MADISON, Wis. -- College football players understandably need some convincing when buying into a new coach -- especially when their next game happens to be the Rose Bowl.
For the Wisconsin Badgers, however, that doesn't seem to be a problem. Their new head coach, at least for this one game, will be Barry Alvarez, the university's Director of Athletics and former coach from 1990-2005. In the wake of Bret Bielema's abrupt departure for Arkansas, the Badgers were left scrambling to fill the head coaching spot before preparations for the Granddaddy of Them All began in earnest.
"I've said it since the first time I coached that game in '81 when I was an assistant at Iowa -- there's no venue prettier in all of sports than the Rose Bowl," Alvarez said in a press conference on Thursday. "I feel it's a special place. I love the atmosphere, I love the week leading up to it. There isn't anything that I enjoy more.
"It doesn't get a bit old to me. I would do it every second."
Convincing as that is, Alvarez said he needed some prodding before committing to a return to the sideline. Bielema, who Alvarez said asked him if he would coach the Rose Bowl, wasn't even enough. But once several seniors and team leaders -- most notably linebacker Mike Taylor and quarterback Curt Phillips -- contacted Alvarez with their belief that he would be the best coaching option, he agreed and said he'd be "honored."
"After the news, we tried to get a pretty core group of guys together just to kind of talk about where we were at and how we thought we should move forward with the team," Phillips said. "Originally, it didn't really cross my mind as far as the option of [Alvarez] maybe stepping in. Then as we got together and kind of talked as a group, once that got brought up, that was something everyone was extremely excited about."
Phillips said few players on the team had Alvarez' phone number until he was able to acquire it through a contact. He sent a text message requesting to meet before Alvarez named an interim head coach, though the athletic director said he was also puzzled by repeated calls from a Green Bay, Wis., number.
Turns out it was Taylor, an Ashwaubenon native.
"I think it was the third time I called," Taylor said of when he finally reached Alvarez. "I just thought that it was the right thing to do. Kids like me from Wisconsin watching him coach, that's just something you've always dreamed of, playing for a coach like that. That's what really was the driving force behind it."
"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," Alvarez added. "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."
The reception to that comment wasn't hard to predict, as several Wisconsin players took to Twitter to voice their support.
Looking forward to being coached by one of the greatest of all time In my last game as a badger! Let's go get em! #onwisconsin— Montee Ball (@M_Ball28) December 6, 2012
Thought I was watching Alvarez's last game when I went to the 2006 CO bowl, when in reality ill be playing in it in Pasadena #honored— Jordan Fredrick (@jsfredrick9) December 6, 2012
Excited to have Coach Alvarez with us for the Rose Bowl! Blessed to have this opportunity, Pasadena here we come!!! Time to get to work...— Jared Abbrederis (@abbrecadabra) December 6, 2012
When anyone around this program simply says "coach", you know who they're talking about.— chris r borland (@chrsbrlnd) December 6, 2012
The program's official Twitter account also spurred fan reaction (probably unnecessarily so) with a #BarrysBack hashtag. For Taylor, who will be playing in his last game, Alvarez' move was especially resounding.
"I think it's the best thing that could happen," Taylor said. "He's familiar, obviously, with what we do and he's the one that built this program. Like I said, that's the reason why kids like me come here, is to play for a coach like that."
Phillips, meanwhile, will be playing in his first bowl game. The injuries he's returned from have been well-documented since he earned the starting job prior to the Nov. 10 game against Indiana, and now the fifth-year senior will receive redemption likely beyond anything he imagined.
That attitude carried into the press conference, where Phillips was asked if this week's turmoil diminishes the Badgers' chances of winning the Rose Bowl.
"I don't think so at all," he said. "If anything, I think it gives us a better chance to win the Rose Bowl. Obviously, [Alvarez] knows the formula for success there. It would've been business for us as usual if this hadn't happened obviously, but he gives guys a chance to really rally around him and to have something even extra to play for."