There's a coach at a school in the midwest. This coach takes over a program that has struggled in the win column prior to his arrival. In a short period of time, the football program is humming and is seeing success like never before. The program? The Wisconsin Badgers.
When Barry Alvarez took over the Badgers program in 1990, Wisconsin was in the midst of some pretty tough times. The two coaches prior to Alvarez (Jim Hilles and Don Morton) were a combined 9-36 in Madison. And even before Hilles and Morton, Dave McClain had seven-win seasons in only four of his eight years with the Badgers from 1978 to 1985. McClain, though, died tragically at the age of 48 after suffering a heart attack.
The Michigan Wolverines faced similar mediocrity in the Bump Elliott years from 1959 to 1968, winning six games or more only four times in that span.
Then came Bo.
Bo Schembechler won fewer than nine games only five times in his 1969-1989 career at Michigan and claimed 13 Big Ten titles. Right from the beginning, Bo made a statement in Ann Arbor by knocking off the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes and found his way to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. A legend was born.
Much like Bo, Barry brought a level of success back to Wisconsin for the first time since the 1950s and even won back-to-back Rose Bowls in '99 and '00. He didn't win more than five games until he went 10-1-1 in 1993, but that season brought Bucky to his first Rose Bowl in 30 years, and the first-ever win.
When Barry retired in 2005 and moved into his role as athletic director, his three conference titles, three Rose Bowl victories, and one Ron Dayne meant he was every bit as established in Madison as Bo was in Ann Arbor. And that is part of the problem.
When Bret Bielema (hand picked by Alvarez) took over the Badgers in 2006, hopes were high and Bret didn't disappoint. Bielema had an incredible start to his head coaching career--his 17-1 record in his first 18 games is second only to Fielding H. Yost, who went 55-0-1 to start out his time in Ann Arbor between 1901 and 1905. That's pretty good company to keep...and amazing to think it took a century for someone to have similar success in the Big Ten.
After three straight trips to the Rose Bowl, Bret Bielema left Madison suddenly on a cold December day in 2012 and headed south to take over the Arkansas Razorbacks. He took over a program that was headed by the ever-lovable John L. Smith, who proceeded to take what was an 11-2 Arkansas program in 2011 and bring them to a 4-8 finish in 2012. Bielema has since gone 9-15 in his two years with the Hogs. #karma, I suppose.
Fast forward to November of 2014. Wisconsin is headed by second year man Gary Andersen and facing the Minnesota Golden Gophers for not only Paul Bunyan's Axe, but a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. After being down 17-3 at the half, Wisconsin pulls away and has a date with Ohio State the following weekend.
Prior to the Axe game, some of you may recall that my wife and children were accosted at a stoplight on Regent Street in Madison. With the windows down on a nice sunny day, someone ran up to our car (a car that has a Michigan magnet and license plate frame) and started yelling "F*** you! Ann Arbor is a whore and a c***!", then proceeded to flip two birds. After receiving that text from my wife and witnessing some less-than-stellar behavior on the part of Badgers fans, I came to the realization that there were some pretty eerie similarities between where the Michigan program is currently sitting, and where the Wisconsin program may be heading.
After said experiences on this particular Saturday, I made a statement to a number of people that the arrogance and sense of entitlement that was manifest in Madison was going to bite this program in the ass sooner or later. How did I know? Because I'm a Michigan fan, and we've already witnessed what those attitudes have done to the program we love. Now, I'm not saying that Michigan fans are crass or anything like that; what I mean is that there was a feeling of entitlement and superiority surrounding the program that was epitomized by Michigan Man and Fergodsakes.
What happened to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship? 59-0 happened, and I knew it was the beginning of the end. Arrogance, meet ass.
Now here we are, in the wee hours of December 11th, 2014. Gary Andersen made the stunning announcement yesterday that he, too, would be leaving the Wisconsin Badgers. And as with Bielema, he's taking a bit of a demotion along the way. I'm not sure how else to describe moving from Wisconsin to Oregon State.
What does all of this mean? What am I getting at? Again, look at the two programs. Michigan had been stuck in Bo mode for decades. Bo was a great man and coach, and did wonderful things for the Wolverines. He was a defining force at the school and within the conference, so much so that he came to be the measure of what would or would not make a good Michigan coach. In the intervening years, Bo's sensibilities have been corrupted into something that is no longer recognizable or what was initially intended. The Michigan Man frame of mind either gave Rich Rodriguez too little time, Brady Hoke too much, or both. Jim Hackett is going to have to dig the program out from under decades of Michigan Man.
Wisconsin is now in their own critical moment. A coach who defined the program by what he was able to accomplish on the field is now affecting the present and future of the Wisconsin Badgers, years after he was roaming the sidelines (minus his failed attempt at another Rose Bowl win after Bielema left, of course). Remember when he was asked about the search after Bielema left? Someone asked him about using a search firm, and Barry's response was that he doesn't use search firms...they use him. That's where it seems this program is as a whole, and when the guy who is the legend is also running your athletic department, it's a worse situation than what we witnessed in Ann Arbor.
The fact that two coaches with very respectable records and histories decide to leave Madison within two years of each other certainly forces one to ask what is happening in the Wisconsin athletic department--is Barry that toxic? The questions should be asked by those who are more in the know. I'm just here typing out some words because I don't feel like working and I can't help thinking that one program is heading down the path that another one is trying desperately to leave.
In the end, I'm not overly worried about how the Badgers end up. Given my recent experiences with the attitudes around Madison, I'll be content watching the entire thing burn to the ground from my house in Madison...while drinking a beer brewed in Michigan.