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Never leave Wisconsin, apparently

Two head coaches surprisingly left the Madison wins machine, then not-so-surprisingly struggled elsewhere.

Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen had a combined .737 win percentage in their nine seasons as Wisconsin head coaches.

Since leaving for Arkansas and Oregon State, respectively, they’ve combined to go .395.

On the Monday after 2017’s Week 6, Andersen and OSU announced their parting after 2.5 years, with the head coach’s guaranteed contract being ripped up along the way, leaving $12-plus million in OSU’s hands. Meanwhile, the biggest Arkansas topic in a lackluster Year 5 is Bielema’s gigantic buyout of $15 million.

When Bielema and Andersen left Wisconsin, both of their exits were shocking.

The extremely Midwestern Bielema billed his jump from a steady winner to the lower half of the SEC West rock fight as an attempt to compete against the best, while the West Coast’s Andersen framed his move to a Power 5 straggler around UW’s difficult admissions standards for athletes (though that was dubious).

In both cases, pay for assistant coaches and the looming influence of athletic director and former head coach Barry Alvarez were also considered factors, based on varying combinations of reporting, analysis, and speculation.

From the outside looking in, being Wisconsin’s head football coach is a comfortable gig, if imperfect.

UW has a far bigger athletic department than any other in the Big Ten West, typically ranking in or around the top 10 on USA Today’s athletic department revenue list. UW is also always top-20 in football attendance, another sign of its advantages over most of its peers.

UW does tend to lag in assistant coach pay, most recently ranking No. 9 among the Big Ten’s 12 publicly known staff pools despite all that money. But that leaner budget hasn’t kept the Badgers from a 2-2 record in the six-year-old Big Ten Championship. And recruiting will always be a challenge in an area so far from hotbeds, but that goes for the entire Big Ten West.

All things considered, doing a good job coaching the modern Badgers means being a Power 5 division contender almost annually, something that can only be said of maybe 15 or 20 teams in the country.

Since the Alvarez mega-era began, the Badgers have just piled up Ws.

The following doesn’t even include 2017’s first half; at the moment, Paul Chryst’s No. 9 Badgers are 5-0.

Wisconsin before and after hiring Barry Alvarez in 1990

Metric 27 years before hiring Alvarez 27 full years since hiring Alvarez
Metric 27 years before hiring Alvarez 27 full years since hiring Alvarez
Win percentage 0.387 0.667
Top-25 finishes 0 15
Top-10 finishes 0 7
Bowl record 1-2 13-9
Major bowl record 0-0 4-3

Coaching in Alvarez’s shadow — almost literally — is clearly a lot to live up to.

The local legend ended up replacing both Bielema and Andersen as Wisconsin’s bowl game head coach.

He’s as hands-on and ever-present as an AD can be. I mean:

But it’s been interesting to see the recent narrative suddenly shift, from Alvarez supposedly running off two head coaches in a row to both of those coaches laboring after leaving Wisconsin.

Here’s where it’s also worth noting Chryst was 19-19 at Pitt, but 26-6 since returning to UW, where he was a player and assistant.

Basically, all I’m saying is that once you’re Wisconsin’s head coach ...

... you better be really sure about leaving.