When he's not working as Wisconsin's athletic director or occasional bowl game coach, Barry Alvarez is busy promoting high school football and working with U.S. Cellular to find the "most valuable coaches in America." We had the chance to sit down with Alvarez to discuss why he is so passionate about high school football, and some of the tougher questions facing the game. He also explained how the game has changed and how increased money in college football has led to vast spending on personnel within the so-called amateur sport.
ThePostGame: Why are you so passionate about high school football even though you've been out of the game for so many years?
BARRY ALVAREZ: First of all, I look back at my experience as a player, as a high school player in a small town in western Pennsylvania, and my high school coach was very influential to me in regard to one of the reasons I got into coaching, and then I started my career as a high school coach. I started as an assistant, worked my way up as the coach at a small high school, then a larger high school, and the experience of winning a state championship and the relationships you built with those players, I still stay in contact with those players I coached my first year as an assistant coach just out of college. It's a good relationship and it's something that really has affected me, and the success I've had here (at Wisconsin) is a relationship of what I did there, or a reflection of what I did in high school and just did it at another level.
TPG: What qualities do you think are important in a high school football coach, as compared to a college or NFL coach?
ALVAREZ: I think they're all the same. The qualities that I always look or, that I think is important, is somebody who cares about kids, someone that is there for the right reasons, someone who is a good teacher and who can identify with kids and get a group of them on the same page. Make that sport their commitment is important, and also be involved in the community and be an important part of the community.
TPG: I've talked to coaches on rural teams who have told me that they don't necessarily have the staff to catch concussions, or treat kids with concussions, and I was wondering, from your point of view, at what point is it worth not having high school football if you can't treat kids in that way? Or would you think it's important to have high school football regardless?
ALVAREZ: Well, I think if you're going to coach at any level, you should have some background, first of all you want to have some type of a medical person at games and at practice. If you can't and if you don't, you should have some type of training to identify when one of your players has a problem with a concussion. So I just think, how you practice, how you go about things, how you deal with a potential injury or a potential concussion is important. But it's valuable, the lessons you learn from football, are very valuable. To even broach not having high school football is unacceptable.
TPG: I know a lot of coaches like to say you learn lessons in football that you can't learn anywhere else. What are some of the lessons that you learn in football, as opposed to other sports?
ALVAREZ: You learn teamwork, you learn how to deal with adversity, you learn how to deal with success. You learn about relationships and how to build relationships. You learn how to set a goal as a team and work toward one common goal. Those are some things you’ll do the rest of your life, regardless of what your job is, and the same principles of being involved in a football program.
TPG: So are those things you learn in football that you can't learn in other sports?
ALVAREZ: I support all sports. Competition is good, competition is healthy, and as a high school football coach, I encouraged my athletes to play all other sports. I coached other sports. I happen to be a football guy, so I'm selling football, but I like athletics. My kids played every season. My grandchildren played a sport every season. I think that's important. I think it's part of growing up. It teaches good, valuable lessons that carry over the rest of your life.
TPG: You took the high school football route to college, and there are a few coaches that do that, but it's not nearly as common anymore that guys who coach in college start out coaching in high school. Especially among the younger guys, they tend to start out being graduate assistants and such. Why do you think that is, and do you think that’s a good or a bad thing for the sport?
ALVAREZ: I would've loved to have started right into college, and I started as a GA and didn't have any opportunities because at that time at Nebraska, none of the coaches there had taken head coaches jobs. I had to start in high school, but I always wanted to get to the college level. It's more difficult to work through the high school ranks, because you have to have contacts. A lot of people have to know about you. If you're a head coach and you do very well, you have the opportunity to be recognized. It's hard as an assistant coach to be recognized by a college coach, because they'll look at someone with college experience and recruiting experience. So the easier way is to go the collegiate route and GA, if you have that opportunity. I don't know which one is right or what is wrong. I think if you do a good job, you'll be recognized. As I talk to young coaches, I talk to them about not worrying about your next job, but do a good job where you are and someone will recognize that.
TPG: It seems that in college football these days, there are so many more staff positions than at least there were back when you coached. Even jobs as analysts. We've seen Big Ten programs hire coaches to be analysts. Since you first became involved in college football in 1979, how has the business of the sport changed, both overall and also for coaches who want to get into it?
ALVAREZ: Well, you're exactly right as far as the numbers of the collegiate staff. The part that they are part of a staff, whether it be an analyst, I don't even know the titles for all these guys, but at least you're around people. You can't coach, you're not allowed to field coach, but you can still make an acquaintance and do a good job of whatever area you're in to draw attention to where there is a vacancy, maybe you can move into it.
TPG: Have you found that having more of these analysts is an advantage for programs, and something way back a few decades ago that programs would have liked to have? Or is it just, there's a lot of money, let's get as many people in as we can?
ALVAREZ: (Laughs) That's an interesting question. I don't know what they do. I don't know what all those guys do, I really don't. I know that some schools have it broken down where they have a person that recruits only one position, so you have a person per position. You have people as offensive and defensive analysts. You have operation guys. Now you have three of them. I thought one was plenty. So, I don't know all the job descriptions. It has changed. I think Alabama is probably one of the first schools who did it. If I understand it, Nick Saban brought his program up very similar to the NFL, coming from the NFL, to a player personnel situation. So, it hasn't hurt him. I think a lot of people have followed that lead.