At a press conference he never expected to have, Barry Alvarez was asked if he felt Wisconsin was no longer a destination job. He chuckled. "The last two coaches have proven that," he said.
Two successful coaches - Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen produced 87 wins and four conference or division titles between them in nine seasons - don't leave on their own volition for no reason. Wisconsin has won five conference titles in its last 22 seasons; Arkansas has won five league titles in its last 46 seasons, and Oregon State has won five conference titles in its entire history. Clearly something other than history and prestige.
So, why are they leaving?
Maybe it's money. Andersen made $2.2 million in 2014, good for 41st place according to the USA Today coaching salary database, just below Virginia's Mike London, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Kansas' Charlie Weis. The Badgers invested just $2.368 million in assistant salary pool, good for 40th nationally and below the likes of Rutgers, Maryland and Colorado.
Maybe it's the academic standards. "Those familiar with the program say the second-year coach is becoming increasingly frustrated by the school’s admissions policies," Travis Haney wrote for ESPN.com last week. Added Austin Ward: "There's nothing wrong with a program rigorously holding itself to tough academic standards, but that makes it tougher to put together the best possible team and to possibly keep coaches who could more easily craft a squad in their image elsewhere." Maybe it's Alvarez himself. Not many coaches have a coach who won his way to the College Football Hall of Fame sitting in the office right above him, or work with his statue sharing space in his office.
Some coaches might welcome that a resource with that level of credibility and expertise - and some may not want to cook a meal with Emeril Lagasse sitting in the kitchen with them. It appears Andersen was the latter.
Maybe it's all three.
And maybe none of it matters.
In one of the most winnable divisions in major college football, the next hire should keep the Badgers in contention for Indianapolis on an annual basis. Alvarez will have plenty of options. Former Wisconsin coordinators Paul Chryst and Dave Doeren have moved on to ACC jobs, though neither has taken off as a first-time head coach. Doeren went 7-5 at N.C. State this season, while Chryst went 6-6 at Pittsburgh. Still, Alvarez has always been fond of Chryst. In fact, Alvarez nearly pulled Chryst back to Madison to replace Bielema before zeroing in on Andersen. I wouldn't feel right — and I don't think it would be appropriate — to hire him back after I asked someone to do me a favor and help him get that job," Alvarez said then. Chryst had only been at Pittsburgh a year at the time. Perhaps enough time has passed for Alvarez to feel differently.
If Alvarez chooses to go outside the family, and he very much indicated that was a possibility on Wednesday, he'll have no shortage of options. And no one in college sports is more confident in his ability to find a coach. "Our program will not take a step backward," Alvarez said. "We will replace Coach Andersen with another excellent coach and staff."
Few - and perhaps zero - major programs have been as consistent at Wisconsin over the past two decades plus. Since Alvarez took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl following the 1993 season, Wisconsin has seen nine double-digit win seasons and 13 New Year's Day bowls while suffering through only two losing seasons.
Wisconsin will probably always be good as long as Alvarez is in Madison. There's been a whole lot of good at Wisconsin over the last 22 seasons, but not much great - 12 AP Top 25 finishes since 1993, but only one in the top five. Can Alvarez, in what he said Wednesday will be his last hire, push Wisconsin from good to great?