, all of whom have their own great stories, now fade into a softer focus. That's not necessarily a bad thing for this team, which has dealt with all kinds of adversity the past several months. Had Bielema stayed, the Badgers would have faced incessant questions about whether they deserved to be in Pasadena with an 8-5 record and whether they could finally win a Rose Bowl after losing each of the past two years. They will get less of that now as reporters flock to Alvarez, covering his search for a new head coach and writing about his quest to pin a fourth Rose on his lapel. There will be far less pressure on the team than there was in the previous two trips to California.
There have been hints the past couple of days that Bielema wanted to get out from Alvarez's shadow, and with some of Alvarez's quotes on Thursday, you could see why a coach might feel that way. Alvarez has earned every bit of his legacy. But just know that when the sun starts to set behind the San Gabriel Mountains on New Year's Day, one man's shadow will engulf everything on that field.