MADISON, Wis. — Barry Alvarez insists the search to find the next head football coach at Wisconsin is progressing well. He simply wishes the team’s assistant coaches were provided with the time to learn who that next coach would be.
Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletic director and interim coach, didn’t hold back his frustration with reporters Sunday after practice. He said he was unhappy that members of Wisconsin’s coaching staff were being pressured into making quick decisions on taking new jobs rather than waiting for a head coach to be put in place.
In the 12 days since former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema left for the same position at Arkansas, five Badgers assistants have reportedly accepted jobs elsewhere.
“They couldn’t delay their decision because the other coaches were putting pressure on them, giving them 24 hours to make a decision,” Alvarez said. “I’d like for them to stay, but they had to protect their families. The 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.
” … I’m frustrated that coaches put them in that position. Not frustrated with these guys. They had to do what they had to do. I just don’t like to operate like that.”
Alvarez didn’t name specific coaches, but the likely offenders are Bielema and Dave Doeren at North Carolina State. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada accepted the same position at NC State over the weekend. Co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge, the longest tenured Wisconsin coach with five years of experience, accepted a defensive line position at Arkansas. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash was offered the same job at Arkansas but could stay at Wisconsin if offered the head coaching job.
Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni is headed to Tennessee, and linebackers coach Andy Buh is going to California.
Canada expressed his disappointment Sunday with the process as well, noting Wisconsin won the Big Ten championship against Nebraska on a Saturday night and had to absorb the news of losing its head coach just three days later.
“There’s some frustration the way all this went down,” Canada said. “There’s a lot of people’s lives who were affected by things like this. But it’s our business. We chose this business. It’s a great profession. It’s part of the business. I think everybody probably deserved a little more time to celebrate the championship, but it is what it is and we’ll all move forward.”
All the assistants have vowed to coach Wisconsin (8-5) in the Rose Bowl against Stanford (11-2) on Jan. 1.
As for the head coaching search, Alvarez said he had interviewed two coaches and has one more visit scheduled this week before he’ll make a decision. Alvarez reportedly interviewed then-Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart, who was later named head coach at South Florida, and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Tucker played defensive back at Wisconsin from 1990-94.
“Everyone gets anxious, but I said all along we’re going to take our time to get the right guy,” Alvarez said. “It’s only been 10 days. I couldn’t hire somebody if I wanted to until the latter part of this coming week. I feel good about it. I feel good about the due diligence and people that I’ve talked to. I have one more to visit and then we’ll sit down and decide on the best person.”
Alvarez said he briefly considered coming out of retirement to take over the program for the 2013 season because he felt so terrible about the plight of Wisconsin’s assistant coaches. But ultimately he determined the program would find itself in the same situation at this time next year.
“I got home and my wife said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not sure, let me think about this,'” Alvarez said. “But I did consider it. I felt so bad for a couple of those guys.”
In 16 seasons as Wisconsin’s coach, Alvarez finished 118-73-4 to become the program’s winningest coach. He went 8-3 in bowl games, including a 3-0 mark in Rose Bowls and retired following the 2005 season. Alvarez returned to the sideline for this Rose Bowl at the urging of the team’s captains.
Alvarez said he was in no hurry to name a coach before the Rose Bowl because there is currently a dead period for recruiting players under NCAA rules. But for fans growing impatient, he imparted a message on Sunday.
“We’re spoiled here because we were probably one of the most stable programs in the country with me being here 16 years, elevating an assistant for seven years,” Alvarez said. “But this happens around the country. I’ll hire a good coach and this program will continue being very good. For those that are panicking, don’t panic. We’ll take care of business here, and this program will be in excellent hands.”
ESPN Wisconsin’s Tom Lea contributed to this story.