Camp Randall 100: Barry Alvarez

Photo collage of images of former Wisconsin football coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez
Photo collage of images of former Wisconsin football coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez

The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.


“It’s a pretty special place.”

— Barry Alvarez on Camp Randall Stadium


BY MIKE LUCAS | UWBadgers.com Senior Writer

Photo of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez in a gray suit with a red tie
Barry Alvarez

The Righteous Brothers were singing “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.” Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach were starring in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The NFL and AFL were agreeing to a merger. Gas was 32 cents a gallon. Barry Alvarez was getting his first look at Madison and Camp Randall Stadium.

He liked what he saw, too.

The year was 1966.

Alvarez was a junior linebacker (No. 33) on the Nebraska football team, the defending Big Eight champions. The Badgers were just another opponent on the schedule, nothing more, nothing less, to Alvarez and his head coach, Bob Devaney. This was just another business trip for the Huskers.

“As a player,” Alvarez said, “I was never affected one way or another by crowds or stadiums.”

At the Friday walk-through, Alvarez recalled looking out of the old locker room windows at the grass practice fields surrounding Camp Randall. (Almost all of that green space outside the north end of the stadium has long since been replaced by a parking ramp, the McClain Facility and the Student-Athlete Performance Center.)

He also remembered the team checking into the Edgewater Hotel.

“My Uncle John came to visit me,” Alvarez said. “It was a beautiful day and when you looked out the window, there were sailboats on Lake Mendota and the water was so blue. I remember him saying, ‘This may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.’ The view from my room was gorgeous.”

Alvarez still laughs at the recollection of his Nebraska roommate, nose guard Wayne Meylan, complaining about all the noise on Langdon Street until the wee hours of the morning. Meylan might have lost more sleep over the revelers than the Badgers, who were totally overmatched the next day.

Taking advantage of seven turnovers, the Cornhuskers routed Wisconsin, 31-3. Alvarez was responsible for one of those takeaways with an interception and a 25-yard return that has had a life of its own because he was caught from behind by a lumbering UW offensive lineman.

“I wasn’t tackled,” Alvarez has routinely joked. “Rigor mortis set in.”

That was his first memory of Camp Randall. Since 1990, as a head coach and an athletic director, Alvarez has authored and been privy to some of the most meaningful, exciting chapters in the stadium’s century-long history that is being celebrated this season.

“It’s a pretty special place,” he said.


“It’s a culture that allows you to win. And it’s throughout our whole program. It’s how we support one another and how everyone gets that same sense. It’s the culture we’ve built here.”

— Barry Alvarez


The slight line from his office is one and the same with his vision for the football program.

“Everybody who walks into my office,” Barry Alvarez is saying from behind his desk on the fifth floor of Kellner Hall, “has the same reaction … they say, ‘Wow, what a view.’”

The panoramic view of Camp Randall Stadium from the south end zone is a daily reminder to Alvarez of not only what has been built, but all the work that went into building and sustaining a winner.

That’s what the  70-year-old Alvarez is most proud of.

“Everybody always wants to know, what’s harder? To build it? Or sustain it?” Alvarez posed. “Since we’ve turned the corner in the early ’90s, we’ve been pretty good every year.”

The Badgers have gone to a bowl game in 15 consecutive seasons, the Big Ten’s longest active streak.

“We haven’t taken a dip like a lot of schools,” he said. “You look at schools around the country that are brand names and have every advantage in the world and many of them have taken their dips.

“You can look right in our league and see where it has happened. But we haven’t taken that dip and that’s hard to do in a state that is not as heavily populated and doesn’t have as many D-I players.

“So, we’re doing a lot of things the right way and that means everyone within the athletic department, not only the football staff, but everybody associated with the program.

“It’s a culture that allows you to win. And it’s throughout our whole program. It’s how we support one another and how everyone gets that same sense. It’s the culture we’ve built here.”

 

Photo of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez celebrating with head football coach Paul Chryst after the Badgers won the 2015 Holiday Bowl
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez celebrates with head football coach Paul Chryst after the Badgers won the 2015 Holiday Bowl against the USC Trojans. (Photo by David Stluka)

His office balcony really is a window on to his world, past and present; the playing surface that he patrolled as a Hall of Fame coach and the 80,321 seats and luxury boxes that he now oversees as AD.

“You start envisioning what can be done here and what other people have done and what this place can handle,” Alvarez said of the Camp Randall facelift that has taken place since his arrival.

“When I look out there (his eyes scanned the empty stands), I do think about all the work that went into this. Every player that comes back here can’t believe what they’re seeing.

“We’ll give them a tour of the facilities — the academic center, the locker rooms, the weight rooms, the training rooms and the offices — and all the things that have been done.

“And they’ll say, ‘Coach, you told us you were going to do everything first class and you were going to do it right and that’s what you’ve done.’”

Gazing out his open balcony door, Alvarez said, “I just like the feel of it (Camp Randall). We’ve milked every inch of this place. And we’ve been able to keep it modern and fresh.”

Alvarez is aware of the price of upkeep on a 100-year-old venue. Pointing to workers in the upper deck, he noted, “That’s a million dollars we’re putting into waterproofing.”

But what about all those priceless memories on the field? Does he ever think about them in a private moment or when he’s casually touting the stadium’s ambiance with visitors?

“You do get a chance to reflect a little bit,” he admitted.

As a Hayden Fry assistant, Alvarez was on the Iowa sideline for four games at Camp Randall.

“I thought it was a good atmosphere back then (1979 to 1987),” said Alvarez, who never lost to the Badgers (7-0-1). “The fans were excited about football and Dave McClain had some pretty good teams.”

Many things changed within the program after McClain’s death in 1986. Alvarez kept abreast of what was going on after he left Iowa for Notre Dame, especially after the UW job opened in 1989.

“I knew the attendance had been really down,” he said. “Chuck Heater, who was on my Notre Dame staff, had coached at Wisconsin and he really gave me a good history lesson.

“I was recruiting the state of Wisconsin, so I knew the high school coaches weren’t all in. They didn’t have complete trust in what was going on in Madison. One of Iowa’s Rose Bowl teams had 11 kids from Wisconsin on the two-deep roster, so I knew there were players in the state. And I knew what had to be done to get them.

“Facilities were marginal at best. There were just a lot of things that had to be addressed. I needed to know that I would have support from the administration and I felt that I would get that.”

At his introductory press conference, Alvarez was asked about the dwindling fan support for Badgers football and all those empty seats at the end of the Don Morton era.

By his own admission, Alvarez was pretty cocky. “Pretty damn cocky,” he confirmed.

When the fan base question came up, he replied, “People want good football at Wisconsin. And people have to be patient. They have to understand things aren’t going to change overnight.”

And, then, he delivered the zinger. “But let me say this,” Alvarez declared, “they better get season tickets right now, because before long they won’t be able to.”


“I believed that. I didn’t have any words prepared. That’s the way I felt. What else could I think coming in here? I wouldn’t have taken the job unless I felt I could be successful.”

— Barry Alvarez


Nearly three decades later, Alvarez revisited that statement and said, “I believed that. I didn’t have any words prepared. That’s the way I felt. What else could I think coming in here?

“I wouldn’t have taken the job unless I felt I could be successful. I had a plan that would allow me to be successful. And I knew that I could hire coaches who would follow the plan to get it done.”

While at Notre Dame, he felt the Irish had a legitimate home-field advantage.

“When we got good,” he said, “people went in there (South Bend) thinking they couldn’t win. I’ve always believed that was the case with home teams that have great tradition and history.

“There are many times on that visiting team where there will be some guys who don’t think they can really win deep down inside. Early on, some of my teams were like that at Wisconsin.”

The Badgers would eventually enjoy that same competitive edge at Camp Randall. “In the late ’90s,” Alvarez said, “there were teams that came in here that didn’t think they were going to win.”

 

Photo of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez celebrating with the Wisconsin football team at the 2015 Outback Bowl. Alvarez is being carried on the players' shoulders.
Barry Alvarez celebrates with the Wisconsin football team at the 2015 Outback Bowl

 

Outside of a couple one-game interim stints, Alvarez last coached in 2005.

For home games, Alvarez sits in the AD box on the east side of Camp Randall.

“I sit off by myself,” he said. “I won’t talk to anybody except at the quarter breaks and halftime. I’ll usually put my son (Chad) next to me. Or someone who knows me.

“We’ll auction seats in our box and we’ll have a lot of different groups each game. My wife will tell the people when they get there where to sit and where the food is.”

There’s something else that Cindy Alvarez will bring up to first-timers in the box.

“She will go over the rules,” he said.

The rules?

“She’ll tell them, ‘Don’t talk to Barry during the game,’” he said. “I don’t want to visit.”

Once a coach, always a coach.

“I never second-guess calls,” he stressed. “I know all the time that they (the coaches) have put into making those calls during the week leading up to the game. I’ve been there and done that before.

“I just like to see our guys making good plays. I hate mistakes. I hate it when you beat yourself. I want to watch others beat themselves and us take advantage. That’s how I watch a game.”

Usually, he won’t stay seated or stay in one spot for very long.

“I’m a wanderer,” Alvarez conceded. “I’m a pacer.”

Besides that …

“I’ve got a lot invested here,” he said, glancing out his office windows again.

Thin photo collage of images of former Wisconsin football coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez