Barry Alvarez: Success of alumni has deep roots here

BY BARRY ALVAREZ

UW Director of Athletics

MADISON, Wis. — I was very proud of James White and excited and happy for the way he played in the Super Bowl. Whoever it is, when it's one of our kids, one of our former players, that's who we zero in on.

You definitely couldn't miss James. What did he have, 14 catches and 20 points? Wow. As an athlete, you have to get into a system that fits you and that's what he did with New England.

Mike Tranghese was on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee with me for the first couple of years and he's a friend of Bill Belichick.

I remember him telling me that Belichick loved the kid. And that was back in his rookie season when he was inactive most of the time (for all but three games). But they saw what they had in him.

When he came here to Wisconsin, he was stacked originally with John Clay and Montee Ball and, later, with Melvin Gordon. Yet, whenever he had a chance to play, he performed.

He was always ready and very dependable. He was a good teammate. Tom Brady was saying that about him Sunday. A lot of people, even Brady, felt like he could have been the MVP.

Like I said earlier, James was a good fit for the Patriots.

We talk a lot about finding the right fit in recruiting, too.

For us, that's a kid who likes football, a kid who's going to buy into our work ethic and how we go about things. If you're a prima donna, wanting to be stroked, this is not the place for you.

If you want to come here and go to school and develop as a player, then you're going to be a good fit. Our guys work hard. If you don't, you don't have a chance here, you won't make it.

Last Wednesday was a special day for me because my grandson, Jake Ferguson, signed. I met most of the kids in this recruiting class when they came on their visits. I love this O-line group.

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National Signing Day is always exciting for families and it's just fun to be a part of it. I get just as excited about the walk-on class. That has been our lifeline throughout the years.

Jimmy Leonhard is a good example of the success we've had. When Paul promoted him to defensive coordinator, I was thrilled for him. He's ready and he will be awesome in that role.

Jimmy was a smart player. He didn't have tunnel vision. He saw the whole field. He understood the game. He was the defensive quarterback and had to tie it all together. He's just a natural.

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I got some phone calls last week on another one of our former players, Chris Ballard, who was named the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.

I remember him as a tough, gritty, hard-nosed guy, an overachiever. Ballard, who was recruited by Don Morton, had to deal with injuries that cut short his playing days as a UW wide receiver.

I've followed his career and I have been impressed with the way he has moved up the ranks. He got into scouting and worked really hard. Obviously, he has done a good job in player evaluation.

Chris has stayed in touch and we got together last football season. We talked about different things, including how you create a winning culture and how different the NFL is today than it has been.

He showed me his plan; an organizational philosophy for hiring a coach and staff and the responsibilities of a general manager in the relationship. It was well thought out and very impressive.

Like a lot of people in the business, he paid his dues. So has Jay Norvell, one of my former assistants. He has coached at a lot of different places at the college and pro level.

It's time to see if he can be a head coach and now he's getting that chance at Nevada (after 31 years as an assistant). It's a good opportunity for Jay and I'm kind of anxious to see how he does.

All the good news last week was tempered by the passing of Jeff Sauer. It was a sad day for hockey and it extended beyond the Badger family. He had a far-ranging impact on the sport.

Mark Johnson talked about how he was a respected ambassador for the game. Tony Granato talked about how much he cared about people. He will be missed and remembered for those reasons.

Photo: Wisconsin Badgers

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