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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Coaching at Rose Bowl never gets old for Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez

School's athletic director, who retired as coach in 2005, is called back for a one-off after Bret Bielema takes Arkansas job. He isn't taking the experience, or chance to beat Stanford, for granted.

Chris Dufresne

4:29 PM PST, December 29, 2012

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Barry Alvarez had trouble adjusting his chair at Saturday's Rose Bowl media day but eventually settled in without even spilling his coffee.

Alvarez said no other adjustments would be necessary. "This has been easy," he said. "Just give me a whistle. I need a whistle, that's all."

Wisconsin's legendary coach, who retired in 2005 to concentrate on becoming the school's athletic director, never contemplated a return to the sideline.

TIMELINE: College football 2012-13 bowl schedule

He had a record of 118-73-4 in 16 seasons at Wisconsin, with an 8-3 postseason record that included a 3-0 record in the Rose Bowl.

Alvarez already has been inducted in the Rose Bowl's hall of fame.

When Bear Bryant left Texas A&M for Alabama he said it was because "Mama called."

In Alvarez's case, well, it was "Mama Badger."

This is a one-shot return engagement right out of a retired coach's fantasy storybook. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin's coach for the Badgers' last two Rose Bowl defeats, left three weeks ago to unexpectedly take the Arkansas job.

Senior Wisconsin players asked Alvarez, in between his search for Bielema's successor and hiring a women's volleyball coach, to coach the team against Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

"I never thought it would happen because it never has happened," Alvarez explained. "No one has ever won the right to go to the Rose Bowl and not coached in it."

Linebacker Mike Taylor was nominated to call Alvarez.

"I was nervous," Taylor admitted this week.

It didn't go well at first.

"He didn't answer," Taylor said.

Alvarez said he didn't initially recognize the call coming in from "Green Bay."

When Alvarez finally heard the message he almost did a cartwheel.

"He was probably more excited than us," Taylor said.

Alvarez slipped back into coaching the way you would into a pair of loafers. He walked into Saturday's media-day news conference, at a downtown hotel, wearing a gray sweat suit he might have slept in.

This is the kind of thing you do when you're at home.

"I think he's brought a sense of calm," junior linebacker Chris Borland said.

Alvarez has kept spiral-bound binders on Rose Bowl preparation from his winning trips following the 1993, '98 and '99 seasons.

Alvarez's last Rose Bowl win came against Stanford. Same school — only the year is different. "I don't think the game has changed at all," Alvarez said. "Better bring your big boy pads to this one."

He learned how not to prepare for Rose Bowls by studying the mistakes of past participants.

Alvarez was Hayden Fry's assistant on Iowa team that lost to Washington, 28-0, in the 1982 game. Iowa coaches had their players up early and worked them hard from dawn to dusk.

"We did everything wrong," Alvarez said.

Washington Coach Don James let his players sleep in. The Huskies seemed to have a lot more fun than the Hawkeyes.

Alvarez took notes in case he ever led a Rose Bowl team of his own. "There's a fine line between it all," he said.

Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes and Michigan's Bo Schembechler used to barricade their teams in a monastery in the Sierra Madre foothills. The Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center was used in World War II as a weapons staging area and quartered wounded soldiers.

Alvarez thought that sounded more like boot camp. "That's punishment," he said. "No wonder they couldn't win."

Alvarez, in his binder, has the winning formula — three times. You have to mix work with play. Alvarez held a live scrimmage in his second Rose Bowl practice — which he said caused some widening of eyes.

Wisconsin teams have always played the kind of physical style you can not simply summon with the flip of a switch. "I just felt like we needed to set our pads," he said.

Alvarez addressed the little things that seemed to have plagued Bielema's Wisconsin teams. The Badgers lost the last two Rose Bowls — to Texas Christian and Oregon — by close margins.

This year's Wisconsin team lost five games — three in overtime and the two in regulation by a total of six points.

"That's been my emphasis," Alvarez said. "Let's finish. Everything you do you finish."

Alvarez also heeds former USC Coach John Robinson's Rose Bowl adage about actually stopping to smell the roses. Robinson said he always took time before the game to absorb his surroundings.

"It goes so fast, then it's over," Alvarez said. "You don't really appreciate it until it's all over. I want them to soak it all in."

Alvarez has made adjustments to the daily planner. He has shortened practices and eliminated clutter: "I don't like to waste time," he said.

He is also taking team to a movie on the eve of the game — something Bielema didn't do the last two years. The picture has already been chosen: "Jack Reacher."

As Alvarez related his Rose Bowl experiences, Wisconsin receiver Jake Stengel turned his chair around in the hotel ballroom to lock in on every word.

The bottom line for Alvarez is that, while everybody gets old, this experience never should. "There's nothing like taking the field in the Rose Bowl," he said.

It doesn't matter that he hasn't coached since 2005 or coached in this game since 2000. Alvarez has always had the game plan in his filing cabinet.

"They've followed the plan I've given them," he said.

It isn't often a man is called out of retirement to relive his glories.

"Come on," Alvarez said, "coach one game in the Rose Bowl? It's like giving me an early Christmas present."

It's an early birthday present too. Alvarez turns 66 on Sunday.

"My days are full now," he said. "But I'm having a blast."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com