The Badger Bus had just pulled out of the Camp Randall Stadium parking lot when a couple of unusual sights came to life.
First was a physical confrontation between two University of Wisconsin coaches, their arms linked in combat mode as they strained shoulder-to-shoulder against one another in the back of the vehicle.
A few moments later, UW athletic director Barry Alvarez arrived on the scene and soon had one of the participants in a brief head lock.
Yet no one on board seemed to bat an eye as the bus made its way out of town to Milwaukee for the first of three Badger Days last week. In fact, the scene brought smiles from witnesses familiar with the characters and chemistry involved.
UW wrestling coach Barry Davis and men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves are intense extroverts who share a fondness for early morning workout routines and are given to hyper antics like mock wrestling holds on a moving bus.
Alvarez, meanwhile, is clearly comfortable in the midst of such goofy give-and-take, which explains his playful grip on Davis before he plopped into his seat.
It’s a curious, enlightening tableau, especially for those whose exposure to Alvarez and/or UW coaches is limited to seeing them at work or in a controlled public setting.
These fan-centric caravans have been around for five years now — the latest round also included stops in Wisconsin Dells and Green Bay and drew a total of 1,500 Badgers enthusiasts — but this was the first opportunity I’ve had to ride with the UW entourage and see the behind-the-scenes interaction.
Truth is, these UW coaches are generally true to the personalities we see every day, though this relaxed, somewhat private setting had a definite effect.
On the way to the Harley Davidson Museum get-together, football coach Bret Bielema calmly mixed it up with one and all before taking a series of phone calls.
Men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan sat quietly in the back of the bus, occasionally going back and forth with Davis, Eaves and men’s tennis coach Greg Van Emburgh.
Women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson sat alone with his thoughts in front of the bus until Eaves, then Davis, joined him for an extended conversation.
In the middle of the bus, volleyball coach Pete Waite huddled with two first-timers — softball coach Yvette Healy and women’s basketball coach Bobbie Kelsey — while men’s cross country coach Mick Byrne listened in.
“Just to be in the company of the other coaches is a lot of fun,” Byrne said. “I think it develops camaraderie you otherwise wouldn’t get.”
One of the ulterior objectives of these Badger Days bus rides is to fortify the bond of support and familiarity between all coaches. Alvarez expects everyone, regardless of profile, to be available for assistance to the others. He thinks those moments of interaction will help somewhere along the line, whether it’s with a recruit, strategy or insight.
“It’s unique because everybody does want to help,” Kelsey said of her colleagues. “There’s no hierarchy. They all just want to help.”
That unity was on display during the Harley outing, where fans posed for pictures with Paul Bunyan’s Ax, the Big Ten Conference football trophy and the NCAA championship trophy for women’s hockey.
While Alvarez, Bielema and Ryan sat at autograph tables, Byrne, Healy and Waite talked with a cluster of fans as Davis, Eaves and women’s tennis coach Brian Fleishman held court elsewhere.
The ride home was almost jovial as everyone reminisced about the event.
“I love that coaches have time to spend time with one another,” Alvarez said. “It’s very beneficial for the staff.”
Contact Andy Baggot at email@example.com or 608-252-6175.