The stunning news for football fans in the state of Wisconsin this week was Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bret Bielema leaving the Badgers to take over as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. A head coach leaving their current job for a new one before a bowl game isn’t uncommon in college football‘s recent history, but this one was unexpected.
Of course, with most negatives there is a silver lining. In the case of the Badgers and their now vacant head coaching position, the silver lining is that current athletic director and former Badgers head coach Barry Alvarez will be on the sidelines coaching the Badgers when they play in the Rose Bowl on January 1.
Alvarez last coached the Badgers in the 2005 season and handpicked Bielema to succeed him as head coach. Bielema’s time as head coach has been a successful one with bowl appearances in all seven seasons, three straight Big Ten championships, was named Big Ten coach of the year in his first season, and had four seasons with ten wins or more. However, there is one thing that Alvarez accomplished in his time with the Badgers that Bielema couldn’t: win the Rose Bowl. Bielema has had two straight chances to get it done, but Alvarez still is the only Badgers head coach to win a Rose Bowl game out of four coaches that have taken the Badgers to the game.
And it might be just that fact that makes this turn of events alright in my mind. Obviously it isn’t the ideal situation for the Badgers to have a guy on the sidelines for a major bowl game that is only going to be there for that game, not to mention that he hasn’t coached a football game in seven years, but Alvarez is a guy who knows how to win at this university. He’s proven that not only by being a successful head coach at the university, but also by making the right decision on who replaced him.
If anything else, Alvarez being the coach for the Badgers on New Year’s Day adds a new dimension to the Rose Bowl game between the Badgers and Stanford Cardinal. Because not only have the Badgers lost their head coach for the game (again, not that uncommon anymore), but the man who’s replacing the former coach isn’t a member of the current coaching staff, but a former coach of this team himself who is familiar with the big stage the team will be playing on come January 1.
It will certainly be interesting to see if Alvarez still has his coaching chops after nearly a decade out of the profession. At the same time, he’s coaching an overall good (not great) team that will likely still be feeling the spiritual high from their Big Ten championship game win. And maybe most important of all, he’ll be coaching a team that wanted him on the sidelines after the news broke about Bielema accepting the Razorbacks’ offer.