Barry Alvarez wants you to think the wound is healed all while peeling back a blood-stained bandage.
The University of Wisconsin athletic director is a couple weeks removed from an emotional, tumultuous month in which he held down two demanding jobs and made one of the most important personnel decisions of his career.
The task of picking up the pieces following the out-of-the-blue departure by football coach Bret Bielema to Arkansas was a whirlwind of conflicting vibes for Alvarez.
Taking over as interim coach for the Rose Bowl at the urging of UW players was exhilarating, but it was draining, too, because a new coach had to be found and there was little Alvarez could do to help keep Bielema's semi-desperate assistants out of occupational limbo.
Returning to the sidelines for the first time since 2006, at a beloved venue, was great fun for Alvarez, but an inability to inflict his Hall of Fame mojo on the Badgers during their 20-14 loss to Stanford on New Year's Day was definitely not the way he wanted the story to end.
"I don't second-guess anything," Alvarez said from his Kellner Hall office Wednesday.
Not the fourth-and-goal at the Stanford 1 in the second quarter? Junior tailback James White ran out of the "Barge" formation and was denied while the all-time NCAA leader in touchdowns, Montee Ball, stood on the sidelines.
"No one said that the game before (vs. Nebraska in the Big Ten Conference championship) when we put 70 (points) up there running that same formation with that same guy reading it," Alvarez said. "I had no qualms with that at all."
Not the punt on fourth-and-1 from the Stanford 46 late in the third quarter? UW trailed 17-14 and could have taken the lead over the Cardinal heading into the final 15 minutes of regulation.
"We're winning the field position game, so why give them a chance?" Alvarez asked rhetorically. "Besides I didn't feel confident we'd block them. We can't make fourth-and-1 on the goal line. We had trouble with some of their movement."
Alvarez acknowledged giving redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave a few more snaps seemed reasonable, but said he had no issue with how senior starter Curt Phillips played or, for that matter, any of his teammates.
"The kids were prepared," Alvarez said. "They played their fannies off."
Alvarez fell to 3-1 in Rose Bowls and saw his career winning percentage drop from .615 to .612. That's noteworthy here only because he's now a tick behind one of his Hall of Fame mentors, Hayden Fry of Iowa, on the list of Big Ten coaches who worked at least 10 seasons in the league. Fry is at .613.
Alvarez said he still hasn't spoken with Bielema, his hand-picked replacement and pseudo son, since his clandestine departure for the Southeastern Conference on Dec. 4.
"Someday I will," Alvarez said dourly.
In seven seasons Bielema assembled a club that won three consecutive Big Ten titles — an unprecedented feat in program history — but Badgers fans reacted to his departure with derision amid offers to help him pack. Asked to explain that backlash, Alvarez likened Bielema to Tom Crean, the former Marquette men's basketball coach who left Milwaukee for an intense, but wildly successful rebuilding project at Indiana.
"You're a head coach and you leave for what people perceive as, at best, a lateral move," Alvarez said. "It's like a slap in the face to them."
Alvarez has found a laudable replacement in former Utah State coach Gary Andersen, but Alvarez still seems pained by the experience of having Bielema leave like he did. Alvarez used the word "ambushed" to describe it.
"I've moved on," Alvarez declared. "He left. I know the business. I don't have any problem with that."
"I just didn't like some of the things that went down afterwards or how he did it," Alvarez said, citing Bielema's public complaint regarding salaries for assistant coaches. "You made the decision to go to Arkansas. Go to Arkansas. Good luck. You don't have to take any swipes. I just didn't appreciate that."
Alvarez has since given Andersen a slightly larger pool of money to pay his assistants than Bielema had when he left.
Alvarez said he wishes Bielema well, insisting that wound has healed.
"I'm beyond that," Alvarez said. "I don't even think about that anymore."
Yes, he does.
Contact Andy Baggot at email@example.com or 608-252-6175.