The Keystone State Has Brought Three Great Coaches to Wisconsin

A couple of days ago I wrote a story about how two fellows from New York City made a lasting impact in the state of Wisconsin as coaches. Yes, Vince Lombardi and Al McGuire sure left their mark.

As have three gents who hailed from the state of Pennsylvania and who have also made a lasting impression as coaches in the land of the Badgers.

Speaking of the Badgers, that takes me to the first of the three coaches from the Keystone state. I’m talking about Barry Alvarez.

Alvarez is originally from Langeloth, Pennsylvania and went to Burgettstown Union High School. After high school, Alvarez played football at Nebraska under head coach Bob Devaney.

After college, Alvarez coached high school football in both Nebraska and Iowa, and the team (Mason City) he coached in Iowa won the class 4A state title in 1978.

After that, Alvarez joined the staff of Hayden Fry at Iowa and spent eight years there coaching the linebackers. In 1987, Alvarez became the defensive coordinator under Lou Holtz at Notre Dame. That partnership lasted three years, as the Fighting Irish won the national title in 1988.

That led to the head coaching job at the University of Wisconsin. When Barry arrived in Madison, the football program had hit rock bottom under Don Morton, as the team went 6-27 in the three years Morton coached there.

Plus, in it’s history, the Badgers had only won one bowl game and had never won a Rose Bowl.

That all changed under Alvarez.

Alvarez put together a talented and hard working staff when he arrived at Wisconsin. Among that group was Kevin Cosgrove, who is now the defensive coordinator at New Mexico. Cosgrove was with Alvarez longer than any other assistant coach that ever coached under Alvarez at Wisconsin.

Cosgrove was also the defensive coordinator under Alvarez from 1995-2003.

Cosgrove knew that Alvarez had a vision about the direction of the program. “As with everything Barry always did, he had a plan,” said Cosgrove. “When he got that job, he pretty much knew who he was going to hire. Barry put together a strong staff, and then the first couple of years he fined tuned it, and turned it into a great staff.”

From 1990-2005, Alvarez won 118 games for the Badgers, which is 50 more than any coach in the history of Wisconsin football.

Included in that was winning the Rose Bowl for the first time ever as a program just four years into Alvarez’s tenure at Wisconsin.

“It was unbelievable,” Cosgrove said. “I mean, the program we took over wasn’t very successful. Barry never veered from his plan in building the program. We came real close to going to a bowl game in 1992,  but we lost the last game of the year. Still, we knew we had a good team coming back the following year.”

“We were fortunate enough to get to the Rose Bowl in ’93. Our goal was to win a (Big Ten) championship, go to the Rose Bowl, but to also win the Rose Bowl. We were able to accomplish all three of those things. You only get so many opportunities to do that, and we were fortunate to do it three times in the 90s.”

Yes, Barry and the Badgers won two more Big Ten championships, along with two more Rose Bowl victories in 1998 and 1999.

During the time Alvarez coached Wisconsin, the Badgers were 8-3 in bowl games overall.

Alvarez was also named Big Ten Coach of the Year twice (1993 and 1998), as well as National Coach of the Year twice (1993 and 1999).

It all led to Alvarez being elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2010.

In 2004, while he was still head coach of the Badgers, Alvarez also took over the duties as athletic director and still continues in that position.

Alvarez retired from coaching after the 2005 season.

To add even more to his legacy, Alvarez has twice coached the Badgers in bowl games since then on an interim basis as the Badgers were in the midst of a head coaching change.

In the 2013 Rose Bowl, after head coach Bret Bielema had moved on to Arkansas, Barry and the Badgers lost 20-14 to the Stanford Cardinal. But in the 2015 Outback Bowl, after Gary Andersen had left to go to Oregon State, Alvarez and the Badgers beat the Auburn Tigers 34-31 in overtime. That victory was the first bowl win for the Badgers since the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl.

As athletic director, one of the programs that Alvarez has to be proudest of is the basketball program. Which leads us to Bo Ryan, who also is originally from Pennsylvania.

William Francis “Bo” Ryan was born and raised in Chester, Pennsylvania. Ryan learned his basketball from his father Butch, who was a legendary coach in the area.

Bo was the point guard for his dad at Chester High School and led his team to a 25-1 record his senior year. Ryan also played point guard for Wilkes University, which is in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

After coaching a couple of high school basketball programs in Pennsylvania, Ryan made his way to Wisconsin, where he became an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin from 1976-1984.

That led to a head coaching job at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Ryan became a legend there. In 15 seasons at Platteville, the team was 353-76, which is a .823 winning percentage. The Pioneers also won four Division III national championships.

That led Ryan to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His hiring brought legitimacy to the basketball program of the Panthers, and the team was 30-27 in the two years Ryan coached there. Attendance for the Panthers went up by 161 percent while Ryan was there.

That job was the stepping stone for the job that Ryan currently has. That would be as head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers. The legend of Ryan has become enormous after what he has accomplished in Madison.

In 14 years, the Badgers under Ryan have a record of 357-125 (a .741 winning percentage). The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth place in the Big Ten in any of those years.

The Badgers also went to the NCAA tournament in each of those 14 years as well. Plus, the Badgers have also won four regular season Big Ten championships and three Big Ten tournament championships.

In the NCAA tournament, Ryan has seen his team advance to the Sweet 16 seven times, the Elite 8 three times and the Final Four twice.

In 2015, the Badgers played in the national title game, but lost to Duke.

Ryan has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2003, 2013 and 2015)

Ryan announced recently that the 2015-16 season will be his last at Wisconsin before he retires.

There is another coach from Pennsylvania who also currently leads a team in Wisconsin. That would be Mike McCarthy, who is the head coach for the Green Bay Packers.

McCarthy was raised in Greenfield, which is a suburb of Pittsburgh. McCarthy went to high school at Bishop Boyle in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

From there, McCarthy went to Baker University in Kansas where he was an all-conference tight end. After his playing career ended, McCarthy coached in the college ranks at Fort Hays State and at Pittsburgh as an assistant.

After he left Pittsburgh, McCarthy started his climb up the ranks in the NFL. He started as a quality-control assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs, before becoming the quarterbacks coach from 1995-98.

That experience led McCarthy to Green Bay, where he was the quarterbacks coach in 1999. But the entire coaching staff was fired after the season in which the team finished 8-8 under head coach Ray Rhodes.

McCarthy landed on his feet in New Orleans with the Saints, where he was offensive coordinator from 2000-04. That led to McCarthy getting the same position with the San Fransisco 49ers in 2005.

In 2006, some folks were surprised that general manager Ted Thompson selected McCarthy as his new head coach after firing Mike Sherman.

That hiring has turned out to be very prolific.

Since 2006, the Packers have a record of 94-49-1 in the regular season. That includes five NFC North titles and seven appearances in the postseason.

In the postseason, the Packers under McCarthy are 7-6 and have played in three NFC Championship Games. The Packers also won Super Bowl XLV under McCarthy.

Bottom line, Alvarez, Ryan and McCarthy made winning a habit with the teams that they coached.

Fans of the Badgers expect a championship every year in both football and basketball. That is the legacy that Alvarez and Ryan have created.

The fans of the Packers expect the same thing with McCarthy in Green Bay.

That’s says a lot about these three coaches who were originally from Pennsylvania, before they made a huge impression in the state of Wisconsin with their ability to lead their respective teams.

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