Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Is Barry Bad For Business?

Later today the University of Wisconsin will introduce Paul Chryst as the new Head Football Coach.  Chryst will be the third head coach the program has had in the past four years--following the surprise departures of Bret Bielema to Arkansas and Gary Andersen to Oregon State.  Those resignations have some talking heads and reporters outside of Wisconsin wondering if Athletic Director Barry Alvarez is bad for the Badgers football program.  The belief is that Barry "lords over" the program like some shadowy "Godfather figure" continuing to pull the strings on his "puppets" along the sidelines--and that Bielema and Andersen wanted to be "their own men". 

Barry Alvarez is actually rather unique in major college sports today--a former football coach who has taken over the entire Athletics Department.  Most AD's today have come up through the administrative ranks--they are bean-counters well versed in Title IX, roundtable discussions and the school's "academic mission".  They are more like "Chief Operating Officers".  But coming from the sports side, Barry bring more of "General Manager" approach to the position.  And just like the Packers have been built in the image of what Ted Thompson wants to see--and the Brewers are victims of Doug Melvin's outdated "swing for the fences" mentality--Badger Football will always be predicated upon the Alvarez Model: run the ball, control the time of possession, win the turnover battle.

And consider the results: 3 Big Ten Championships, 2 Heisman Trophy Finalists and the second-most current NFL players of any Big Ten school.  And most importantly--never on probation and banned from post-season play like certain other Big Ten teams.  Would these outside "experts" rather see Wisconsin follow in the path of Michigan--which did everything it could to get away from the Bo Schembechler/Lloyd Carr history of success to plummet to the bottom of the conference trying to run the Spread/Option offense?  Is it better to sell your soul like Ohio State did by bringing in guys like Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer who will lie, cheat and steal to win tainted titles? 

We should also consider the success of UW Athletics beyond Camp Randall Stadium.  The Men's Basketball program is a perennial Sweet 16 team--with the Final Four appearance last year--and a top five ranking this year.  The Men's Hockey team has won a National Championship in the Alvarez Era (although they may be one of the worst teams in the country this year)--and Women's Hockey is among the elite in the NCAA.  The Volleyball team made the National Semi-finals last year in the first year of a coach hired by Alvarez and was in the Elite 8 this year.  Track and Field and Cross Country are among the best in the Big Ten, Women's Softball was re-instated as a varsity sport and has qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Perhaps most-importantly in today's culture, the Athletic Department has ended the fiscal year with a positive balance in the budget for every year of the Alvarez tenure.  

So will Badgers Football under Paul Chryst look a lot like Badgers Football under Barry Alvarez?  Probably.  Will Badgers Football under Paul Chryst be as successful as Badgers Football under Barry Alvarez?  That remains to be seen.  But given the track record, I'd be willing to bet it will.

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