In a college football career that has spanned 40 years, Barry Alvarez will be visiting Baton Rouge for the first time.
Wisconsin's athletic director saw his Badgers lose to LSU at NRG Stadium in Houston during the 2014 season opener, then watched them avenge their loss at Lambeau Field in a victory over LSU in the 2016 season opener — a apir of neutral-site games that netted LSU more than $5 million.
But Alvarez's first true experience in Cajun country? That'll come when the former Wisconsin coach, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010, flies in Thursday afternoon to serve as the keynote speaker at LSU's annual football coaching clinic.
"I'm fired up to get there," said Alvarez, who from 1990-05 transformed a lowly Wisconsin program to a Big Ten powerhouse. "Heard so much about the stadium, so much about the community. I'm really excited to get there and take a look at things."
Alvarez said he would also tour LSU's athletic facilities and meet with coaches and administrators, although he said that there's "nothing in the works right now" for the two programs to play each other again in football.
About a month ago, LSU safeties coach Bill Busch reached out to Alvarez to see if he would be interested to speak at the clinic. Their relationship dates to when Alvarez hired Busch as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin back in 1994. Busch's time as a GA at Nebraska had ended, and Alvarez followed up on the recommendation he received from then-Nebraska running backs coach Frank Solich, a teammate of Alvarez's at Nebraska in 1965.
Busch returned to work for Alvarez again from 2013-14, when then-Badgers coach Gary Andersen brought most of his staff with him from Utah State, including defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
Busch coached safeties at Wisconsin, including Alvarez's grandson, Joe Ferguson.
"Players love playing for him," Alvarez said of Busch, who last week received a $50,000 raise and a one-year extension from LSU. "Billy's a tireless recruiter. I think he's a good teacher. The players really, really appreciate him. He's a guy that cares about the kids, and they recognize that."
Alvarez said his remarks at LSU's clinic, which is generally mostly attended by high school coaches, will be about the principles of building a program. His reconstruction of the Wisconsin football program was one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history.
Wisconsin had gone 14-42 in the five seasons before Alvarez came to Madison as the Badgers' new football coach in 1990. After going 1-10 in his first season, followed by two 5-6 seasons, the Badgers went on a 13-year tear that included four 10-win seasons, three Big Ten championships and three Rose Bowl victories.
"You have to change the culture with everyone that touches your program," Alvarez said. "Communicate it and have a solid plan for success when it's sound. And it's not just one plan. There are a lot of ways to get the job done, as long as it's sound and everybody's on the same page."
Alvarez began his career as a high school coach, which provides attendees a window, although dated, at a way of climbing in the coaching field.
Alvarez won a state championship as the head coach at Mason City High in Iowa in 1978, just before Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry became the head coach at the University of Iowa.
Fry was looking for a high school coach to help recruit the state, Alvarez said, and because Alvarez was a successful high school coach, Fry hired him to be his linebackers coach in 1979.
"It was a lucky break for me that he came the year we won the championship," Alvarez said. "He liked my background, the fact that I played at Nebraska, and that I grew up in western Pennsylvania, which was a good recruiting area for us. I think all those things tied together."
The clinic will tug Alvarez from his responsibilities at Wisconsin for a little while. The Badgers began spring football practice Tuesday, but from his own experience at Wisconsin's clinics, Alvarez "appreciated (LSU) asking me."
"There's so much these guys can learn," Alvarez said. "If they come out of there and they pick up a couple terms and it makes them a better teacher, then it's worthwhile."