Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Celebrating the legacy of Barry Alvarez


December 7, 2010

His induction tonight into the College Football Hall of Fame couldn't come at a better time.

Barry Alvarez has always had a remarkable sense of timing and today is a perfect example of that.

His two careers — his two legacies — have conveniently merged under the same bright spotlight for all to appreciate.

Alvarez is in New York City to be inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame. It's the ultimate reward for the extraordinary work he did as University of Wisconsin coach for 16 years.

You should know the script by heart: Alvarez took over a decrepit UW program and built it into one that claimed three Big Ten Conferences titles and prevailed in three Rose Bowls. Along the way he won a school-record 118 games, including eight bowls, and became the first coach in league history to win back-to-back Rose Bowls (1998, '99).

That resume explains why so many family members, friends, colleagues and former Badgers players will be decked out in tuxedos and gowns at the famed Waldorf-Astoria in New York City tonight sharing the moment with Alvarez.

In terms of worthiness, Alvarez is certainly the equal of the eight other UW inductees: Pat Richter (1996), Pat Harder ('93), Marty Below ('88), Alan Ameche ('75), Elroy Hirsch ('74), Robert Butler ('72), Pat O'Dea ('62) and Dave Schreiner ('55).

What has to be fun for Alvarez is that while his past life is the focus of this event, his present-day role as UW athletic director is sure to be a prime topic of conversation as well.

Before Alvarez stepped down as Badgers coach, he hired his replacement and showed him the ropes. That wedding of instincts and methodology is being celebrated five years later now that UW has won a share of the Big Ten title and is headed for the Rose Bowl under Bret Bielema.

At the very same moment, Alvarez's abilities as a coach and as a CEO are being validated in positive, prominent ways. That's pretty remarkable when you consider how different those journeys were.

When Alvarez began his coaching tenure at UW in 1990, he had a specific, well-crafted plan: Build a championship program from scratch and sustain it. He did so, setting the stage for a massive athletic renaissance that continues today at 1440 Monroe St.

When Alvarez began his tenure as AD in 2004, his agenda wasn't so well defined. Outside of fulfilling his career-day goal of following in the footsteps of his college mentor, Bob Devaney — who famously transitioned from being Nebraska football coach to its athletic director — Alvarez struggled in those early days to articulate his vision.

One thing he knew for certain was that the football program, the one he nursed out of the ICU to robust health, had to stay strong. Alvarez worked two jobs for two years during which time he found Bielema and began grooming him as his replacement.

Many questioned Bielema's abilities early on, especially after the Badgers regressed from 12-1 overall to 7-6 during his first three years, but this season is a convincing argument that Alvarez made an astute hire.

With his coaching legend intact and his biggest personnel decision as CEO a certified hit, Alvarez has a greater sense of his future as AD. He wants to someday leave UW Athletics in better shape than he found it — no mean feat — which means continued fiscal awareness and getting the Athletic Performance Center and hockey practice facilities built.

Alvarez will resume working on the future, but first up, another look tonight at his honorable past.

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