When the Wisconsin players asked Barry Alvarez to return to the sideline, he couldn’t resist.
After all, it’s the Rose Bowl sideline, and that old stadium has an irresistible lure for lifelong football people.
But when Bret Bielema abruptly left the Badgers for Arkansas after they clinched their third straight trip to Pasadena, Alvarez also felt a compulsion to protect the program he built into a power. The underdog Badgers (8-5) realize the odds they face against powerful No. 8 Stanford (11-2) today, but Alvarez’s mere presence on that sideline tells his players they’ve got a shot.
“Just give me a whistle,” Alvarez said. “That’s all I need, is a whistle and a bunch of guys to coach, and I feel very comfortable with that. And it’s been fun for me. This has been like a gift. To be able to do this, and on this stage, is truly special.”
Alvarez is a Hall of Fame coach, but Wisconsin’s athletic director knows he can’t work miracles. He acknowledges no tricks or insight into beating the favored Cardinal in Wisconsin’s third straight trip to Pasadena for the 99th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All.
Instead, the Badgers are getting perspective, inspiration — and even a little swagger — as Alvarez bridges Wisconsin’s one-game gap between Bielema and Gary Andersen, who also will watch his new team from the sideline while Bielema’s soon-to-depart assistant coaches largely run the show.
Alvarez’s current players were kids when he retired, and the athletic director doesn’t hang out much with the football team during the season. But the Badgers know a leader when they see him.
“He’s almost got an aura around him, like this man built what we are, and everyone knows it and recognizes it,” Wisconsin defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said.
“He definitely walks around with a lot of confidence,” Wisconsin safety Shelton Johnson said. “I think that rubs off on the players as well. You just see, he’s just the Don sometimes when he walks around, because you just know. He has a physical presence to him when he walks in a room.”
Over 16 seasons in Madison, Alvarez built Wisconsin’s long-mediocre program into a consistent contender and a three-time Rose Bowl winner, most recently in the 2000 game, a 17-9 victory over Stanford led by Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Ron Dayne.
Alvarez sees similarities between his work and the Stanford revitalization led coach David Shaw, who could be in the early stages of a similar program transformation in the Bay Area. The Cardinal won the Pac-12 title to advance to their third straight BCS bowl with their third consecutive 11-win season.