MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Badgers have received a crash course in just how much of a business college sports can be.
The hiring of new coach Paul Chryst has them hoping the program is back on solid footing — again.
Now the No. 18 Badgers can return to focusing on football. The team is scheduled to arrive in Florida on Friday to begin preparation for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day against No. 19 Auburn.
“Everything happens for a reason. … I’m just going to move on from there,” running back Corey Clement said when Chryst was hired. “I’m just going to take Coach Chryst’s word. He’s going to help us build upon after the bowl game. It’s all about prepping for next year.”
First, Wisconsin (10-3) had to get this year in order.
The departure earlier this month of Chryst’s predecessor, Gary Andersen, to Oregon State stunned the Badgers. He had only been in Madison for two years, hired after Bret Bielema left in similar fashion for Arkansas following the 2012 Big Ten championship game.
Athletic director Barry Alvarez said he didn’t know Andersen was interested in moving on until hearing from him the day Andersen announced he was leaving.
But in a way, Alvarez was more prepared. It turned out he learned from Bielema’s surprising departure two years earlier.
Alvarez took over as interim coach for bowl preparations while quickly moving on to settling on Chryst, a Madison native and former Badgers offensive coordinator. Chryst came home after three seasons as Pittsburgh’s head coach.
Alvarez has said he told the assistant coaches under Andersen from the start that he expected them to stay on through the bowl game. He believes that has made for a much more orderly transition.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is expected to stay on with Chryst. Position coaches for the offensive and defensive lines, respectively, are expected to join Andersen.
Regardless, under state law, Wisconsin can’t make any official announcements on Chryst’s staff until Dec. 29.
Alvarez has said he feels good that the team will be able to hang on to a recruiting class that was pieced together on Andersen’s watch. Having an offensive-minded coach like Chryst, who is familiar with the program’s legacy of productive running backs, will help.
Having Aranda back should help, too, after the Badgers defense spent much of the season as the top-ranked unit in the country.
“They can make one call, and I told [the assistants] to save that call for Paul,” Alvarez said. “We’ve been working those commits.
“When he gets on the phone, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
The immediate priority is preparing for Auburn. Just like for the Rose Bowl two years ago, when Wisconsin lost to Stanford, Alvarez is leading the team while a new coach waits in the background.
Alvarez still has some regrets about how he coached that Rose Bowl, especially when it comes to play-calling.
“I won’t be afraid to insert myself more,” Alvarez said. “I think these guys understand if I step in. I was a little reluctant last time. I kick myself now because I was reluctant. That’s one thing that I won’t hesitate to do this time around.”
Safety Michael Caputo, a junior, had to go through the transition two years ago, too. He welcomes another chance to play for Alvarez, who was Wisconsin’s coach for 16 years until 2005.
“The fact that it’s Coach Alvarez is cool in itself,” Caputo said. “And then to get the whole excitement with the change for the spring, and moving forward, is kind of cool.”