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Barry's Bond
Mark Beech
August 22, 2008
How a blue-collar guy from a Pennsylvania steel town awakened the sleeping giant of Wisconsin football
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August 22, 2008

Barry's Bond

How a blue-collar guy from a Pennsylvania steel town awakened the sleeping giant of Wisconsin football

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Alvarez raised his hand and said, "I don't agree with you."

Says Panos, "He was never a phony. We could have spotted a phony. We bought into everything he said, and he showed us how to be winners."

But they didn't become winners right away. Wisconsin went 1-10 in 1990, then won five games in each of the next two years before catching lightning in a bottle in '93. This, finally, was Alvarez's team. The veer was long gone. In its place was a power running game that ground opponents into submission. The Badgers went 10-1-1, beat Michigan for the first time since 1981 and upset UCLA 21-16 in the Rose Bowl. "There was a difficult transition period," says Shalala, "but from then on, it was glory."

By the time Alvarez retired from coaching after the 2005 season, he had won a school-record 118 games, including two more Rose Bowls, and had begun one of the most dramatic athletic-department turnarounds in the history of college athletics. With football raking in the money—Shalala says that licensing revenues, as well as admissions applications, skyrocketed after the first Rose Bowl win—Richter was able to turn his attention to other sports, including men's basketball, which has grown into a perennial Big Ten power. "I don't know that I've ever looked at it as a boss-worker relationship," Richter once said of his connection with Alvarez. "I've looked at it as more of a friendship. When we came in together, it was a partnership. We both had a lot on the line."

IN ALVAREZ'S ROLE AS ATHLETIC DIRECTOR (he took over in April 2004 after Richter stepped down), he is no longer rebuilding. He is instead the steward of a program he helped build, fulfilling the same role Devaney did at Nebraska after he turned the football team over to assistant coach Tom Osborne in 1973. "Every day I come to work, I see what we've done here," says Alvarez, from behind the desk in his office overlooking Camp Randall. "I have a great sense of ownership."

As it turns out, the traits that served him so well as a coach—his faith in his ability to succeed and his knack for reading and relating to people—are still paying dividends. After he hired Kansas State assistant Bret Bielema as his defensive coordinator before the 2004 season, Alvarez served as both AD and coach for two seasons. Bielema was one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country, and the Wisconsin job made him one of the highest paid. But he was also the youngest coach on the Badgers' staff, and he soon became aware that his high salary was an issue. That summer Bielema approached Alvarez before Wisconsin's annual coaching clinics and asked to have a chunk of his $12,000 clinic salary redistributed among the staff. "It was a five-minute conversation," says Bielema. "But the next year, when he hired me to succeed him and I flat-out asked him, 'Why me?' he told me that he knew from that moment that I understood the bigger picture. That was all he needed."

One reason why Alvarez is so good at reading people is that, in Cindy's words, "he loves them so much." In that respect he resembles his parents, children of Spanish immigrants who reveled in family and friends. The first time men's basketball coach Bo Ryan met Alvarez was in the mid-1990s, when he was the up-and-coming coach at Wisconsin- Platteville. Alvarez had invited him to stop by the house on his way out of Madison. "I thought it was going to be a four- or five-minute thing," says Ryan, a native of Chester, Pa., "but there was a guy there from eastern Pennsylvania and another one from western Pennsylvania, and we all wound up talking football and basketball for four or five hours."

Work hard, play hard. It has been Alvarez's philosophy for many years. And it has served both him and a grateful university extremely well. "Barry's a blue-collar guy, and Wisconsin is a blue-collar state," says Panos. "He's probably the most influential man I've ever been around, and I still live by what he taught me: Be yourself. Work hard. And don't take no crap."

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