MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin is going retro for the Rose Bowl.
Left without a coach when Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas, the Badgers asked former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez to lead them when they face No. 8 Stanford on New Year’s Day.
"We wouldn’t want anyone else but coach Alvarez to coach us in this game," linebacker Mike Taylor said Thursday. "Kids like me, growing up in Wisconsin, you watched him on the sidelines and you always dreamed of playing for him."
The return is for one game only, Alvarez said. He’s already started the search for a new coach, and plans to begin interviewing candidates next week.
"I don’t want this to be about me," Alvarez said. "I want it to be about the players. I want to give them as good an opportunity to win the Rose Bowl as we possibly can."
Bielema’s departure was a shock, coming just three days after Wisconsin earned a school-record third straight trip to the Rose Bowl with a 70-31 rout of then-No. 14 Nebraska in the Big Ten championship. Alvarez, in fact, had no idea Bielema was even talking to the Razorbacks until Bielema told him Tuesday morning he was leaving.
As the news filtered down to the Badgers, they immediately knew who they wanted as their interim coach.
"Originally, it didn’t really cross my mind as far as the option of him stepping in," quarterback Curt Phillips said. "But as we got together and talked as a group, once it was brought up, it was something everyone was extremely excited about. ... For us, there couldn’t be a better opportunity than to have coach Alvarez step in here, someone who’s had success at this stage. Guys are extremely excited to play for him. He’s someone guys can definitely rally around."
Alvarez said his phone was "blowing up" after Bielema’s departure was announced, including two calls from a Green Bay number that he didn’t recognize. Turns out that was Taylor, saying the Badgers wanted him to be their coach.
"I told him I would be honored to coach them," Alvarez said. "I wanted them to understand, if I was going to coach them, we weren’t going to screw around, We were going to go out there to win."
Alvarez’s 118-73-4 record in 16 seasons coaching the Badgers includes a 3-0 mark in the Rose Bowls -- Wisconsin’s only victories in eight trips to Pasadena. He was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2009.
"He’s never lost a Rose Bowl, so were kind of hoping he can shed some light on that for us. Because we’ve had some struggles the last couple of years," Phillips said.
Having Alvarez as their coach means little disruption for the Badgers, and even fewer distractions. Though he stepped down as head coach following the 2005 season, he’s remained an integral part of the football program as Wisconsin’s athletic director and players are familiar and comfortable with him.
"He’s at every practice watching and observing," Taylor said.