Editor's note: Barry Alvarez will retire as the Wisconsin athletic director June 30. The State Journal asked some of those who have worked closely with him during his 31 years at the university as football coach and AD to share their thoughts about their time working together. This is part two in the eight-part series.
Barry Alvarez cracked a joke when asked to use one word to describe Darrell Bevell, the best quarterback he coached at the University of Wisconsin.
“Fast,” Alvarez said.
Bevell — a pure pocket passer — ironically authored one of the most memorable plays in school football history with a touchdown-scoring scramble to seal the team’s first Rose Bowl win in 1994. Bevell still holds the UW program records for career passing yards (7,686), touchdowns (59) and completions (646) despite graduating in 1995.
Bevell is now the offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars — the fifth stop in his tenure as an NFL assistant.
Bevell shares thoughts on how Alvarez established the culture of Wisconsin football, influences his coaching style, and, yes, the run.
I appreciate what he meant to us as football players, but also as a university. (I’m) super proud of the University of Wisconsin. You're able to see the ‘W’ wherever you go. You can be in this country or other countries and say, “On Wisconsin” to somebody that's wearing a hat or a T-shirt or something and immediately have a bond and a conversation.
As a guy that was recruited in 1992 and I was from Arizona … I got back from my recruiting trip and I went to the stores to try to find something that I could buy for myself and my family — you couldn't find it. You could go to the sporting goods stores … this is no lie, I went into a sporting goods store and I was asking the guy for some Wisconsin stuff and he didn't really know where it was or what it was. And I said, “Well, it's in the Big Ten.” And he was telling me that it wasn't. The one thing they actually had, they had a little mini basketball that had all the logos on it of a Big Ten ball in there. And I was like, “Look, it's right here.” And he was like, “Well yeah, I guess it is, but we don't have any of that stuff.” And you can go to any sporting goods (store) nowadays and you can see it in there. I think that's something that is directly related to Barry.
Redefining the Badgers’ culture is arguably at the top of Alvarez’s list of career accomplishments. Bevell said he did that by seeking out hard workers.
He really got it dialed in on the type of player that he wanted first. I think you could look back at the guys that he had, they were all kinds of blue-collar, you know, lunch-pail kind of guys. Really hard-working, overachieving type of players. I think that’s the first thing he looked for. He had discipline in the program.
Love, trust, commitment and belief were some of the pillars that he talked about all the time. He went about building that and kind of instilling those pillars in us. The biggest thing that when I look back, we had the 25-year reunion of the Rose Bowl team a few years ago, and I think we had like 77 guys that came to that day. It was awesome because it was like we'd never left. All the players immediately bonded, we're telling stories again, and I think that love and trust and the team atmosphere that he was able to build was able to show, even 25 years later.
Bevell jumped into the coaching ranks after going undrafted at the conclusion of his UW career. Alvarez was tough on his early teams, trying to instill a different level of expectations across the program, a trait Bevell picked up on.
The belief that he had in his players, the trust that he had in his players, he set goals for us. I'll never forget sitting in the Holy Name seminary that year of the Rose Bowl, and the goal was to get to a bowl game. I mean, there was no definition of what bowl game that was going to be. We didn't talk about it in those terms. We just talked about what was important now and winning every day.
Those were just the building blocks. And I think when we were able to look back at that moment where it was … we're playing Illinois, like, geez, we got this game and one more and it could be the Rose Bowl. But we were just so in the moment and stayed moment to moment. And what was important at that moment was something that I tried to continue to use (in my career).
I think early he was all business. I think he did get better at that later, but that doesn't mean that he didn't celebrate with us. He wasn't dancing and doing those kinds of things. He was a little bit more of a strict hardline guy, but there was the moments where he put his arm around you or give you a hug.
The 21-yard scramble against UCLA in the 1994 Rose Bowl saw Bevell escape the pocket to his left, pick up steam, make a move at about the 5 and cruise up the sideline untouched. Winning that game cemented the turnaround Alvarez had ushered in at UW.
I remember everything. Little did I know that the play that I was going to be known for was a run because that was not my forte.
I remember dropping back and I kind of remember the left side of the line getting collapsed down, so I took off to the left. And if I remember right, earlier in the year, I had a scramble and I started running like sideways and I didn't get the first down, so I was just thinking just turn up and get as far as you can and get down. Well as I turned up to head down the field, I caught JC Dawkins out of the corner of my eye and I was able to make a great move there. … guy falls down, I get the end zone. It was not a place that I was a lot that way, right? I wasn't in the end zone a lot as a runner. So jumped up, put my arms in the air, jumped up, Joe Panos jumped in (my) arms and it was great.
I get to the sideline and guys were joking already, just telling me how long the play took and all that thing. So I've heard them all. I'll keep taking them because it was awesome. And it's fun to continue to talk about and live that moment.
READ MORE ESSAYS ON BARRY ALVAREZ