At one point in time, for three years in the late 1980s, Barry Alvarez and Les Miles not only coached against one another, they shared the exact same recruiting territories.
They battled on the field — Alvarez, the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for Notre Dame, and Miles, the offensive line coach for Michigan.
They battled off the field — Alvarez, recruiting for the Irish in the Midwest region, and Miles, a Wolverines recruiter in the same area.
They followed each other into prospects’ homes on visits and, probably, spoke to the same kids on the same nights on the phone.
“He was tenacious, a tenacious recruiter,” said Alvarez, former coach and current athletic director at Wisconsin who won more games at the school than anyone in his 16 seasons.
“You can imagine Notre Dame and Michigan,” he continued. “We opened the season against each other every year. It was a pretty intense rivalry.”
In a 20-minute interview from his office high above Camp Randall Stadium, Alvarez touched on a plethora of topics ahead of Wisconsin’s game against No. 6 LSU on Saturday at Lambeau Field.
For instance, on Tuesday morning, Alvarez received a text message from former Saints quarterback and New Orleans resident Archie Manning, calling him “a genius” for scheduling such a game at a historic site as Lambeau.
“Yes, I do have a bunch of LSU buddies, and they’re all coming your way,” Manning wrote in the text.
Alvarez discussed the departure of Dave Aranda, Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator the last three seasons who left for LSU in January. He spoke passionately, still, about that loss to LSU in 2014 — a game in which the Badgers blew a 17-point, third-quarter lead in the second half, losing 28-24.
“Never did get an answer why (running back) Melvin Gordon didn’t play anymore after the first carry of the second half,” Alvarez griped. “There never was an answer. I saw him the next day and asked him if he was hurt and he said, ‘No.’ I still haven’t gotten an answer why.”
Here’s more from Alvarez:
Q: How did this two-game series between LSU and Wisconsin come about?
ESPN kind of initiated it, if I remember correctly. I had been talking to Murph (Packers president Mark Murphy) about the possibility … he and I talked about another game up there and it didn’t pan out. This one game available. They’re excited. They really wanted to do something, host a Division I game in there. We played a hockey game in there a few years ago.
Q: What are you expecting from the stadium and the city?
The people in this state love football. Green Bay loves football. It’s a tough ticket. Tickets are in high demand. I know I spoke up in Green Bay this spring and the closest then you could get a hotel was Fond du Lac (70 miles away). They anticipated 130,000 people being there. They’re putting big screens in the parking lot.
We did that here for Nebraska. Nebraska’s first Big 10 game was here. They started showing up, like, Wednesday of that week. Our student union, they broadcast it there. I put a big TV in our grass practice field so they could hear the crowd. They weren’t seeing it first hand but could enjoy the experience.
Q: What are your LSU connections?
I had a text first thing this morning from Archie Manning. And I missed a call from one of my former players in New Orleans. Played for me at Notre Dame. That’s about it.
Q: What did Archie say?
Archie said, ‘Living here 45 years. Yes, I do have a bunch of LSU buddies, and they’re all coming your way. You’re a genius to schedule this game in Lambeau. Thanks for your friendship, Archie.'
Q: It’s really pitting two fan bases who like to party right?
They like to party. We saw that first hand when we played down in Houston (in 2014). You could see their people got into it. Our people are the same way.
MADISON, Wis. — Alicia Eisenhauer isn’t as excited about Saturday’s big game as you probably are.
Q: What do you think about Dave Aranda and did you attempt to keep him?
We had done something the year before, adjusted his contract. Dave did a good job for us, very good job for us. The numbers of his defenses speak for themselves, and our people like Dave and I knew he enjoyed it here. But the numbers they threw at him would throw all of our salary structure out of kilter.
He wants to go — go. If he thinks it’s the best move for his family and the money’s very good, that you think it’s best for you and your family, then go. Dave had been looking around. He had talked to LSU the year before and he talked to Green Bay the year before.
We suspected he was looking around.
Q: When you turn on film and watch Leonard Fournette, what sticks out?
He’s just … he’s … you know what? He’s …. Physically, he’s just a beast. I saw him his first game as a freshman and I thought he was a beast. He’s just … that size and speed and maturity. He had the maturity as a true freshman. He’s one of those special athletes you only get, maybe, if you’re lucky, once or twice in your coaching career.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette says he’s recovered fully from an ankle injury he suffere…
Q: I was speaking to some Wisconsin fans around the area. They’re still hot about losing a 17-point third-quarter lead and losing to LSU in the 2014 opener. What happened?
That game … that game was close to being a blowout. Never did get an answer why Melvin Gordon didn’t play anymore after the first carry of the second half.
There never was an answer. I saw him the next day and asked him if he was hurt and he said, ‘No.’ I still haven’t gotten an answer why. And we misplay a fake … And they’ve been notorious for fake kicks. They don’t make that fake kick, we get the ball at midfield and that’s going to be a laugher.
Q: Paul Chryst is your third coach in four years. How’s he bringing stability to the program?
Paul’s a Wisconsin guy. Played here. He grew up two blocks away. His mother was a principal at the elementary school right here. He was here two other times. I had him as a position coach and brought him back as a coordinator. He’s hired a lot of former players, guy that understand how we win here and what our formula for winning is.
He made a point of focusing and emphasizing winning your state first and recruiting your kids here, and Gary (Andersen) had lost that. Bret (Bielema) emphasized it. I emphasized it. Gary was not emphasizing that, and it was getting to the point where it was going to start hurting us.
Q: Gary had a different philosophy, too, right? Not the one you and Bret won with here.
And his recruiting philosophy was totally different. Gary wanted to recruit junior college kids. He didn’t want to really emphasize the kids in the state. Our schools seldom … we’ve had very few JUCO kids here. Academically, we’re not going to admit … they’re going to have to take solid courses before they’re admitted.
Gary’s philosophy in the end, I think, just didn’t fit here. And he knew it. That’s why he decided to leave, which is fine. Surprised me, but it’s OK.
Q: The SEC vs. Big 10. What’s it mean to you?
I think it’s two of the better conferences. We take pride in our football. I know they take great pride in their football. We’ve had some great matchups in bowl games with them.
To have a game like this, two schools with good football traditions in places where football is important, to open … (EPSN College) GameDay is there and there’s more big games in this opening weekend than you can ever remember and for us to be the one on GameDay speaks volumes, that it’s as attractive as a game.
MADISON, Wis. — Chikwe Obasih’s memory of Leonard Fournette is fuzzy.
Q: What’s your history with Les Miles?
I used to recruit against Les. I coached against him when I was at Iowa. When I was (an assistant) at Notre Dame, Les and I recruited the same area. We had the same area. Every kid we recruited at Notre Dame, he was recruiting at Michigan. I ran across him then. I coached against him. I was coaching defense. He was coaching offensive line.
Q: What do you remember about Les the recruiter?
He was tenacious, a tenacious recruiter.
Q: Did y’all have dinner together, stuff like that?
No. I never ran into him. I just knew he was recruiting these kids. I always had a pretty good idea the approach he was going to take.
You can imagine Notre Dame and Michigan, it was a pretty intense rivalry.
Q: What recruiting area?
Midwest. I had, and I’m sure he had the same things, all of Indiana, all of Illinois and I went into Nebraska and Iowa also.
Q: How importance is this game on your program’s season?
It’s a big game. You hope you play well and you hope you get off on the right foot. We’ve seen … we’ve opened the last two years with games like this (lost to LSU in 2014 and Alabama in 2015) and we’ve recovered and had 10-win seasons both times.
You don’t hang your hat and ‘This is an all or nothing.’ Got two good teams playing. Someone’s going to lose.
Q: You miss coaching?
I miss the relationships with the kids. I don’t miss the grind of the job or the stress of the job. It was fun for me to go back for those two games and coach bowl games (in 2012 and 2014 after Bielema and then Andersen left). Get into it a week and don’t have to worry about recruiting when it was over. Didn’t have to worry about breaking the film down or anything else.
I miss the relationship with the staff, missed the strategy of trying to prepare to be a good football team. I miss big games, miss celebrations after big wins.