TAMPA, Florida — Barry Alvarez is returning to the sidelines to coach the Badgers for the second time in Wisconsin's last three bowl games.
Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director, will coach the Badgers in the Outback Bowl against Auburn on Jan. 1. He is replacing Gary Andersen, who abruptly left the program Wednesday to become Oregon State's coach.
Alvarez said Thursday a number of seniors asked him to consider coaching the team in the game.
"The last 24 hours have been hectic to say the least," Alvarez said. "It's been somewhat overwhelming but fun. I'm honored the players asked me and we're going to get ready to play against a good team."
Alvarez said he was waiting for a flight at LaGuardia Airport in New York when Andersen told him of his plans to leave. The AD said the players asked him to coach Wednesday after meeting with Andersen and he said he would think about it, but they pressed him again Thursday morning.
"I just couldn't tell those kids no," Alvarez added. "It bothers me that the kids have to go through this. Change is difficult for them."
Alvarez coached the Badgers for 16 years before taking the athletic director's job. He retired following a 24-10 victory against Auburn in the 2006 Capital One Bowl. He was pressed back into service to coach the Badgers in a loss to Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl after Bret Bielema surprised players by leaving to take the Arkansas job.
Andersen's decision initially surprised him, Alvarez said, adding that he was pleased with the job Andersen did. Anderson as 19-7 with the Badgers, but Alvarez said he is ready to move on with a search for a new coach.
"I thought Gary did a good job," Alvarez said. "I move on, I know this business, whether I like it or not it's a part of the business. It's obvious he wanted to move back to a part of the country he came from and felt most comfortable with. It was an opportunity for he and his family and I can respect that."
Alvarez confirmed that Andersen had some issues with Wisconsin's admission standards and felt like it made recruiting more difficult. But Alvarez believes Wisconsin's academics are a positive for most recruits.
"I like to think we use our admission standards well," Alvarez said. "The quality of education received at Wisconsin is something we are proud of and the kids that come here are happy with our standards."
No. 17 Wisconsin (10-3, No. 18 CFP) currently has 25 verbal commitments in its 2015 recruiting class. Alvarez said that he believes the players committed are sticking with their decisions.
"It's pretty interesting, the coaches tell me the kids are holding firm," Alvarez said. "We got a commitment last night and one today so I like the direction that it's going. I tell them you sign you make a commitment to the University of Wisconsin and not a coaching staff. Last time we had a change with the timetable exactly the table, we had 17 commitment and I don't think we lost a kid."
Alvarez has said he hoped to have a new coach by the bowl game. He said he has a short list of replacements for Andersen, but would not specify if it's similar to the short list he had two years ago to replace Bielema.
"I always keep a short list of people I want to go to," Alvarez said. "Guys that I think would be good fits to see if there's any interest. There is a process to follow at Wisconsin so you can't just go out and hire a coach, we'll follow the process. I promise the kids we'll hire a good coach and the program is going to stay consistent. We've been one of the most consistent programs since 1993."
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said the Alvarez's return to the sidelines will make facing the Badgers an even more difficult task for the No. 19 Tigers (8-4, No. 19 CFP).
"They are a very, very good team and you throw a Hall of Fame coach in there and that makes them even better," Malzahn said. "The fact that he's been there before and done these bowl games before helps with any transition."
Malzahn is also dealing with a change on his staff after dismissing defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. He said he is continuing to search for a replacement and has no timetable on when a hiring would be made.
"We're still working through that," Malzahn said. "I mean I'm hoping that we find somebody in the near future. We're just trying to go after the best out there."
AP Sports Writer Genaro C. Armas in Wisconsin contributed to this report.