Wisconsin athletic director/interim football coach Barry Alvarez met with local reporters Sunday after practice and discussed his search for a new head coach.
Alvarez said he has one more coaching candidate to meet with before deciding "on the best person." He reportedly has met with two candidates -- Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and recently named South Florida coach Willie Taggart. Tucker said early last week that he's not interested in the position, although his name keeps coming up. It seems unlikely Taggart would make another move after accepting the USF job on Dec. 7.
Would Alvarez consider returning to the sideline on a permanent basis? He said Sunday that he considered the possibility for "like a day" last week, noting that he felt badly for some of the assistant coaches he wants retain but who received offers elsewhere and tight deadlines to decide their futures.
"I was thinking of doing it myself just to keep them," he said. "But if I did it for a year we'd be in the same situation next year."
(Alvarez could coach for a year and name a coach-in-waiting to stabilize recruiting. Say, former assistant and ace recruiter Joe Rudolph? Just sayin' ...)
Alvarez acknowledged that several potential candidates on his short list already had been hired by other programs, while other coaches he had interest in are remaining loyal to their respective programs. Although he didn't mention any names, potential targets like Pitt's Paul Chryst, Miami's Al Golden and Oregon State's Mike Riley all are staying put.
Although angst is building among Wisconsin fans the longer the program is without a head coach, Alvarez doesn't sound worried. He noted that university policies prevent him from hiring anyone until later this week (Thursday specifically). He also pointed out that it's a dead period in recruiting at the moment and that Wisconsin's verbal commits for 2013 appear to be on board.
"We're spoiled here because we were probably one of the most stable programs in the country with me being here 16 years and elevating an assistant [Bret Bielema] for seven years," he said. "This happens around the country. I'll hire a good coach. This program will continue being very good. For those that are panicking, don't panic. We'll take care of business here and this program will be in excellent hands."
Alvarez expressed some frustration at the quick deadlines given to assistant coaches for other jobs. Wisconsin has lost five assistants from Bielema's staff -- defensive coordinator Chris Ash, co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, offensive coordinator Matt Canada, wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and linebackers coach Andy Buh. Both Ash and Partridge joined Bielema's new staff at Arkansas, and Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock reportedly also has an offer from Bielema.
All the assistants will remain with the team through the Rose Bowl, and there's some talk Ash could be in the mix for Wisconsin's top job.
"I'd like for them to stay, but they had to protect their families," Alvarez said. "A coach says you’ve got 24 hours to make this decision or the job isn't there, they have to do something. I couldn't promise them that the next coach would retain them. ... I couldn't have sped the process up. I have to get to the people that I want to talk to. I just have to do it right. I feel bad for losing some very, very good coaches."
Alvarez didn't rule out the possibility of Wisconsin trying to bring back some of the assistants it will lose after the head coach is named.
Several of the departing assistants also spoke Sunday, including Canada, who sounded particularly peeved at how things have played out.
"There is some frustration with the way all this went down," Canada told reporters. "... I came here with the intention of being here for a long, long time. “That's what we came here for. That was the plan. Sometimes plans change and you have to trust that and move forward."