Wisconsin Football: Badgers Wise to Wait Until Bowl Season Is over to Pick Coach
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It's probably no surprise at this point, but Wisconsin will head into the Rose Bowl in roughly three weeks without a permanent head coach leading the team there. Barry Alvarez has announced that he will coach the team in Pasadena (per ESPN.com) as he looks for a head coach, and while the new hire may happen before January 1, every indication is that Alvarez will be there on the sidelines for the game.
That's smart on Wisconsin's part for several reasons.
First of all, unless Alvarez wants to hire his next head coach from within the program, any new coach is going to want to implement his own system—or at the very least a Wisconsin-ized version of his system to fit the personnel in place. Either way, it would be a level of upheaval that the Badgers don't need as they head into their Rose Bowl battle with Stanford. Alvarez maintains the status quo there.
Similarly, if a head coach takes the Wisconsin job but wants to coach his team's bowl game first, um, good luck with that. Remember how Wisconsin put the kibosh on any notion of Bielema coaching his third straight Rose Bowl game even though new destination Arkansas didn't have a bowl of its own to coach? That's pretty much what any coach who takes the Wisconsin job can expect—and with Alvarez in place to coach as it is, if he hires the head coach of a bowl team before said bowl, that guy isn't going to have a whole lot to do between that day and January 2, when Wisconsin's offseason begins.
Where will Wisconsin's new head coach come from?
What's more, having Alvarez on the sideline for the game gives him better leverage for hiring a coach afterwards regardless of the outcome of the game. If Wisconsin loses, Alvarez can talk about how Wisconsin obviously needs a serious, full-time coach out there and not some 66-year-old guy who's been working a desk job for the last seven years.
If Wisconsin wins the Rose Bowl and carries Alvarez off the field, however, he can tell a prospective new coach that this is still a winning program and that no open job in all of college football has a framework more conducive to success than Wisconsin's. Sure, Montee Ball would be leaving. But James White and Melvin Gordon both look good enough to dominate in the backfield in Ball's absence, QB Joel Stave will be back and that highly underrated defense returns most of its starters.
What serves Alvarez best by waiting, however, is the fact that his list of potential hires expands by however many coaches there are out there who refuse to consider leaving their programs until after the entire season is done, bowl and all. They're out there; recall that Bill O'Brien, in a now-rare misstep, refused to join Penn State until after his season was done at New England. That lasted through the Super Bowl.
Ah, but the down side to waiting to make a new hire is that someone may hire that person first. That's all fine and good, but most of the teams looking for head coaches have already found them by now. Per CBSSports.com, there are only nine other jobs currently open in the FBS; now try to find one that's going to jump up and snag a Wisconsin-caliber candidate while Alvarez isn't looking.
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Here's the whole list of FBS teams without a head coach lined up right now: Arkansas State, FIU, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Southern Miss, Temple, Texas Tech and Western Michigan. The best job of those nine non-Wisconsin teams is probably Texas Tech, and Tommy Tuberville just ran screaming out of Lubbock to go coach Cincinnati. The Bearcats, not the Bengals.
So without serious competition for top-flight coaches, Alvarez and Wisconsin can wait. Seattle Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell, a former Rose Bowl-winning QB with the Badgers in the early '90s, is a potential candidate on that front, but with Seattle contending for the playoffs Alvarez may want to get Bevell in before the Seahawks' postseason run is over, for recruiting purposes.
If Alvarez wants a head coach from the bowls, he's probably got the only program who can lure away someone along the lines of (and we're spitballin' here) Paul Rhoads at Iowa State, Gary Patterson at TCU, David Cutcliffe at Duke or even Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia. Chris Petersen was rumored to be interviewing at Wisconsin as early as Monday; no word on whether that actually went down or will or won't. Petersen seems like another type to want to see out his team's bowl game—and with Wisconsin not needing him in as soon as possible, who could blame him?
One thing is for sure: Wisconsin has options when it comes to its coaching search, options many other programs don't in similar situations. The best option is the one Wisconsin's already exercising, though: Waiting.
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