The history of Wisconsin Badgers football before Barry Alvarez took over as the head coach spanned exactly 100 years from 1889 until 1989. The first 100 seasons of Wisconsin football were synonymous with mediocrity and obscurity. Wisconsin was struggling financially and hadn’t won the Big Ten since 1962.
Since Alvarez’s first season as Wisconsin’s head coach in 1990 through the 2013 season, which is 24 seasons, the Badgers have experienced unprecedented success. His impact cannot be understated.
In the last two and a half decades Wisconsin has risen into a dominant football program, perennial contender for the Big Ten championship and a nationally respected power. Wisconsin football is now synonymous with power running, consistency and success. The Badgers are second to only Ohio State in winning percentage (.697) in the Big Ten since 1993; the year Wisconsin took home its first Rose Bowl.
Wisconsin’s recent success is marked by their consistency in Big Ten play, numerous bowl game appearances, Rose Bowl games, multiple ten win seasons and an unmatched dominance at the running back position. Alvarez retired as the head coach at the end of the 2005 season and has continued as the Athletic Director, a position he’s held since 2004. Alvarez has since hired Bret Bielema and then Gary Anderesen as head coaches to carry on his legacy.
Both coaches have honored Alvarez’s demands of keeping a smash mouth running offense philosophy. Alvarez made Wisconsin “Running Back University” with his commitment to the run, producing more 1,000 yard runners than any Big Ten school over the last 24 years. Even the annual trophy awarded to the Big Ten’s top running back is named after two former Heisman-winning Badgers, appropriately named the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year Award.
In Alvarez’s first press conference after being named the head coach of the Badgers he urged fans to buy season tickets soon because, “Before long they probably won’t be able to.” He spoke those words with a smile on his face and his prophecy came true. The Badgers currently have one of the most loyal fan bases in all of college football every single year.
The Legacy of Barry Alvarez for Wisconsin by the Numbers:
Alvarez’s career record as head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers: 118–74–4
Alvarez’s career at home (Camp Randall) as head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers: 67-32-3
Wisconsin’s Bowl History:
100 Seasons before Alvarez: 6 Bowl Appearances and 1 Bowl Victory.
24 Seasons since Alvarez’s Arrival: 18 Bowl Appearances and 10 Bowl Victories. This year’s Capital One Bowl will be the team’s 19th bowl appearance and possibly the 11th victory.
Alvarez’s Bowl Record as Head Coach was 8-4 (8-3 in years he coached the entire season).
Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl History:
100 Seasons before Alvarez: 3 Rose Bowl Appearances and 0 Victories.
24 Seasons since Alvarez’s Arrival: 6 Rose Bowl Appearances and 3 Victories*.
*Alvarez’s Rose Bowl Record as Head Coach was 3-1 (3-0 in years he coached the entire season) leading him to be one of the most successful coaches in Rose Bowl History.
Running Backs with 1,000 Yard Rushing Seasons:
100 Seasons before Alvarez: Seven 1,000 Yard Rushing Season.
24 Seasons after Alvarez’s Arrival: Twenty-One 1,000 Yard Rushing Seasons.
In those first 100 years Wisconsin had running backs surpass 1,000 rushing yards on the season only seven times. Since Alvarez’s first season as head coach in 1990 through the 2013 season, which is 24 seasons, the Badgers have had running backs top the 1,000 yard mark an astonishing 21 times. The first Badger to surpass 1,000 yards on the season was running back Alan Ameche, also Wisconsin’s first Heisman Trophy winner. Wisconsin’s second Heisman Trophy winner was running back Ron Dayne, Alvarez’s workhorse for four years from 1996-1999. Dayne led the Badgers to two Rose Bowl Victories and is the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher with 7,125 career yards. Alvarez and Dayne have shared a special relationship ever since.
Awards Wisconsin Running Backs have received since Alvarez Arrived:
Ron Dayne: Heisman Trophy Winner (1999), Doak Walker Award Winner (1999), Doak Walker Award Finalist (1998), Maxwell Award Winner (1999), Walter Camp Award Winner (1999), Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (1999).
Montee Ball: Doak Walker Award Winner (2012), Heisman Trophy Finalist (2011), Doak Walker Award Finalist (2011), Maxwell Award Semi-Finalist (2012), Walter Camp Award Semi-Finalist (2012), Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (2011). Also: Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year Award (2011 and 2012).
John Clay: Doak Walker Award Finalist (2010), Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (2009).
Brent Moss: Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (1993)
Anthony Davis: Doak Walker Award Semi- Finalist (2001), Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year (2001).
Brian Calhoun: Doak Walker Award Semi-Finalist (2005).
PJ Hill, Jr.: Doak Walker Award Semi-Finalist (2006), Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year (2006).
Melvin Gordon III: Doak Walker Award Semi-Finalist (2013).
James White: Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year ( 2010).
Wisconsin’s Ten Win Seasons:
100 Seasons before Alvarez: 1 Ten Win Season.
24 Seasons since Alvarez’s Arrival: 8 Ten Win Seasons (With a chance at number nine this year).
Big Ten Championships:
100 Seasons before Alvarez: 8 Conference Titles
24 Seasons since Alvarez’s Arrival: 6 Conference Titles
Heisman Trophy Winners:
100 Seasons before Alvarez: 1 Winner (Alan Ameche 1954).
24 Seasons since Alvarez’s Arrival: 1 Winner (Ron Dayne 1999).
Alvarez Awards and Honors:
- Two-Time Big Ten Coach of the Year: 1993 and 1998
- AFCA Coach of the Year: 1993
- Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award: 1993
- College Football Hall of Fame: Class of 2010 (Unanimous Selection).
- Rose Bowl Hall of Fame: Class of 2009
- Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame: Class of 2009
- In 2001, Alvarez was named to Hispanic Business Magazine’s “100 Most Influential Hispanics” List.
- Alvarez is the only coach in Big Ten history to win back-to-back Rose Bowls.
- The famous “Jump Around,” arguably college football’s best tradition, was invented in 1998; when he was head coach.
- Alvarez was chosen as the Big Ten representative in the inaugural college football playoff committee for 2014, which is truly an honor.
The Rivalry He Turned Around:
College football’s oldest rivalry is the hostile border-war between Wisconsin and Minnesota and it has been played since 1890. Minnesota barely leads the all-time series 58-57-8. Through the first 99 years of the rivalry Minnesota had the distinct edge.
In Alvarez’s 16 seasons as head coach the Badgers went 11-5 against the Golden Gophers including the most dramatic victory in the history of the rivalry, an improbable 38-34 Wisconsin comeback victory against the Gophers in Minnesota in 2005. That would be Alvarez’s final game coaching against Minnesota. The Badgers have continued the dominance over Minnesota after his retirement leading to a 19-5 record over the Gophers since Alvarez took over as head coach in 1990.
One could argue that the consistency and success of Wisconsin’s basketball program over the last 15 years is a result of the football program’s resurgence. The football team’s success brought national exposure back to the University of Wisconsin and may have resulted in the growth of the basketball program, too.
Last year, when Bret Bielema took the Arkansas head coaching job before the Rose Bowl, not only did Alvarez come in and coach the Badgers to a near victory, he kept a strong recruiting class from jumping ship when the head coach departed. He personally spoke with the recruits and ensured the Badgers’ future success with his calm and confident demeanor.
Barry Alvarez has an autobiography written about his time as the head coach of the Badgers entitled “Don’t Flinch.” The book covers the years where Alvarez built up the Badgers from a hapless team to a dominant and respected power. Against all odds, he stuck to his philosophy and ran the ball down the throats of countless national powers. Alvarez never did flinch as he bravely built up the Badgers from nothing and the evidence of his impact his felt every Saturday when the Badgers follow Bucky out of the tunnel.
The legendary coach is etched in bronze outside of Camp Randall, forever a monument to the program he willed into relevance and then crafted into a national power. His courage and convictions are lessons which transcend Madison and even college football. And they should stand as a lesson to us all to never give in and at all cost, don’t flinch.
A stadium record 83,184 fans attended, and sat through the rain, for Alvarez’s final game at Camp Randall in 2005, a tough loss to their bitter rival Iowa. The filled stadium stayed after the game and heard Big Ten commissioner Jim Dalany honor Alvarez “Not for what he’s done, but how he’s done it.” The crowd chanted his name and Alvarez, surrounded by his family and other significant guests on the stage at midfield, responded “Wow… I am humbled.”
Wisconsin football is in as good shape as any program in the country, the success isn’t ending anytime soon and it is set to face some of college football’s elite programs over the next few seasons. The Badgers are also riding a Big Ten best twelve-year bowl streak.
There is only one man to thank, Barry Alvarez. He is the godfather of Wisconsin football and will forever be its unflinching leader.