The Short List of Wisconsin Football Coaching Candidates to Replace Bret Bielema

I was in the camp all along that did not believe that Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst was the ‘frontrunner’ for the University of Wisconsin head football job.

It is simply not how Barry Alvarez does business.

Maybe Jeff Long at Arkansas does business that way, and doesn’t give the courtesy to ask programs for permission to speak to potential candidates. (The disclosures on Jessica Dorrell earlier this year were probably a small clue on how that university does business, from everything to hiring a head football coach to administrative staff.  Sometimes the operation rots from the very top.)

Alvarez recommended Chryst for the Pitt job last year, and I’m sure to him it would have just felt wrong to turn around and bring him back out of his own need. Perhaps the reported $8 million buyout also has something to do with that, but Alvarez candidly explained during his Thursday presser that such a move at this point in time would simply not be right.

Which is exactly why Barry Alvarez is pure class.

And it isn’t like there is a shortage of well-qualified candidates for the position.

Maybe at a future point the timing for Paul Chryst and Wisconsin may be right. In the meantime, here are a few possibilities I have for who will become the next Wisconsin head football coach, most serious…and a couple off the wall.

There is one former UW icon who is beginning to get some serious speculation…

Lead Candidate: Darrell Bevell

Currently Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator

He goes back to the Alvarez Era.

Actually, the former quarterback was a red-shirted freshman at Northern Arizona University in 1989, when the program had a young offensive coordinator named Brad Childress. Bevell would then go on his two-year Mormon mission, and by the end of that time Childress had matriculated to the University of Wisconsin. The rest was history.

Not the most talented QB ever, Bevell still became the Badgers starter in 1993 and led the team to its first conference championship in 31 years and first Rose Bowl win ever. He  would go on to play to more seasons at UW.

It was Bevell’s final appearance at Camp Randall that I remember most, and it nearly killed him.

With the Badgers out of bowl consideration, Wisconsin faced the University of Illinois in a game that would end in a 3-3 tie. The nature of the game was as brutal as that score indicated. Bevell tried to gut through the game with what was originally said to be merely bruised ribs, against a defense featuring future NFLers Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy. Bevell was eventually carted off to a standing ovation from the Badgers faithful, and he wound up spending several nights in the ICU with a lacerated kidney.

That injury kept Bevell from getting a look from the NFL, and he quickly turned to coaching at Westmar University in Iowa. By 2000 Bevell was a member of the Green Bay Packers staff and in 2006 was hired by Brad Childress to become the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator. He was there for five years before moving on to the Seahawks in the same capacity, where he has raised eyebrows this year helping the development of fellow UW alum Russell Wilson.


Image credit: Stephen Brashear/AP Photo via

The position description out of UW is calling for someone with previous HC experience, which could keep Bevell out of the running along, with the fact that he’s not been on a college staff since 1999.

Myself though, I would look past that.

Nearly everywhere Bevell has been as a player or coach he has been a winner. If I were AD at Wisconsin for a day, this is who I’d hire. It might be the same stretch the Seahawks made making Wilson the starting QB this year, but sometimes a bold move is needed. I would be very happy if Bevell got the job.

Other candidates

Bob Diaco – Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator

He was reportedly a finalist for the recently filled opening at Boston College, and the Irish program breathed a sigh of relief when he was passed over. Domer Nation may have to hold its breath again if the Badgers come calling.

Diaco got a lot of credit for the Irish’s 12-0 season, with perhaps the nation’s best defense. He won the Frank Broyles award for best assistant coach Thursday night.

Diaco also happens to be an Iowa alum. Hmmm, went to Iowa + Notre Dame assistant.  There was someone else who was once an assistant in Iowa City and became a defensive coordinator in South Bend, then moved on to Wisconsin – that man wound up being a pretty good hire.

Kirby Smart – Alabama Defensive Coordinator

He is talked about approximately every five minutes on the Paul Finebaum radio show and is indeed considered to be an eventual marquee coaching candidate, still only age 36.

Some people down in SEC land think Kirby might just get a courtesy interview in Madison. But would getting Smart be a good fit? In a way, an Alabama guy winding up at Wisconsin may seem as strange as Bret Bielema landing at Arkansas.

If hired at UW, I would imagine Smart would only stay until his dream SEC gig (Nick Saban retiring or whatever) opened up. This may be Smart’s last chance at a coaching gig at a BCS school this year, but he’ll be content at Alabama for at least one more year, where he will be paid far more than many current FBS HC’s.

Jon Gruden – Monday Night Football Mouthpiece

Strange to say, but this is only Gruden’s fourth year on MNF. He just seems to have been away from coaching longer. (By comparison, Dick Vermiel did TV work for 14 years between his gigs coaching the Philadelphia Eagles and the St. Louis Rams.)

Like John Madden for seemingly forever, Gruden coaching rumors will follow him for literally the rest of his life, no matter how much coin he makes on television. If Gruden can be linked to rumors involving the University of Tennessee, or (even worse) a return to the Oakland Raiders, then we can throw his hat into the ring for the Wisconsin job as well. Gruden did have his stint with the Packers as a Mike Holmgren disciple, so he has the ‘Wisconsin-ties’ qualification down.

And he does do more than serve as TV commentator one day a week and play golf. Gruden runs a high-profile quarterback camp on an annual basis and knows virtually all of the top QB prospects coming up. If he came to UW, he would no doubt persuade some top QBs to come to Madison to compliment the Badgers traditional ground and pound game plan.

Willie Taggart – Western Kentucky HC

He has been rumored to have already interviewed for the Wisconsin job. Taggert was originally an option QB at WKU under Jack Harbaugh when the school was a 1-AA powerhouse – so he’s your man if looking for someone linked to the Harbaugh coaching dynasty.

Taking over a start-up FBS program, Taggart has put the Hilltoppers into the school’s first ever bowl game in his third year at the helm. He is also in the mix for the opening at South Florida, and many think that’s where he will land.

Dave Doreen – North Carolina St. HC

Any chance that the former Badgers DC and Northern Illinois HC will pull a Bill Belichick after one week on the job and scribble a note saying, ‘I resign as HC of NCSU..’??

I don’t think so. As is the case with Paul Chryst, don’t look for UW to pay a huge buyout to land a coach.

The case of Doreen is a cautionary tale about timing. If you’re a suddenly high-profile coaching candidate, you might want to wait longer than 12 hours after your conference championship game to grab the first job offered.

Incidentally, Doreen’s counterpart in the MAC Championship game is also off the market, as Kent State coach Darrell Hazell was hired at Purdue. It was a great year for MAC-tion ®, but the league quickly learned that they are still just a mere stepping stone for coaches moving on to bigger and better things.

Jeff Jagodzinski – Unemployed

He gets a mention because he grew up literally a stone’s throw from where I currently am. After being the Packers Offensive Coordinator in 2006 and becoming the HC at Boston College late that year, his future was so bright he needed shades.

Top-ten team in the rankings, check. Had a QB named Matt Ryan, so that was working out well for him.

But then he decided to interview for that long-shot New York Jets opening, even though he was warned by the AD that it would be a terminable offense.

Turned out AD was not bluffing. Jags was fired next day, and things only got worse from there.

Jagodzinski was hired as the Tampa Bay Bucs offensive coordinator, but was let go before the end of Training Camp. Jags was then hired as Head Coach of the UFL Omaha Nighthawks, but he was even fired there before completing a season, completing the most spectacular freefall in the football world since Ray Handley.

No, don’t think Jags is on Barry’s short list, and not even George O’Leary can magically fix that resume. If he’s lucky, maybe he can land on the staff at his alma mater Wisconsin-Whitewater.

As it turned out, the events at Chestnut Hill late in 2008 turned bad for all parties involved. BC football has gone straight downhill since, and the AD who fired Jags recently got a pink slip himself.

Bo Ryan – Current UW Basketball HC

Wild Card candidate based upon the recommendation of Midwest Sports Fans senior editor/CEO Jerod Morris.

You know what – I kind of like the idea!!!


Okay, so who will get hired?

Probably someone I didn’t list here. I have not even gotten to Chris Peterson/Boise St., Gary Patterson/TCU, Al Golden/Miami, or current Defensive Coordinator Chris Ash…or even Barry himself deciding to return as HC for at least next year (though he says that will not be the case).

I am going to put my finalists as Ash, Darrell Bevell, and Bob Diaco.

May the best man win.

About Kurt Allen

Have written/blogged about sports since 2000, along with starting my popular Twitter feed in 2009. I also closely follow fantasy sports developments, along with events such as the NFL Draft.


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