Anyone hoping for a quick resolution to the search for Barry Alvarez’s successor as University of Wisconsin athletic director or hints on how the process will play out was out of luck Tuesday.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank didn’t offer much insight into how a new athletic director will be hired in comments at a celebration of Alvarez’s tenure. She also didn’t field questions.
It was Alvarez who later disclosed that a search committee will be led by Athletic Board chair Pete Miller. A UW-Madison spokesperson wouldn’t reveal who else was part of the group; Alvarez said in an interview with Big Ten Network it contained “good people, diverse people that all have a stake in the athletic department.”
Longtime friend Ted Kellner gets up to speak about Barry Alvarez at the University of Wisconsin athletic director's retirement news conference…
“They’ll visit with me on any questions or things, anything that they have, and I’m available for whatever they need,” said Alvarez, whose retirement is set for June 30.
Blank said she would divulge more information Wednesday about a national search.
“Barry is going to be hard to replace,” she said.
The Athletic Board scheduled a special meeting for 11 a.m. Wednesday with an agenda item that initially made it appear that a hire could be imminent: “Adjourn to Closed Session ... to consider employment of New Athletic Director.”
It later emerged that the meeting only will share details on how the search will be conducted. It’ll still be held in closed session, according to an agenda citing a state statute that allows debate behind closed doors when considering “employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility.”
Past searches for UW leadership, including last year’s failed search for the next UW System president, began with search committees meeting in public to openly discuss the qualities they sought in their next leader and an overview of the search process.
Madison attorney Christa Westerberg, who successfully sued UW-Madison in 2019 for open meetings and public records violations, said she always understood the exemption in question to apply to specific employees, not processes relating to the hiring of public employees.
The state Department of Justice offers a similar understanding of the law in its open meetings compliance guide.
Alvarez was given a chance to stump for the top internal candidate, deputy athletic director Chris McIntosh, at a news conference Tuesday. He initially said he was “reluctant to beat the bandwagon” but added that it was his responsibility “to have someone prepared.”
“Chris McIntosh was a player here. He loves Wisconsin. He understands it. It means something to him,” Alvarez said. “(He’s) very bright, and he’s been outstanding. I’ve given him a lot of responsibility. He spearheaded many of the things that we did, and managing staff and how we managed everything throughout COVID.”
McIntosh, a Pewaukee native who played for Alvarez from 1996 to 1999 and came to athletics administration in 2014 from jobs in the health and wellness industry, declined comment about the search process because he wanted the day to be about Alvarez.
Former Alvarez associates at UW who are now athletic directors include Northern Illinois’ Sean Frazier, Idaho’s Terry Gawlik and Iowa State’s Jamie Pollard.
Whomever is hired will contend with the challenge of following Alvarez, a popular figure across the state who pulled the Badgers football program out of the doldrums in the 1990s as coach and continued a stretch of financial success as athletic director since 2004.
Alvarez’s advice to his successor is to learn Wisconsin and the UW-Madison campus. And don’t feel the need to uproot everything.
“Realize there’s a way to get it done. There are no shortcuts,” he said. “We’ve done it here for a long time by doing it the right way. There’s a current culture here that’s proven culture.
“I know whoever comes in has to put their own fingerprints on the job. I wouldn’t tell them how to do the job; I’d be there to support and give advice anytime they wanted it. But as a wise man once said, ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.’”
State Journal reporters Colten Bartholomew, Jim Polzin and Kelly Meyerhofer contributed to this report.