Both guys share an eerily similar coaching past.
When Barry Alvarez took the reins, the Badgers weren’t even close to the three consecutive Big Ten champs that they resemble today. They were stuck in a four-season mess that saw them go 9-38.
The only conference road game Wisconsin won during that stretch was a 35-27 decision at Northwestern in 1986.
Of course, everyone knows what happened after. Wisconsin’s Athletics Godfather morphed the moribund football program into a cash cow that has fed nutritious financial stability to the other 22 varsity sports.
Amazingly, Gary Andersen has been thrust into a dicey situation as well. Not too many coaches would be eager to coach a team that had just witnessed 13 consecutive losing seasons, but that’s what Andersen took over in 2009.
His honest, come-as-you-are approach really resonates with kids and in 2011, he awarded Utah State with it first bowl appearance in 14 years. The next year, Andersen did the unthinkable and finished with an 11-2 mark, good enough for a No. 16 final AP ranking and a trophy as the WAC Coach of the Year.
Bret Bielema took over a good situation after Alvarez stepped down. He never knew what it was like to build something literally from scratch the way Alvarez and Andersen did.
Which is why it would’ve been easy to understand if Bielema had taken Alvarez for granted. When Bielema pulled up a chair behind the head coach’s desk, he had plenty of tools in place — either through players, money or facilities to be successful.
Andersen has been asked numerous times about the imposing shadow that Alvarez casts on football coaches, mainly because the job he did at Wisconsin remains as one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history aside from Bill Snyder at Kansas State.
Alvarez loves the fact that Andersen is basically going to coach the same way he coached in Logan, Utah. Which is nice for Badgers fans, because barring a 37-yard field goal that was pushed to the right by three yards, the Aggies leave Madison with a huge upset last year.
Because of Andersen, who wears his hair with the style of a strict military officer, the Badgers will not lay down before the opening kickoff. His teams have made a habit of scaring the big boys, whether it be the season-opening four-point loss at Auburn in 2011 or the gritty 27-20 overtime win over in-state rival Utah the following season.
And just like Alvarez, Andersen’s kids not only believe what he says, they embrace it.
“I think in large part the period of transition with coach Andersen and his staff is over,” said linebacker Chris Borland at the Badgers media day recently. “We’ve had seven months now to get to know one another, to get to know the schemes. We’re ready once fall camp starts to hit the ground running.”
Andersen has been so enamored with Borland, who is on the preseason watch list for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player, that he has told his son Chasen to mold his game after Borland.
With Andersen, the Alvarez blueprint remains the same. Don’t beat yourself. Run the ball efficiently behind some of the best offensive linemen in the nation and have plenty of playmakers on defense, ready to make a jarring hit.
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