Alvarez returns, readies Wisconsin for Rose Bowl

Barry Alvarez’s birth certificate says he’s about to turn 66.
The bounce in his step on Wisconsin’s practice field suggests
differently.

Trading his red sports coat, slacks and loafers for sneakers,
sweat shirt and a whistle, the Badgers’ athletic director has
balanced trying to find a new head coach with preparing Wisconsin
for its third straight Rose Bowl appearance.

”It’s fun to be around these kids,” Alvarez said Sunday
following Wisconsin’s fourth bowl practice. ”It’s just a great
group of guys. It’s fun for me to be around this staff, be a little
closer to this staff. It’s been enjoyable.”

Alvarez, whose birthday is Dec. 30, will lead the Badgers on
Jan. 1 against No. 8 Stanford. Wisconsin has lost the last two Rose
Bowls.

Two days after his hand-picked successor, Bret Bielema, accepted
the head coaching job at Arkansas, Alvarez announced earlier this
month that he would end a seven-year absence on the sidelines.

Wisconsin’s seniors asked Alvarez to coach them in their last
game. It was a natural decision for them to choose Alvarez, who led
Wisconsin to all three of its Rose Bowl triumphs (1994, 1999,
2000). He has an 8-3 record in bowl games, the best mark in college
football history among coaches with 11 bowl appearances.

His players are responding to the energy. Shortly after the
first practice under Alvarez, junior tight end Brian Wozniak
tweeted that it was Wisconsin’s best practice of the year, and
subsequent players have agreed.

”They were shorter, more crisp and attacked the practice a
little more knowing they were shorter,” receiver Jared Abbrederis
said. ”We were really getting after it and getting some good work
in.”

Alvarez said he thinks he is close to finding a replacement for
Bielema. Although he toyed with the notion of returning for the
2013 season – for ”like a day,” he said – Alvarez has interviewed
two candidates. Speculation is that South Florida coach Willie
Taggart and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel
Tucker have spoken to Alvarez, and he is expected to meet with
another one this week.

An official announcement of the next head coach could come
sometime this week.

”I feel good about the candidates we have interviewed,”
Alvarez said.

While Alvarez is having on the field, he has become irritated
that he’s lost five assistant coaches in the past week, most of
whom were given hard deadlines to decide their futures.

Officially, Bielema has hired defensive coordinator Chris Ash
and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge to the same position at
Arkansas. Receivers coach Zach Azzanni (Tennessee) and offensive
coordinator Matt Canada (North Carolina State) have also accepted
other jobs.

The list is expected to rise, as reports surfaced Sunday that
linebackers coach Andy Buh was going to become the defensive
coordinator at California.

”I like for them to stay, but they had to protect their
families,” Alvarez said. ”A coach says, `You’ve got 24 hours to
make this decision or the job isn’t there,’ they have to do
something because I couldn’t promise them that the next coach would
retain them.”

When asked if he planned to make a run at some of those
assistants when a new coach is in place, Alvarez didn’t commit.

”We’ll see when that time comes,” he said.