Team preview: Wisconsin

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(All information as of July 1, 2006)


Last year, after 16 years, 118 wins, three Big Ten titles and three Rose Bowl victories, Barry Alvarez decided it was time to step down as head coach at Wisconsin.

As the Wisconsin athletic director, he had the final say on his replacement, and he chose a relatively fresh face in former Badger defensive coordinator Bret Bielema.

At 36, the former standout linebacker at Iowa is the youngest head coach in Division I-A football, and he's already being lauded for his energy and passion for the game. That's especially important in a football-mad town that was revitalized when Alvarez arrived on campus in 1990, even if he's not quite used to the spotlight yet.

"Well, some days I think it would be cool to be Bucky the Badger. You know, to go out there and cheer, and have nobody know who you are," Bielema told ESPN.com. "Don't get me wrong. It's great. But when you're the head football coach, you're also the head football coach at the basketball game and at the grocery store."

Bielema appreciates the fact that Alvarez will be just down the hall to answer questions, but also understands he'll be coaching in the long shadow cast by a local legend, a person whose approach to life is much different from his own.

"Barry has a very vibrant personality and is active in the community," Bielema told ESPN.com. "But it's important to note that he doesn't want me to try to emulate what he has been. He has told me, 'Be your own person. And be your own coach.'"

Bielema immediately took major steps toward making the program his own by overhauling the coaching staff, retaining only offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and wide receivers coach Henry Mason.

"On my first day on the job, I had to fire some people," Bielema told ESPN.com. "[Alvarez] made it very clear that he wanted me to be able to be in control of, and to hire, my own staff. It was a day I knew was coming very early on. … There were a lot of good coaches on this staff. To know that day was looming was not easy. But I had to go through it."