My Picks for Wisconsin's Next Head Coach

by Sahil Shah

In the aftermath of Bret Bielema’s shocking departure to Arkansas, fans were left wondering many things:

The biggest question, undoubtedly, is who will Barry Alvarez hire as the future head coach?

That is a very involved question as it will require Alvarez to do his due diligence and find someone who will be a great fit at Wisconsin. In 1990, Alvarez came to Wisconsin with a philosophy that would prove successful for the next 2+ decades: big and mobile offensive linemen, strong running game and defense, and a disciplined team. Alvarez needs to keep that tradition going and doing so will take time in finding the right person to fit that mold.

Add to that the coaching carousel that has blown up this year – 12 head coaching positions have already been filled since the end of the season. The number of obvious candidates is going down, but if there’s one person to find the right coach it is Alvarez. “I won’t use a search committee. Search committees use me” he was quoted as saying during his press conference last Thursday.

Since the day Bielema left, the rumors started flying from names like Paul Chryst (believable) to Chris Petersen (pipe dream but still a chance) to Jon Gruden (unrealistic pipe dream). As names have been dwindling, here is a list of coaches that I think have a real shot at continuing the Wisconsin tradition and be successful as the next head coach of the Badgers (as I write this, I’m sure some of these names will be crossed off by the time it posts):

Chris Petersen - Boise State Head Coach

Chris Petersen - Boise State Head Coach

Chris Petersen – Boise State Head Coach
As I’m writing this, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Petersen is unlikely to leave Boise State and the only reason I am entertaining this notion is due to the rockiness of the Big East and may force Petersen to reconsider.

Petersen has an 83-8 record as head coach of the Broncos and he’s always on the short list of head coaching positions at BCS schools every year. But it’s not so much Petersen’s record as it is the way he develops players into stars and his commitment to the team and school that is important.

He continually gets 2-star and 3-star players to come to Boise and develops them into solid players – several of which are playing in the NFL. He has an eye for talent and seems like the type of person that will stick around a program longer than expected.

Petersen has given up other big opportunities (USC, UCLA, Cal, Florida, etc) so the chances of him moving to Madison are much smaller. Fans would love this hire, but it’s an unlikely one.

Paul Rhoads - Iowa State Head Coach

Paul Rhoads - Iowa State Head Coach

Paul Rhoads – Iowa State Head Coach
Not the big name most Wisconsin fans would want, but Rhoads has been fairly successful at Iowa State when you assess the talent he has to work with. His record is only 24-26 as head coach of the Cyclones, but did upset 2nd ranked Oklahoma State in 2011. On the cover, this isn’t a “sexy” pick for Wisconsin given his record, but when you look at the intangibles, he’s a very emotional guy and his players love playing for him.

He also has Midwest ties where he spent time as an assistant at Ohio State, Iowa State and Pittsburgh. That’s something to consider as he already knows the area and can help in recruiting. Fans won’t love this hire based purely on record, but I believe he’s a better coach than his record speaks for. I wouldn’t be excited about the hire, but hey, I wasn’t excited about Bielema’s hiring back in 2005 either.

Bob Diaco - Notre Dame Asst. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator

Bob Diaco - Notre Dame Asst. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator

Bob Diaco – Notre Dame Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
Alvarez made it pretty clear in his press conference that he would interview head coaches first but didn’t shut the door on promoting an assistant coach that is ready to make the jump (see Bret Bielema in 2005). Diaco is cut from the same cloth and could see a similar interest in Wisconsin. Alvarez was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame when they won the national championship and decided to take the head coaching position at Wisconsin. Like Alvarez, Diaco was a former assistant at Iowa and has strong ties in the Midwest.

In 2011, Notre Dame’s defense ranked in the top 50 in scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense, and overall defense. This year, Notre Dame ranks first in the nation in scoring defense and is led by Heisman finalist Manti Te’o. The fact that they play one of the toughest schedules in the country year-in and year-out makes that ranking even more amazing.

If Alvarez decides not to go with a current head coach, hiring Diaco would be a great move for both sides. He brings with him a solid footing on the defensive side of the ball, strong ties in Midwest region, experience in big-stage games and a very detailed and methodical approach to coaching.

Pat Narduzzi - Michigan State Defensive Coordinator

Pat Narduzzi - Michigan State Defensive Coordinator

Pat Narduzzi – Michigan State Defensive Coordinator
As Badger fans, we all know Pat Narduzzi. We hate playing against his defense as it seems like we always lose to Michigan State. But, I’m sure most would agree that we would love to have him on our side. Narduzzi has been known to have tough, physical, and intense defenses in the past, and his name has always come up in head coaching vacancies over the last couple seasons. It’s been reported that head coach Mark Dantonio has endorsed Narduzzi for the Cincinnati head coaching position until Tommy Tuberville inexplicably took the job.

Like Diaco, Narduzzi has developed the Spartans defense into the top defense in the conference and one of the top defenses in the country. In 2011, Michigan State led the conference in rushing defense, third-down defense, interceptions and total defense en route to a berth in the conference title game (a game they really should have won). In 2012, their defense ranks 10th in the country in points allowed per game, and that unit is the biggest reason why their team even made a bowl game this season.

Along the same lines as Diaco, I would be excited about this hire as well. Not only are you ensured of having a solid defense each year, but he also knows the conference very well and is a great recruiter.

Charlie Partridge - Wisconsin Co-Defensive Coordinator

Charlie Partridge - Wisconsin Co-Defensive Coordinator

Charlie Partridge – Wisconsin Associate Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator
As it’s been reported and confirmed, current defensive coordinator Chris Ash is headed to Arkansas  in a lateral move. Now this leaves Partridge as the sole defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, but it’s possible that Alvarez will consider him for the head coaching spot as well. I haven’t heard or read anything that involves Partridge’s name as a possible candidate so if this comes to fruition, you heard it here first folks.

Partridge has been at Wisconsin for 5 seasons and was promoted last season to his current role. He helped guide the defensive unit to a top 15 ranking in both scoring defense and total defense in 2011. Promoting him could potentially mean keeping most of the other assistants intact for Wisconsin and would also calm any worries that the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes may have about the next head coach at Wisconsin. Partridge is also known as a solid recruiter and has very strong connections in Florida that has helped land talent from the south.

In my opinion, I would be pretty happy if Alvarez went with an internal hire. It would still ease the nerves of fans and recruits as if he hired a top head coach or assistant at this point. At the very least, Partridge is crucial to keep on the staff since he has strong ties to recruits in upcoming classes.

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There are many coaches off the board at this point which is why I did not include them: Paul Chryst, Mel Tucker, Al Golden, and Willie Taggart.

There are also coaches who are still viable candidates according to others, but I just don’t see them as coaches that Alvarez would hire to take this program to the next level: Darrell Bevell, Brad Childress and Randy Shannon. Childress and Shannon have had rough stints before and I can’t see Alvarez taking a chance on either of them.

The only borderline coach I can think of is Joe Rudolph. Alvarez loves him since he was part of his first recruiting class at Wisconsin and became a top assistant coach until he left with Chryst to Pittsburgh. I’m not sold on the fact that he’s ready to take on the head coaching position just yet which is why I left him off the main list.

In the end, it’s important to Alvarez that the next head coach will continue the tradition of Wisconsin football – power offense, big offensive linemen and a strong defense. Who that will be may take longer than anticipated even with all of these rumors flying around. My gut says that Alvarez will choose a top assistant coach like Diaco, Narduzzi or Partridge to take the helm.

As a betting man, my money would be on Bob Diaco. I predict he will be the next head coach at Wisconsin - provided he isn't already off the board by the time I post this.