For all of us who enjoyed the Goofs going 1-11 with Mr. Brewster in his first year, we should all take a good look in the mirror and hope Brewster doesn't turn out like Barry Alvarez. Hard to imagine King Barry leading the Badgers to a 1-win season, but he did, in 1990. And now he's in the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Joe Namath, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana. The Hall will induct him with the 2008 class.
King Barry's exploits hardly need explaining, but it isn't a stretch to say he put Wisconsin football on the map. Before becoming a Badger, he was a scholarship linebacker for Nebraska, a scholarship he credits with sending him to college. He was an assistant for the legendary Hayden Fry at Iowa, then went to Notre Dame, where he was Lou Holtz's defensive coordinator for the last national champion Fighting Irish squad. Then he came to ailing Wisconsin.
At the time, Wisconsin had an all-time winning percentage of .545, good enough for 65th on the all-time list. In the 80s, the Badgers had a dismal .408 winning percentage, 9th in the Big Ten, only ahead of Northwestern. Wisconsin had won only one bowl game in its history, beating a 6-5-1 Kansas State squad in 1982, and hadn't been to a bowl since 1984. So Barry leaves the all-mighty Notre Dame, in the midst of Holtz's best years there, and takes the helm in Madison. In his first season he wins exactly once, beating Ball State in week two before dropping nine straight. An auspicious beginning.
But Alvarez knew Wisconsin could be something better that what it was. Anyone who's ever met with him in person knows the force of his personality: he's someone who knows what he's doing, and knows he will do it. Recruiting players away from Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, and Notre Dame with the promise of immediate playing time, only four years later he had the Badgers winning the Rose Bowl behind power running, a game-controlling quarterback, and an opportunistic bend-but-don't-break defense.
Then came Ron Dayne. Alvarez provides much of the credit for the Badger turnaround to Dayne. Dayne lived up to his nickname, "Great Dayne," but the Badger lines continued to open holes for him, and Alvarez kept upgrading the talent in Madison. By the time Barry handed the reigns to Bret Bielema, he had amassed a .615 winning percentage at Wisconsin, behind only Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State in the Big Ten, good enough for 30th nationwide. From 1993 to 2005, as King Barry's turnaround was more or less complete, Wisconsin was #15 among major D-1A football programs (what is now BCS) in winning percentage, hundreths of a point behind Penn State.
Alvarez's three Rose Bowl wins were tops among the Big Ten during his tenure, and the Badgers are still the only Big Ten team to win three Rose Bowls in a decade and the only Big Ten team to win back-to-back Rose Bowls. Alvarez took Wisconsin to 11 bowl games, including 7 "New Year's Day bowls," going 8-3 (3rd among teams with 10 or more bowl games over that period).
As opposed to the decade before his arrival when the Badgers looked up at everyone in the Big Ten, now everyone save Michigan and Ohio State look up at Wisconsin. That's quite a legacy.
And what a way to go out. A heavy underdog to Auburn going into the Capital One Bowl, "SEC speed" was supposed to make the plodding Badgers look like pylons. Instead it was the Badgers' speed and execution, not to mention stifling defense, that gave King Barry one last hurrah, with a run-away victory over the favored Plainsmen and John Stocco kneeling on the ball inside Auburn's 10 for a 24-10 win.
Good on ya, King Barry. Congratulations!
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