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.