Like he did with Barry Alvarez, former coach Lou Holtz made an impression on the current Badgers

MADISON — Lou Holtz has been one of the biggest professional influences in Barry Alvarez’s life. The Hall of Fame coach hired Alvarez to oversee the linebackers at Notre Dame in 1987 and then had him run his defense the two years after that. The lessons learned and the advice gained during that short time together stayed with Alvarez during his 16 years as the head coach at Wisconsin and his 14 years as the school’s athletic director. So when Alvarez offered to have Holtz come speak to this year’s team, current coach Paul Chryst was receptive to the idea.

“Certainly there’s a lot of the philosophical foundational pieces that Coach Alvarez got from him, and I certainly have gotten from Coach Alvarez,” Chryst said of the points hammered home by Holtz. “The game is a vehicle we can use to teach and help these young guys grow. It was a good message.”

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A majority of the players these days know Holtz more for his time on TV than as the coach of six different college programs, including his 11 years with the Fighting Irish where he led the program to its 11th national title in 1988. Yet, despite the nearly 60-year age difference between Holtz and most of the Badgers, his message to them of knowing their role on the team, and the need to embrace it, hit home with several players.

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“Don’t be the guy that [doesn’t] accept your role,” cornerback Derrick Tindal said of what stood out to him. “Everybody can’t be a superstar. Everybody can’t be a starter. If your job is on special teams, and we need you to block, do that to the best of your ability.

“You think I like going out there to block on punt return sometimes? [No.] But I’m going to do whatever to help the team. I don’t care if it’s punt return, kickoff, kick return. They can put me on the front line if they want to. If they feel like that’s what is going to help the team, that’s what I’m going to do.

“I thought [coach] Holtz did a good job of [getting that message across].”

In recent years, injuries have forced Wisconsin to adapt on the fly and go deep into its roster to find replacements. And it’s worked well because players haven’t fallen into the trap of just going through the motions when they know they’ll likely be back on the bench when the first-team player returns. Instead, they’ve seen an opportunity and pounced on it, sometimes with stellar results.

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It was that type of work that led to the rise of linebackers Jack Cichy, Chris Orr and Ryan Connelly in the last two seasons, while also giving wide receiver Jazz Peavy the break he needed when guys at his position went down. Wisconsin’s football history is littered with similar examples.

“Embracing your role on this team and never being content with anything that you’re doing,” Orr said of his biggest takeaway from Holtz’s speech. “I think that was a good message for young guys and old guys [to hear].”

For nose guard Garrett Rand, whose high school coach played for Holtz at Notre Dame, the overriding theme was to focus on holding up his end of the bargain and expect his teammates to do the same.

“Even for the guys that aren’t playing as much, do your job,” Rand said. “[If you do] your job, everything else will be fine.”

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