Barry Alvarez, AD who reshaped Wisconsin sports, to retire

RICK WOOD/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON, Wis. — As he announced his retirement, longtime Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez summed up his career by referencing the advice he often gives students.

“Find something that you love to do, do it well enough that someone will pay you to do it, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” Alvarez said Tuesday. “That’s what I believe that I’ve been able to do. I love going to work. I love going to the office. It was never a chore for me to get there. I enjoyed every minute.”

Alvarez is ending a three-decade run in which he transformed the university’s football team and later guided the Badgers to their greatest all-around sports success in school history.

The 74-year-old Alvarez said his retirement would take effect at the beginning of July. Alvarez indicated he initially planned to step down earlier, but wanted to remain in charge while the athletic department dealt with the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

“I’ve had a good run,” Alvarez said. “It’s just time to pass the baton. I’m healthy. I have some things that I want to do. My wife and I want to travel. I have grandkids I want to follow and support. It was just time.”

He was honored Tuesday at a ceremony featuring Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who called Alvarez “a man whose name is synonymous with Wisconsin athletics.”

Alvarez arrived at Wisconsin in 1990 as football coach and turned one of the Big Ten’s weakest programs into one of its strongest. He became athletic director in 2004 and briefly served in a dual role before stepping down as football coach after the 2005 season.

Wisconsin’s football team went a combined 9-36 in the four seasons before his arrival from Notre Dame, where he had worked as defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish’s 1988 national championship team.

“They’d better get season tickets right now because before long, they probably won’t be able to,” Alvarez boasted at his introductory news conference.

Sure enough, Alvarez led the Badgers to three Rose Bowl titles and made them regular Big Ten contenders by emphasizing a strong defense and rushing attack.

Alvarez coached Wisconsin from 1990-2005 and set a program record for career coaching victories. His 119-74-4 mark includes his record over 16 years, plus a 1-1 mark as an interim coach in bowl games that capped the 2012 and 2014 seasons.

Once he got that head coaching opportunity, Alvarez stayed at Wisconsin the remainder of his career.

“We wanted to go someplace and wanted to establish roots,” Alvarez said as he mentioned the goal he and his wife, Cindy, had set for themselves. “We did not want to be coaching vagabonds. We wanted to have a place we could call home.”

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Other Wisconsin programs had similar success during his stint as the Badgers’ athletic director.

Alvarez, who played football at Nebraska during Bob Devaney’s coaching tenure, said he patterned his career after his former college coach. Devaney coached Nebraska from 1962-72 and served as the school’s athletic director from 1967-93.

“The thing you learn in coaching is you learn how to make decisions,” Alvarez said. “They may be different decisions, but you learn to be a decision-maker and have to be a decision-maker not afraid to make decisions.

“I always felt being a former coach and being able to relate to your coaches, the 23 coaches that I have, I might have an advantage over (other) athletic directors. I can get someone to handle finances and I can get people to do some other things – the business part of it. But I can manage people. I can manage the coaches. I can support the coaches.”

Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst said it was beneficial to work for an athletic director with a coaching background.

“How fortunate was I, for the time that I did have, to be able to have so many conversations with your athletic director, but at the same time, a guy that’s been in the exact same shoes you’re in,” Chryst said.

Wisconsin teams won 16 national titles while Alvarez was athletic director, though five of those came in women’s lightweight rowing, a sport whose championships aren’t sanctioned by the NCAA.

Those national titles were in six different sports (women’s lightweight rowing, men’s cross country, men’s hockey, women’s hockey, men’s indoor track, men’s rowing). Wisconsin’s most recent national title came in women’s hockey this year.

The Badgers also have won a total of 74 conference, regular-season or tournament championships with Alvarez as athletic director. Fourteen different teams have won conference titles during his regime.

Wisconsin finished in the top 30 in the Directors’ Cup 15 times in his first 18 seasons as athletic director.

As Alvarez conducted his farewell news conference at the Kohl Center, he only needed to look to his left to see a collection of various trophies and plaques that Wisconsin sports teams had won during his tenure.

“To see that much success, it just makes me feel proud,” Alvarez said. “I just want to bust my buttons, I’m so proud of what my people have accomplished.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.