The Voice: 'Barry's back' brings boost for Badgers

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgEarlier this week I was a guest on the University of Wisconsin's student radio station, WSUM, when it hit me -- the last time the Badgers went through a football coaching search, it is unlikely any of show's hosts was born.

Yikes, that makes me feel old.

By New Year's Day 1990, it became apparent that Notre Dame defensive coordinator Barry Alvarez was going to be Wisconsin's next coach. He came to town a tired but very happy man. The previous night his Irish defense stuffed Colorado in the Orange Bowl. During the NBC telecast, Wisconsin was getting some rare national publicity as the announcers talked about Alvarez taking over a program that had won four games in the last three seasons.

It is fair to say that few football fans knew much about Alvarez, but Pat Richter was impressed with the confident young coach, and the rest is history.

To say the last 10 days or so have been a whirlwind would be an understatement, but something fascinating is happening. Fans who might otherwise have had just a casual interest in the Rose Bowl (casual? Rose Bowl? I know that sounds odd, doesn't it?) are now excited, and some have opted to book their airline tickets to Southern California.

No doubt the folks at ESPN are smiling. Rather than harping on a five-loss team in Pasadena, the network has a beautiful storyline of a Hall of Famer returning to a venue he loves so much, and where he has never lost as a head coach.

Better still, the players themselves are thrilled that Alvarez is leading them to Pasadena. When Alvarez stepped down after the 2005 season, many of the current Badgers had yet to reach their teenage years, but they have a pretty good idea of what he means to Wisconsin.

It was impossible not to notice the excitement, from the comments of linebacker Mike Taylor and quarterback Curt Phillips last Wednesday, to the upbeat nature of last Friday night's team awards banquet. What happened was a jolt, but the team has endured more than its share of obstacles this season.

Now, the players view it as an opportunity. An opportunity to play for someone who is a living legend in this state.

It appears the assistants view it much the same way. Tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner and secondary coach Ben Strickland have firsthand experience playing for Alvarez. Running backs boss Thomas Hammock was a graduate assistant for Alvarez. The others know all about him.

Through no fault of their own, many members of the staff face uncertain futures because of Bielema's departure. Yet I am struck by the professionalism of this group, and the determination to make the Rose Bowl a granddaddy of an experience for everyone connected to the team, most importantly the players.

The Badgers will need every bit of that energy to defeat an excellent Stanford team. To be clear, the Badgers never seemed to lack energy, but what has happened in the last week-and-a-half appears to have provided even more of a boost.

It was plenty interesting around here on New Year's Day 1990. I'm thinking New Year's Day 2013 will be anything but boring as well.
ON WISCONSIN