This is the time of year when athletics directors and head coaches play their game of thrones, and assistant coaches get left in the crossfire. You hear the same quote at every press conference, both when the previous coach takes a new job and his replacement is hired: “I want to thank our assistant coaches. Those guys where put in a tough spot and did the best they can, continuing to recruit and get the players ready for the bowl game. They clearly love the players and love this school, and I want to thank them for that.” And that’s where the gratitude stops. Many will be looking for jobs after their previous boss doesn’t bring them along and the new coach doesn’t retain them. Again, caught in the crossfire.
“A number of the seniors met with me on Wednesday after our team meeting and asked if I would consider coaching the team,” Alvarez said. “I told them I would have to sleep on it. After thinking it over and meeting with some of the seniors again this morning I have decided to coach. I feel this gives our assistants an opportunity to concentrate on getting the team ready for a very good opponent in Auburn. My goal is to make sure our players, especially the seniors playing their last game, have a memorable experience and we do everything we can to prepare to win the game.”
Giving the assistants “an opportunity to concentrate on getting the team ready” sounds great in a press release, but in reality it’s denying offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig or defensive coordinator Dave Aranda their first opportunity to the head coach of a college football team.
If only for a game, it’s valuable experience. A chance to lead the team for a month, a chance to speak at a press conference, a chance take questions from sideline reporters before the game, a chance to make that critical should-we-0r-shouldn’t-we fourth-and-1 decision in the heat of the moment.
Ask Ruffin McNeill how valuable this moment can be for a coach, who turned a one-game interim tag at Texas Tech into the East Carolina job. Bill Stewart used the 2008 Fiesta Bowl to win himself the full-time job at West Virginia. Ludwig or Aranda may not have the same fortune in line, but this opportunity can pay dividends down the road. Bo Pelini served as a one-game interim coach for Nebraska’s 2003 Alamo Bowl appearance, and returned half a decade later as head coach. At the absolute minimum, it’s experience an assistant can draw on later in life.
And one thing is beyond certain: Ludwig or Aranda would get more out of the experience than Alvarez, who will return to his AD chair after the Outback Bowl, just as he did when he coached Wisconsin to a loss to Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl.
Oh, but there is one thing Alvarez will most definitely get out of the experience: cash.
Last time around, Alvarez paid himself – or at least allowed the Board of Directors to pay him – the same bonus Bret Bielema’s contract dictated: a $118,500 bump, plus an extra $50,000 if the Badgers had won. Andersen earned a $100,000 bonus for coaching Wisconsin to an appearance in the Capital One Bowl a year ago, so precedent says Alvarez is in line for an extra nice Christmas.
But let’s not forget why Alvarez is coaching, though. The seniors demanded it.
Barry Alvarez said he didn’t want to coach Wisconsin in bowl game. Players asked him. “It’s about the kids.”
— Joey Johnston (@JJohnstonTBO) December 11, 2014