Senior College Football Columnist

Ranking coaching searches: Wisconsin's Alvarez shows how it's done


Barry Alvarez had me at goodbye.

Bret Bielema's goodbye.

Wisconsin's 65-year-old athletic director had things under control before Bielema could transfer his 401(k) account to Arkansas. Alvarez said he had a coach's rep (agent) in his New York hotel room "five minutes" after he got the word from Bielema.

"I don't use a search committee," Alvarez said. "Most search committees use me."

Any questions, chumps? The man is known far and wide as a power broker's power broker. Not even a little thing like his hand-picked successor leaving unannounced could faze this guy. In college athletics' searches, Alvarez would make Michael Corleone cower.

During the post-traumatic news conference on campus, Alvarez announced he would coach the Rose Bowl. Not because he had taken over -- there was question about that -- but because the players had asked.

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Alvarez promised a good coach. Then this week, less than two weeks after Bielema left, Alvarez hired Utah State's Gary Andersen. Young (48), energized and on the come considering he'd won 11 games with the Aggies, Andersen feels like a western version of Bielema.

A version of Bielema that almost beat Wisconsin in Madison earlier in the season.

That, folks, is how you run a coaching search. With the possible exception of Texas Tech's Kirby Hocutt, Alvarez had to react quicker than any other AD during the silly season. There were no indications that Bielema was even looking, much less at Arkansas. But it happened.

Alvarez moved on, diligently and purposefully. If there was some sort of foxhole award for ADs, he should get it. Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst was among six Wisconsin assistants who left before the season. Maryland transfer quarterback Danny O'Brien turned out to be a bust, a year after Russell Wilson (via North Carolina State) was a soaring success.

Two games into the season Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson. Wisconsin lost three games in overtime and two others by a field goal, then had to explain how it deserved to be in the Rose Bowl.

"I'm not apologizing for going to the Rose Bowl with five losses," Alvarez said.

Those were the rules when Penn State and Ohio State became ineligible. Andersen and Wisconsin are going to be successful because Alvarez made the pick and made it with conviction. Sometimes it's more about the search than the coach. This silly season has proved it.

You can have your best coaching hires list, this list ranks the coaching searches in order of efficiency:

1. Arkansas: Jeff Long did it again. Totally clandestine, Arkansas' AD lured Bielema without even Alvarez getting a whiff. Who knew that Bielema was so annoyed by Wisconsin assistant coaches' salaries and wanted a shot at the SEC that bad?

For Long, this hire makes up for John L. Smith and is probably better than Bobby Petrino. Bielema will win and get Arkansas back into BCS/playoff bowls quickly.

2. Western Kentucky: No matter what happens, AD Todd Stewart has made a name for himself. Western Kentucky needed relevance. Bobby Petrino needed a job. I didn't have a problem with it. You shouldn’t, either.

3. Auburn: Sometimes the most obvious answer is the one right in front of you. AD Jay Jacobs and whatever crew he leaned on tried for bigger, more experienced names. But there was always that specter of having to face Nick Saban 24/7/365. Gus Malzahn already has a national championship ring and coached a Heisman winner at Auburn. He is not intimidated, at least not yet.

4. Wisconsin: See above.

5. Cincinnati: How bad did Tommy Tuberville despise it at Texas Tech? He left for a program that is in conference limbo right now. Tubs sacrificed a spot at the BCS table to go to a place with almost no football tradition. AD Whit Babcock just put himself in the same category as Alvarez, at least this year. Tuberville’s arrival may keep Cincinnati -- and Big East -- football relevant.

6. Arkansas State: We're talking a Sun Belt program that has changed its AD (once) and coaches (twice) over the last two years. Somehow the Red Wolves went from national championship game offensive coordinator (Malzahn) to Fiesta Bowl-winning offensive coordinator with a stop in Texas (Bryan Harsin). Not too shabby.

7. Texas Tech: The only drawback to hiring former Red Raider quarterback Kliff Kingsbury is his age, 33. Coming off a Heisman-winning season as a coordinator, though, Kingsbury was the people’s choice. Hocutt rebounded quickly.

8. Idaho: You have to understand that the Vandals don't have a home right now. A nameless, shapeless program is going to compete as an independent in 2013 after the fall of the WAC. It somehow got Bobby Petrino’s brother Paul, who -- until it all went to pot in Fayetteville -- had coached in the NFL, a BCS bowl and the SEC. Congrats to AD Rob Spear.

9. San Jose State: AD Gene Bleymaier went after (what he hopes is) the new Jim Harbaugh. That would be Ron Caragher, who replaced Harbaugh at San Diego. No reason not to trust the man (Bleymaier) who oversaw both Boise State’s rise to prominence and the Spartans’ 10-win season in 2012.

10. California: AD Sandy Barbour knew the Bears had to be exciting again. They will be under Sonny Dykes. Clip and save, Tennessee. You could have had him.

11. Southern Miss: After the disaster that was Ellis Johnson, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken can't be any worse, can he? This one was easy for AD Jeff Hammond. He was getting an upgrade no matter what.

12. Boston College: Can we all agree that Steve Addazio is a fairly good coach? All the crap he endured at Florida wasn't deserved. Addazio was successful in his first head-coaching job at Temple. Now he takes a step up to the ACC. Why can't the Eagles win it someday?

13. South Florida: No-brainer. The next logical step up for Willie Taggart, who left the irrelevance of Western Kentucky for the uncertainty of the Big East. "With the new playoff coming, it's not about what league you're in," Taggart said. "If you can finish in the top four, you can play for a championship.” Good answer, Willie.

14. Northern Illinois: NIU keeps losing coaches. NIU keeps on winning. Offensive coordinator Rod Carey was an easy hire for AD Jeff Compher. All he had to do was walk down the hall after Dave Doeren left.

15. Kentucky: The only drawback for AD Mitch Barnhart is that Mark Stoops has never been a head coach. This is the SEC, where that might be a factor. Stoops, though, is an accomplished play-caller on defense. That’s a good place to start in the Strength Everywhere Conference.

16. North Carolina State: Dave Doeren was up front about this from the beginning. If he had a chance he was leaving Northern Illinois. Just wondering if he had a little patience, wouldn't Doeren be Wisconsin's coach right now?

17. Louisiana Tech: AD Bruce Van De Velde screwed up the Bulldogs' bowl chances. He didn't in hiring Skip Holtz. Holtz's time at South Florida ended with a troubling slide, but for Van De Velde to get an accomplished BCS head coach is a plus.

18. Purdue: Danny Hope didn't work. Why not take a chance on the Kent State coach? Darrell Hazell doesn't bring much buzz, but if he can get the Golden Flashes this close to a BCS bowl, he's worth a shot. Hey, it's only the Big Ten.

19. Texas-El Paso: Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler played on AD Bob Stull's UTEP team that went 10-3 in 1988. Kugler also was as a Miners assistant for eight years.

20. Tennessee: Nothing against Butch Jones, but this was not the cleanest of processes. Tennessee fans tend to overvalue their program. Jon Gruden wasn't coming. It might be that the head coach at Cincinnati is the best they can do. Good luck, Butch. You'll need it. One other tidbit for Vols fans: Their last two coaches are a combined 0-27 against ranked teams (Jones, 0-5).

21. Temple: A young buck (37-year-old Matt Rhule) who knows the landscape. The Giants assistant offensive line coach was Al Golden's offensive coordinator from 2008-10.

22. Kent State: Hopefully, Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes can capitalize on the momentum created by Hazell. Haynes returns to his alma mater. It will be hard to duplicate Hazell's 11-win season. Before 2012, it had never been accomplished at Kent.

23. Colorado: When the local paper is calling for your firing, it's never a good search. AD Mike Bohn almost drove CU football off the road after he fired Jon Embree. At the post-Embree news conference, Bohn spent an hour telling everyone how bad the program had become. Then he whiffed on Butch Jones. Somehow Bohn was able to land San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre. Really solid hire. Really sorry way to get there.

24. Western Michigan: It was probably time to get rid of Bill Cubit. But the veteran was replaced by the youngest coach in FBS, 32-year old P.J. Fleck, who has never been a coordinator.

25. Utah State: On the same day Andersen took the Wisconsin job, offensive coordinator Matt Wells was elevated to take over the Aggies. That doesn't even qualify as a search. Andersen just handed his assistant the office keys.

26. Florida International: Mario Cristobal took over an 0-12 program in 2007. The former Hurricane went on to win a Sun Belt title and led the program to back-to-back bowls. AD Pete Garcia not only fired Cristobal after a 3-9 season in 2012, he couldn't land rumored favorite Butch Davis. Now it's almost Christmas and the Panthers don't have a replacement. Bad idea to fire Cristobal, Pete. Even worse you don't have a replacement yet.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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