Barry Alvarez is a Wisconsin coaching legend, but his return isn't a no-brainer. - Jeff Gross
Barry Alvarez and the Rose Bowl go together like peanut butter and jelly. An Alvarez return to coaching for the upcoming game in Pasadena may be a smart course of action, as long as he's doing it for the right reasons.
UPDATE, 2:47 PM: Per the Wall Street Journal, Alvarez says he will announce who will serve as Wisconsin's head coach leading up to and in the Rose Bowl at a press conference in Madison tomorrow (Thursday). Alvarez did not rule himself out as a candidate.
In the wake of Bret Bielema's departure to Arkansas, Wisconsin has not yet officially announced who will be the head coach for the Rose Bowl. The possibilities are most likely limited to remaining members of Bielema's coaching staff and athletic director Barry Alvarez. A source close to the Wisconsin athletic department has said that Alvarez stepping in is a very real possibility. If not Alvarez, it would likely be one of the current co-defensive coordinators, Chris Ash or Charlie Partridge. Partridge is rumored to be following Bielema to Fayetteville but again, nothing has been officially announced on that front.
Alvarez's coaching pedigree speaks for itself. He carried the Wisconsin program out of mediocrity and won all three Rose Bowls he coached in. He retired from coaching following the 2005 season, in which the Badgers finished 10-3 and won the Capital One Bowl. He has served as Wisconsin's athletic director since 2004, and he hand-picked Bielema to be his successor at head coach.
Still, it's worth questioning whether an Alvarez return to the sidelines is ideal. He's been out of coaching for seven seasons. Some have pointed to Bill Snyder as proof that a coach can make a successful return from retirement. Snyder is older than Alvarez, but he only spent three seasons away from coaching, not seven. I've heard it said that Alvarez might serve only as a figurehead coach, but I'm unclear on what that actually means. Would he coach from the sidelines or from a coaching box? How involved would he be in gameplanning? If he's going to be the guy making the in-game decisions, how sharp are his coaching chops?
Alvarez might be the right choice, however. He's watched all of Wisconsin's games, so he knows what this team's players can and can't do. His presence would allow the coordinators to worry more about the game planning for Stanford and less about all of the mumbo jumbo that comes with being a head coach during bowl season. He also knows what it takes to win Rose Bowls and I think he wants to put Wisconsin in the best chance of winning that game on January 1st.
Wisconsin's chances of winning the Rose Bowl shouldn't significantly change with Bielema out of the picture. He wasn't a coaching genius by any stretch of the imagination, and motivating the players to get jacked for the Rose Bowl just isn't necessary, because it's the Rose Bowl. The coordinators in place are more than capable of doing the job of getting these players ready for this game, though the loss of Partridge would sting.
I won't have a problem with Alvarez installing himself as Wisconsin's temporary head coach, as long as it isn't about selling more tickets. Also, if this is just about Barry wanting to put another Rose Bowl victory on his resume, this probably won't end well. It needs to be about putting the players in the best position to win the Rose Bowl and nothing else. If Alvarez takes over with that as the goal, then I'm all for his return to coaching.