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 four in the eight-part series.
Few partnerships at the University of Wisconsin have been going as long or been as fruitful as the one between Barry Alvarez and Paul Chryst.
Between stints as an assistant and now as he enters his seventh year as the coach of the Badgers football program, Chryst has seen Alvarez in a number of roles — as a coach, as a coach and athletic director simultaneously, then as solely the athletic director. Throughout the years, their bond has strengthened in their belief in each other and what the UW football program should be. Chryst shares his thoughts on his longtime boss and friend. These are Chryst’s words from an April 6 news conference after Alvarez’s retirement ceremony.
There's so much to learn from and that was part of the draw for me the second time I came back. First time, came as tight ends coach (in 2002) and thought, ‘How fortunate was I to have that opportunity to work for coach Alvarez and to be back at Wisconsin?’ And then I came back the second time as coordinator (in 2005), certainly knew more then, but I remember the first time I was back, coaching tight ends, and there were a lot of different coaching styles that was on that staff, a very successful staff. I remember talking to coach Alvarez and kind of asked him: What kind of coach does he want? I always appreciated that and tried to take this forward in everything I've done. He said, ‘Trust yourself and be who you are.’ And I thought that resonated then and it still resonates now.
I've always admired the way that he approached the game, and truly the big games, absolutely loved them. And I think there's a ton of lessons that you learn, kind of the how-tos of doing things to some bigger, macro-type issues and how to handle them. I think I had it, but it reinforced it a different way. The reason you coach … that's to help the players be the best they can be. And if you care about them, you can coach them. Some you need to coach hard, some you need to coach a little bit different, just like with how he wanted us to coach. ‘Be true to who you are.’
Really it was reinforced working for him when he was just the athletic director. He kind of would still remind you of that. How fortunate was I for the time that I did have to be able to have so many conversations with your athletic director, but at the same time, a guy that's been in the exact same shoes you're in? I’ll always appreciate that.
Certainly the coaching background, you know he understands so much of what goes into it. That's always helpful. And I think it also helped kind of the way that he wanted us and made sure everyone in the department treated each other and our student-athletes and all those that do so many things kind of behind the scenes.
Like any good coach, he believed in team and it took everyone. People knew that's what (Alvarez) wanted. It's a culture that he built. And I think, as a coach working for Barry as the athletic director, what a bonus that he, in so many ways, had been there, done that. You'd go to him about just about anything, and maybe not exactly (the exact situation), but he had experience with it. And you always appreciated that and you appreciated his insight and help that you would get.
I think in each one of those (roles Alvarez has held), I've always felt fortunate to be working for him and with him. I think that so many of what are his core beliefs haven’t changed, and I think that's what I always appreciated from working with coach Alvarez was that … everyone that heard him speak today, it is real about what drove him. Obviously there's a competitive part of him, no doubt. And yet, truly the love of the student-athletes and the love of the game and competition (drove him).
Really, in all the roles that I was fortunate enough to be with coach under, those resonated and those were true every time. I think obviously it was different when he was head football coach, and then doing both, and then just as the athletic director, but he stayed true to himself. What drove him was the same things that drove him as a coach and as athletic director.
Chryst left UW to become the coach of Pittsburgh in 2011. Alvarez said the decision to bring back Chryst as the football team’s coach in 2014 was among his best as an AD. Chryst was part of the search committee tasked with hiring Alvarez’s successor.
It’s humbling. Every time that I had an opportunity to work for coach Alvarez, you just want to do your part. And for him to say that, it means a lot. It means a lot because of the respect and the admiration that I have for coach Alvarez.
Today was an interesting day. Certainly so much to be celebrated, and yet I found myself a little bit sad, only (because) every day that I've had a chance to work for him, I truly enjoyed it and appreciated it. I know he'll still be around … and that's a selfish thing on my part … but he gave me a ton of opportunities. And when someone does that, to me, the best way you can show your appreciation is by putting the work in and trying to do your best. Obviously we'll continue to do that, but it certainly means a lot because of what he means to me.
I’ve been around a lot of them (ADs), and he's the best one that I've been with. ... There's one Barry Alvarez.
READ MORE ESSAYS ON BARRY ALVAREZ
In this Series
'There's one Barry Alvarez': Here's how former players, colleagues will remember Wisconsin's AD as he heads into retirement
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