Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez knows what it takes to turn around a program. A linebacker at Nebraska under Bob Devaney, he cut his teeth under two hall-of-fame coaches, Hayden Fry (Iowa) and Lou Holtz (Notre Dame), before getting his chance to run his own program. He took over as head coach at Wisconsin in 1990.
In the five years prior to his arrival the Badgers were 14-42, never winning more than five games in a season. Alvarez laid out the plan for his team from his very first meeting in January of 1990.
"I tried to explain to them that I was a no-nonsense coach and those that followed the program we gave them would win championships and those that didn't follow wouldn't be around very long," Alvarez recalled in an interview with Hail Varsity Radio host Chris Schmidt on Wednesday.
He was right on both counts. Alvarez said 52 players quit between January and the start of the season. The Badgers went 1-10 before back-to-back 5-6 seasons the next two years.
In Year 4, the Badges broke through. Wisconsin went 10-1-1 in 1993, winning the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl and finishing in the top 10 of the Coaches and Associated Press polls.
New Nebraska head coach Scott Frost is trying to engineer his own turnaround as the Huskers (0-4) head to Madison to face Wisconsin (3-1) on Saturday.
While the record looks more like a Year 0 situation than many had anticipated, Alvarez said he's been impressed with the Huskers despite the zero in the wins column.
"Offensively, they've got a lot of weapons," Alvarez said. "I'm very impressed with [Adrian] Martinez. I think he's a very gifted quarterback. He's what they're always looking for at Nebraska. He can beat you with his feet, but he can also throw the football."
Add Alvarez to a growing list of Martinez admirers early in the quarterback's true freshman campaign.
Nebraska's defense drew some praise as well.
"It looks like the defense is playing hard to me," Alvarez said. "I don't see every game, every play, but I see them in patches. They've had some tough breaks, they've had some penalty issues that have cost them games, but I don't think they're that far away."
Nebraska and No. 16 Wisconsin kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT on BTN on Saturday.