Alvarez sees hope for Kill, Gophers

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2011 - 6:33 AM

The Badgers athletic director and former coach knows how to rebuild a program and sees progress at U.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who as head coach from 1990-2005 turned around the Badgers football program when it might have been in worse shape than the Gophers', said he believes Jerry Kill will do the same thing at Minnesota.

"Our entire athletic department was bankrupt when we came into Madison," said Alvarez, who was in the Twin Cities on Saturday when the Badgers won their eighth consecutive game over the Gophers.

Alvarez, who said he wasn't completely familiar with the Gophers roster, said it was tough rebuilding at Wisconsin.

"We probably had four legitimate Division I players on our team," Alvarez said. "We basically had to start from scratch. We were fortunate that we were able to, in a very short time, put together an outstanding recruiting class in about three weeks that ended up leading us to the first Rose Bowl.

"They understood what we wanted. They were guys that liked football, they were physical kids and tough kids and they bought into what we were selling. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes a solid plan. You have to have a solid and a sound plan to execute and you can't compromise and you can't drift from it and everybody has to buy into it."

Alvarez and I have been friends for a long time, dating to his time as an assistant coach at Iowa and Notre Dame, and I advised him not to take the job when he asked me while I was in Miami to cover the Notre Dame-Colorado Orange Bowl game. Alvarez was there as defensive coordinator for the Irish.

It turned out I was wrong. But checking the records of the Wisconsin coaches previous to Alvarez, it's easy to see it was a tough rebuilding situation. The Badgers went 6-27 under Don Morton, who was coach from 1987-1989.

With Alvarez as coach, the Badgers were 1-10 in 1990, then 5-6 in both '91 and '92 before Wisconsin went 10-1-1 in his fourth year and beat UCLA 21-16 in the Rose Bowl. Before that season, the Badgers had not won a Big Ten title since 1962. The Gophers have not won a title since sharing the 1967 crown.

"Our third year we were a pretty good team," Alvarez said. "We lost some very close games in the last couple seconds; our guys just didn't know how to win. But we were a pretty good team that year. We opened with the defending national champs, Washington, at Washington, and played them very well. We were a very decent team that year and the next year [the fourth season], we went to the Rose Bowl.

"We have some outstanding coaches, and I know Minnesota has outstanding coaches. We ask our guys to do things the right way. We get the kind of kids that fit our program. We're not going to go out and get five-star guys. We're going to keep our best players at home. The guys that come into our place want to be here and know exactly how they're going to be coached and what's going to be asked of them. It's not rocket science."

Likes Gophers' future

Alvarez still studies Badgers opponents and watched game film of the Gophers' 42-13 to Wisconsin.

"I think they play hard. I saw them play earlier in the year. They're better," he said. "That's how I judge how things are going: Do you consistently improve throughout the season? It's obvious the players know what's expected of them. I didn't see a lot of busts. I saw what I expected to see."

Alvarez is impressed with Kill, whom he calls a good coach.

"The thing I'm impressed with is he has a plan," Alvarez said. "He's inserted his plan every place he's been, he's been successful every place he's been. It takes time. But I think he's done a good job thus far implementing what he believes in and getting his kids to believe in it."

One reason Alvarez succeeded was that the Wisconsin president at the time, Donna Shalala, played a big part in the program's improvement by giving him all the weapons he needed to win.

And now one reason I believe the Gophers will put together a winning program is that Minnesota now has a president, Eric Kaler, who like Shalala, believes a winning football program is important to a college.

Mason stays with BTN

New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs has known Glen Mason since he and the former Gophers coach were both at Ohio State.

So Krebs, who after leaving Ohio State was athletic director at Bowling Green and is now in his sixth year in Albuquerque, must have considered hiring Mason as the successor to the fired Mike Locksley when he spoke with Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi about Mason. Maturi said he gave Mason a good review.

But apparently Mason, who is working doing football commentary for the Big Ten Network and isn't returning calls, didn't show an interest in the job and former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie was named to the post.

Jottings

• The Gophers football team, in dire need of help in the secondary, had three highly rated junior college defensive backs here Saturday. They got a commitment from Jeremy Baltazar, a cornerback from Blinn College in Brenham, Texas.

• Gophers senior Hassan Mead was named the Midwest Region Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field/Cross-Country Coaches Association on Wednesday. Mead also won the award in 2008 and 2009. The Gophers cross-country team will compete at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind, on Monday.

• Twins Minor League Player of the Year Brian Dozier continues to do well in the Arizona Fall League, which wraps up this week. He is hitting .286 with three homers and 22 RBI in 25 games for the Mesa Solar Sox. The shortstop also started and homered in the league's Rising Stars Game on Nov. 5 in Surprise, Ariz.

• Delmon Young, the outfielder who was traded by the Twins to the Tigers on Aug. 15, is arbitration eligible. It looks like he will not be offered a multi-year deal this year, because the Tigers believe Young will be motivated by his becoming a free agent after next season.

• Look for Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who will earn $9 million in a three-year period with the Twins, to start next season in Class AAA Rochester.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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