MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez has a not-so-new hat: head coach of the Rose Bowl-bound Badgers.
Alvarez, who coached Wisconsin from 1990-2005, confirmed Wednesday's reports that had him serving as the Badgers' interim coach after Bret Bielema's stunning departure for Arkansas. Wisconsin's athletic director is 3-0 in Rose Bowls (1993, 1998, 1999), and now he'll also become the first College Football Hall of Famer to coach in the Granddaddy of Them All.
Alvarez said he initially didn't think it would best for him to return to the sideline. But after a group of seniors and team leaders contacted him -- particularly quarterback Curt Phillips and linebacker Mike Taylor, who were both made available to the media -- on Tuesday night, Alvarez said he'd be "honored" to coach.
"My first concern was about the players and how to let the seniors walk out of here with a positive experience in the Rose Bowl and visit with the staff for a while," Alvarez said. "That evening, Curt Phillips texted me and wanted to visit with me prior to naming an interim coach. Later that evening -- you can imagine my phone was blowing up -- I kept getting a Green Bay call. I didn't think that there was anybody in Green Bay that I needed to talk to, so I didn't take the call.
"Finally, in my voice messages, I went to the Green Bay call and it was [Ashwaubenon native] Mike Taylor. Mike asked me, he said the captains and the leaders of the team have discussed the fact that they would like me to coach them in the Rose Bowl. I told him I would be honored to coach them, and I wanted them to understand that if I were going to coach, we weren't going to screw around and we're going to go out there and win."
Alvarez did say this will be just a one-game return to coaching, and that he would largely delegate game prep to the assistants -- all of which he expects to stay on for the Rose Bowl, though he hadn't spoken to each one at the time of the press conference.
If Wisconsin's coordinators do stay in place for the game -- no sure assumption, considering associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge has already been linked to Bielema's staff at Arkansas -- Alvarez will rely heavily on offensive coordinator Chris Ash, defensive coordinator Chris Ash and Partridge.
"With the duties of a head coach at the Rose Bowl, there are a number of duties that can be distracting," Alvarez said. "I thought it would be best to allow the assistant coaches to do their jobs and concentrate game-planning and coaching their players and not have to worry about one of them being an interim coach.
"I'll manage the game. But I can't step in there. I will oversee both sides of the ball. I just met with both coordinators, told them I expect them to manager their end of the ball. I'll oversee practices, I'll oversee the game. I'll manage the game, I'll take that pressure off of them."
As far as the coaching search, Alvarez said he has not yet begun interviewing other assistant coaches. That process will begin next week, as Wisconsin has several recruits coming into town this weekend for visits.
"Most of the kids coming in this weekend are commitments," Alvarez said. "I instructed the assistant coaches to put an emphasis on those commitments that we have, to make sure we hold our commitments. I will be involved in the recruiting weekend. My message is this: you committed to come to the University of Wisconsin and play for us. We've got a great university, and we've got a lot to sell here."
Regarding UW's coaching search, Alvarez said he would not begin interviewing candidates until next week. He did slip in, however, that after Bielema first told him of his decision to take the Arkansas job via phone-- Alvarez was in New York for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame -- Alvarez had the representative of a potential successor to Bielema in the room "five minutes later." Alvarez also said Bielema offered to coach the Rose Bowl, though his response was, "No Bret, you need to go Arkansas now."
Wisconsin also won't necessarily be targeting only coaches with state or program ties, Alvarez added. He will, however, begin the search with candidates who already have head-coaching experience.
"Bret used my game plan to win," Alvarez said. "The coach that I hire will have to be someone that will have to understand who we are, how we go about our business. I don't look to change a whole lot in how we operate things here. The person that I put in place will be someone that cares about kids and someone that understands Wisconsin and will be a good fit for us."
As for that little zinger -- he did have a few, including only saying the program is "at least as good" as it was when he stepped down as coach -- Alvarez denied feeling any sense of betrayal.
"I know the business," Alvarez said. "People move. I was totally caught by surprise, and surprised no one had contacted me for permission.
"Bret has had some other offers and some other things he was interested in, so I don't feel betrayed. I'm pleased, I'm very proud of the job Bret did for me. I thought he did a nice job taking the program, recruiting good kids. His won-loss record speaks for itself; the fact that we're going to our third straight Rose Bowl is off the charts. It's uncharted waters."
Nevertheless, Alvarez couldn't hold back when asked about Bielema's comments in his introductory Arkansas press conference on Wednesday regarding the chance to win a championship at Arkansas.
"I was a little surprised by that, and he said that to me," Alvarez said, before pausing for a moment. "Well, I wish him well. I thought we were very close to playing in the national championship a year ago. He had just won three [Big Ten] championships, so I don't know. I don't try to put words in his mouth."
Alvarez also addressed Bielema's comments about UW not having, or offering, the final resources to keep assistant coaches. Bielema replaced six assistants after last year's Rose Bowl, and according to Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal, he had three assistants come to him with job offers from other schools just one day after Wisconsin won the Big Ten Championship Game.
"I think our pay scale for assistant coaches is more than competitive and fair," Alvarez said. "As athletic director, I have to make decisions. I know what people are making, and every time someone has a hint that they may take another job, it's not prudent to jump and throw a pile of money at them. We all see what the salaries are; I know what the salaries are. I'm getting charged with them.
"We're more than competitive, and not only that, we have a great place. It's a wonderful university; it's a great place to live. We have new facilities coming. People want to work here. The quality of life here is top-notch. So we can get good assistants here, we have had good assistants here, we'll continue to have good assistants here and we'll have stability here."