Three more times

Ask me about the ’80s, and I’ll show you what I was doing:

1983 Rank 25
Rank 25, 1983 (last year of black band W).
1984 Rank 25
Rank 25, 1984 (first year of new uniforms, last year with personally supplied trumpets).
1984 Illinois
At Illinois, 1984. Worst artificial turf I have ever seen. Seams as wide as the yard lines.
1985 On Wis snow
The final game of the 1985 season against Michigan State. Also the last UW game Dave McClain ever coached.
1986 Vegas
Las Vegas, 1986. I recovered from the crushing blow of not winning a Ferrari on a slot machine.

Madison.com on the big event tonight through Saturday night:

He has thought long and hard about what to say to the thousands attending the UW Varsity Band spring concerts this week at the Kohl Center.

Spectators want more than a show. They want to witness UW Bands director Mike Leckrone’s last “last”: the sold-out concert series — slated for Thursday, Friday and Saturday — that will cap an end to a storied 50-year career before he retires this academic year.

“This is the moment everybody is sort of looking for to represent the curtain coming down in a lot of ways,” Leckrone said. “Is that too dramatic?”

Leckrone’s speech at the end of the show, he’s decided, will be one of reassurance.

“This is the thought that everyone seems to be bringing to me now is, what’s going to happen next?” he said. “Where is the band going to go? What I want to do is assure people that there is a tradition. There are certain things the band has done over the years that I don’t see evaporating. There will be changes, yes, but there’s not going to be a complete change in the traditions.”

He paused, as if editing the speech inside his head.

“That’s kind of the gist of it,” he said. “I will hopefully say it much better than that.”

This entire year has been a last year since Leckrone’s announcement last August …

… and the end of the football season last fall.

In March 1975, just five years into his career, Leckrone, then 37, decided an end-of-the-year gathering for his Marching and Varsity bands would be nice.

“Let’s have a party,” the kids said.

“Let’s have one last performance,” Leckrone replied.

Leckrone met the students half an hour before the concert began in Room 1341 of the Humanities building. On the blackboard, he scribbled down the songs students would play later that night in Mills Hall.

They had debated earlier whether to charge a dollar to attend.

“Nobody will pay a buck,” someone said.

About 450 people did.

He sweated through his red blazer by intermission. On went a gaudy blue and red splotched shirt he had brought to wear to the after-party as a joke.

The next year, he wore a red sequined vest, and his attire kept escalating in ostentatiousness from there.

The single-day show has morphed into massive, multi-day blowouts led by ringmaster Leckrone.

Saturday’s show sold out Jan. 14, the first day tickets became available. Friday’s show sold out the next day. Thursday’s show sold out three weeks later.

Those who can’t get tickets can still see the show when it airs at 7 p.m. Saturday on Wisconsin Public Television at go.madison.com/leckrone-concert.

Leckrone has few concrete plans to share when people ask him about his retirement plans.

“I haven’t had time to think about it,” he said. “It’s been a nonstop pace practically since I announced (my retirement).”

He gave up golf long ago. He doesn’t like to fish or hunt. He even considers eating a waste of time.

“I can absolutely guarantee I’m not going to pack up, sell my house and move to Florida or Arizona,” he said.

UW-Madison granted Leckrone, who never took a sabbatical in his 50 years working for the university, a paid leave next academic year.

He plans to spend part of it archiving some of his work with Mills Music Library. He looks forward to composing and arranging more music. He will also host a Wisconsin Alumni Association tour traveling through Europe next fall.

While Leckrone may be on campus from time to time, the sabbatical doesn’t change the sentimentality of his last year.

“I’m not going to have that day-to-day contact with the students,” he said. “That’s the finality of it.”

Leckrone has received between 400 and 500 letters from students and former students this year thanking him for the influence he had on their lives. Over his 50-year career, he’s accumulated file drawers’ worth of notes.

For a man who says he has never seen a perfect performance — the tubas came in too early in one song, or students sprung from their seats too quickly or the flugelhorns lacked fervor — these concerts are Leckrone’s grand finale.

The first meeting for this week’s shows took place in July.

His concerts have featured fireworks, blimps, confetti, strobe lights and a Fifth Quarter chicken dance, among other special effects. One year, sparklers attached to his hands accidentally misfired, burning a few strands of his hair. Another time a boxing championship banner caught fire.

Leckrone directs 280 students, along with scores of stagehands, electricians, sound technicians, pyrotechnicians and others. He says everyone knows what his or her job is but jokes that the only person who knows everyone else’s job is himself.

Leckrone’s entrances have become legendary. He has swung from a trapeze, soared over the stage on a motorcycle and ridden a bicycle across the Fieldhouse on a wire.

In 2017, he took it easy following double-bypass heart surgery. He characterized his 2018 entrances as “modest.”

His grand entrance this year?

“Oh that, I’m not telling!” he said. “But we’re going to blow the whole thing here.”

After the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, whose opening ceremony included someone flying into the L.A. Coliseum on a jet pack, Leckrone considered that for the band’s 1986 100th-anniversary concert in Camp Randall Stadium, but decided he didn’t have enough time to be properly trained on it.

Doug Moe adds:

Ask Mike Leckrone to sort through a half century of Badgers memories for a favorite and he’ll give you the 1994 Rose Bowl, Wisconsin’s first appearance in the modern era.

“It was so over the top,” says the longtime band director, who is in his final weeks as conductor. “We played every possible venue. We were on the Queen Mary, at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. Then we won the game!”

Over the top? Leckrone conjures another indelible memory: the 1973 NCAA hockey championship at fabled Boston Garden. It was the first national title for the Badgers hockey team. The Wisconsin fans nearly stole the show, and not for the last time. Coach Bob Johnson — whose exuberance matched Leckrone’s — knew the fans’ value and would occasionally shout from the bench to his friend, “Get the crowd going, Leckrone!”

Perhaps nothing says over the top quite so much as the three-night extravaganza known as the University of Wisconsin–Madison Varsity Band Concert. Slated for April 11-13, this sold-out edition is the 45th, and Leckrone’s last. He directed the first one in March 1975 — six years after arriving on campus — and helped turn it from an impromptu gathering at Mills Hall into a pyrotechnic, multimedia spectacular at the Kohl Center.

It won’t be the true swan song for Leckrone, 82, who last August announced he’d retire at the end of this school year. The band will play at commencement in May. But the three nights of spring concerts figure to be particularly memorable. Leckrone said 150 or so alumni band members might return for a riff on “The Music Man” he has planned.

Mike Leckrone has taken an over-the-top approach almost from the beginning. When he was a kid, Leckrone and his dad had a comedic musical act that wowed service clubs in rural Indiana. Leckrone blew some specialty notes on trumpet and his dad played intricate piano pieces with mittens on.

“It looks harder than it is,” Leckrone says.

Leckrone explored other avenues — chemical engineering and coaching — but music kept its grip on him. He earned a music degree at Butler University and later became the school’s band director.

That’s where UW–Madison found him when Ray Dvorak retired after leading the UW bands for 34 years. At the time Leckrone thought, “How could anyone do 34 years?”

While Leckrone was considering the Madison job, he and his wife, Phyllis, got a tour of the campus. It was the Vietnam era and there were protest signs and broken windows in sight.

When Leckrone announced he was taking the UW–Madison job, his wife burst into tears. “She was an Indiana farm girl and didn’t know what she was getting into.” Phyllis warmed to her new home and became known as the “Badger band mom.” Her death in August 2017, after 62 years of marriage, was a crushing blow.

When they arrived in Madison in 1969, Leckrone himself took some time to acclimate. His duties expanded beyond marching band. He began teaching. Early on, Leckrone was asked to assemble a pep band to appear at indoor sporting events. That led to the season-ending varsity band concerts.

Every year — for 50 years now — 100 to 150 new students have attended tryouts for the celebrated UW band. Do the math: Leckrone has met and mentored more than 5,000 young men and women.

Dr. Frank Byrne, retired president of St. Mary’s Hospital and a member of the UW alumni band (although he went to Notre Dame; it’s a long story), is a friend and fan of Leckrone.

“What you learn in marching band is accountability and teamwork,” Byrne says. “You’re accountable to each other.” Leckrone held them accountable — but he always had their backs.

“He’s entertained millions,” Byrne continues. “But he’s changed the trajectory of thousands of lives by giving them the opportunity to get engaged with music.” …

Prominent in Leckrone’s memory bank is directing the varsity band concert just weeks after his double bypass heart surgery in January 2017. “I’ll never forget the day I walked back into rehearsal,” he says.

Leckrone had prepared everyone for his not being there. That’s what he’s doing now, preparing people — himself especially— for his retirement. He’s been too busy to really think it through. Leckrone will be on a Wisconsin Alumni Association cruise down the Danube River in Eastern Europe in September. After that, only one thing is certain. “It will have something to do with music.”

I’ve been thinking about that this week. There were football halftimes — turning boos into a standing ovation from 100,000 fans at Michigan; what I considered to be a perfect (at least error-free) performance at Illinois, the one bowl game I got to march in. There were also football games — beating Ohio State twice — and other games — a triple-overtime game against Indiana in 1987, beating Iowa in 1985 (preceded and followed by an amusing five seconds with a group of Hawkeye fans), and UW’s going 9–0 in overtime hockey games the five years I was at UW.

I can’t remember all the shows I marched, but I remember a number of them. The 1984 rock show, which included “Sh-Boom” and “Tequila,” got performed four times — at Michigan, at Illinois, at Homecoming against Minnesota and at the bowl game. (All UW losses.) I marched “West Side Story” in high school (since our director was a field assistant) and at UW. The next year, we did “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

There were other moments. A 1987 Marching Band practice was interrupted for about 10 seconds by a tornado warning — five seconds of Leckrone’s announcing the tornado warning, followed by five seconds of tuba players’ yelling “Auntie Em! Auntie Em! It’s a twister!” There was the day coming back from a concert in Merrill where we had to push our bus through an intersection in Madison to get to the hockey game we were playing in that night. There was the brief drag race between Leckrone and myself on South Park Street going from the Fieldhouse to the Dane County Coliseum from the former’s basketball game to the latter’s hockey game. There was the night after an exhibition basketball game against an Eastern Bloc national team where a group of us tried to find the team at a series of Madison hotels, but failed. There was having an entire hotel in Indianapolis to ourselves coming back from the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl, where the bowl game was replayed in the halls at 2:30 a.m., and the right team won.

There is another reason to bring this up. Leckrone’s final three concerts will include a contingent of alumni playing part of “The Music Man.” I will be one of those alumni band players, so if you are at one of the concerts, or you watch on Wisconsin Public Television taped or WPT.org live, you may see me playing. That is a bit ironic since I’ve only played a couple of alumni events since I graduated, but on the other hand I enjoyed playing in the concerts more than watching them, I get my chance tonight through Saturday night.

I’ve written here before that 30 years after I graduated I still have dreams about getting thrown into either football games or UW band concerts, lacking most of what I need for the performance. It turns out the dreams (nightmares?) came true.

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The last Camp Randall whistle

On Wisconsin magazine, which we UW alumni get:

As he had done at the end of countless UW Marching Band practices, director Mike Leckrone stood on top of a ladder on a hot, sunny August afternoon. The band’s veterans, along with rookies who had just won a coveted spot, crowded around to listen.

It had been a year since Leckrone had lost his wife of 62 years, Phyllis. Seven months before that, he had undergone heart surgery. Today, he would tell the band of the decision he had shared with only a few senior university officials: he was ending his remarkable half-century reign. He would lead them through one more football season, followed by hockey and basketball and the spring concert.

In this moment, Leckrone told his musicians what he expected of them.

“You must maintain the traditions, the intensity, the desire, and everything that everybody for the last 50 years has brought to this group,” he said. “I would be sorely disappointed if I see that doesn’t happen, because it’s in your hands to do that.”

Later that day as the news quickly spread, alumni band members began posting decades-old photos of themselves in their band uniforms on Facebook with the hashtag #IMarchedforMike. In September, the annual alumni band day — when former members march during the football pregame and halftime shows — drew record numbers. So many people wanted to play under Leckrone’s direction for one last time that organizers had difficulty creating a routine that would fit more than 500 people on the field, all wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with his name.

“Any one of us whose paths have crossed Mike’s feel that … he deeply touched us and continues to do so,” Sarah Halstead ’87, a cymbal player who spent four years in the band, said shortly before the alumni band took the field. “We’re here to honor him and, in some way, say, ‘Thank you.’ We’ve heard so many times from him — ‘Just one more time.’ And this really is the last time.”

It may seem strange to think now, but Leckrone could have spent decades performing the University of Minnesota fight song.

Every Badger fan who has attended a home basketball, football, or hockey game since 1969 knows the man wielding the baton — a beloved, charismatic musical leader who exhorts crowds to shout, “When you say Wis-con-sin, you’ve said it all!” So it’s hard to picture Leckrone leading a stadium full of Gopher fans through their signature chant of “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A.”

But in 1968, seeking a step up from his job as marching band director at Butler University, Leckrone looked to the Big Ten and applied for openings at Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both schools turned him down.

A year later, the UW called and asked if he was still interested. Leckrone said yes, even though it did not have the makings of a dream gig. At that point, the band had cycled through three different directors in as many years. And in the last 20 games, the football team had logged 19 losses and one tie (see page 13). The band’s ranks had dwindled — from around 130 participants to just 96 — and they frequently played to partially empty stands. It was also the height of the antiwar protest era on campus.

“It wasn’t really politically correct to put on a uniform and march around campus in those days,” says Leckrone, 82, an Indiana native and the son of a marching band director.

Unimpressed with the band’s lack of energy, Leckrone changed its marching style. He made the switch to a high step, which requires a musician’s knee to hesitate while lifted at 90 degrees, which he calls “stop at the top.” Leckrone stressed pride in the band and worked on small details like the snap of the “horns up” movement. Gradually, more students joined and, by his third year, the band began to transform into a cohesive unit.

Initially there was some resistance, recalls Ray Luick ’73, the band’s drum major when Leckrone took over. Luick played tuba his freshman year in 1968 before serving as drum major for the next three seasons.

“He had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do and we didn’t have a clue. Here’s a guy whose lifelong ambition was to be a Big Ten band director, and we were just part of the group he inherited,” says Luick, who returns each year with his drum major baton to lead the alumni band.

Fifty years after watching Leckrone take over the band, Luick is not surprised to see the director in charge this long.

“He has never lost the enthusiasm or the realization that this is just a lot of fun for a lot of people,” Luick says. “I think that recognition of how all these insane pieces fit together is very important to him and allowed him not to see this as 50 years of work but a continuation of something he enjoys doing.”

When he was hired, Leckrone figured he would transition to an administrative role in the School of Music within 10 years. But he enjoyed the marching band so much that, within a few years, he put aside thoughts of taking off the black uniform he wore for football games.

He says he’s lucky Minnesota turned him down. With a smile, Leckrone explains that Wisconsin has a much better fight song.

“Part of that is the cleverness [songwriter William] Purdy used in the song. That first four-note interchange — da, da, da, dum — you can turn it into all sorts of musical ideas. It doesn’t sound forced. It has a flow to it,” he says.

It has been decades since Leckrone struggled to find enough players to fill the band’s ranks. About 300 students make up the current band; 230 march at halftime. Others, usually freshmen, serve as alternates ready to step in for an injured player.

When you say Wisconsin …
The UW band first played its rendition of one of its signature songs more than four decades ago, when rowdy Badger hockey fans wanted to hear a polka.

Leckrone instructed the band to play the Budweiser jingle, but switch up the drum beat to make it sound more like a polka. At the next hockey game, fans chanted, “We want a polka!” The band responded by playing “You’ve Said It All,” also known as “The Bud Song.” Soon, Wisconsin replaced Budweiser in the lyrics, a substitution Leckrone suggested for fear “the crowd would get the wrong idea of the drinking habits of the band or the audience.”

Fans demanded the song throughout the season as the men’s hockey team played its way to the 1973 NCAA championship. Gradually the band began playing it at other events, including football games. But worried fans, who did not like the way people jumping and dancing to the song made Camp Randall’s upper deck sway, complained to Athletic Director Elroy Hirsch x’45, who asked Leckrone to stop playing it.

Leckrone had another idea.

“Wouldn’t it be fun if you make a production of it, and announce the band will not play the song right after the game, but give five minutes for those of you who are faint of heart [to leave the upper deck],” Leckrone says. “Elroy thought it was fun. So we did it, and it just blossomed from there.”
And so, “You’ve Said It All” became the cornerstone of the Fifth Quarter.

To his musicians, Leckrone is more than a band director — he’s a mentor and coach who instills the necessity of hard work and having fun. And as the fortunes of Badger sports teams have soared and sunk over the years, there’s always been one constant: the appeal of the band.

“Mike is without question one of the most beloved figures in the history of UW–Madison. He has made a significant impact on campus, in Madison, throughout the state, and beyond,” says UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. “When we speak with officials from bowl games each year, I tell them that Wisconsin will bring the whole package — team, fans, and band. Mike’s leadership of the band has certainly been an important part of that package for our school for many, many years.”

Although it might look seamless to fans at Camp Randall, each band performance at home games represents much thought, planning, and practice. Leckrone is one of the few — if not the only — college marching band director to continue to arrange all the band’s music as well as write charts for the pregame and halftime shows.

In addition to leading the marching and pep bands at sports events, Leckrone also teaches classes and conducts the symphonic band. A fan of big band music, his jazz and pop music courses are popular because of his encyclopedic knowledge and his infectious excitement for the tunes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and other early jazz legends. During a lecture on his favorite jazz artist — trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke — Leckrone has been known to dramatically rip open his overshirt to reveal a “Bix Lives!” T-shirt.
“It’s pretty amazing to keep up with his schedule. He’s a very energetic guy. I hope I have at least a quarter of his energy when I’m his age,” says assistant director of bands Darin Olson, who’s some 50 years Leckrone’s junior.

Leckrone knows the students who crowded around his ladder in August are the last group of young adults he’ll lead at the UW. They are the ones who will play his last football games at Camp Randall. They will tell the musicians who join the band next year and the year after that, what it was like to play for a legend.

He reminded them to keep up the intensity — but, most of all, to have fun.
“You have provided me with so many moments of happiness,” an emotional Leckrone said during his August address. “I can’t even begin to thank you. I will tell you those moments of happiness have gotten me through difficult times. I hope they can do that for you. Live for those moments of happiness.”

Then Leckrone climbed down and sang “Varsity” with his band.




I have heard this phrase “moments of happiness” numerous times this fall. I honestly do not remember him ever saying that in the five years I was in the band. (Which, let us remember, are part of the first half of Leckrone’s epoch at UW.) There was another phrase I do remember, one we came up with — don’t do what he says; do what he means. 

The last pregame, halftime and Fifth Quarter

Madison.com:

It’s not yet 7 a.m. and students gather at UW-Madison’s practice field, shivering in the dark.

Without a word from their leader, and while most of their classmates are still asleep, the 260-some members of the UW Marching Band come to attention, ready to rehearse.

“Gooooood morning, Elm Drive!” band director Michael Leckrone’s voice booms, his headset carrying his game-day greeting to the street just east of the field.

The students start doing jumping jacks to get their blood pumping. A thermometer reads 37 degrees.

The band runs through its halftime show, a routine that changes every home game. For this particular game, the Nov. 3 contest against Rutgers, Leckrone came up with “Jersey Boys,” an arrangement filled with plenty of the high kicks and hip-popping that’s made the Badger Band so distinctive.

The sun rises and Leckrone moves to the tower positioned on the sidelines at the 50-yard line. From his perch, he picks at every imperfection.

“I sure see a lot of mistakes,” he says with a shake of his head. “Tubas, do it again.”

He corrects their spacing, fixes the way a particular note is played, reminds them that the balls of their feet, not the center, should hit the lines on the field. He does not praise them.

“That was better,” he says of their final run-through. “You’re going to get one more chance at 12:30 today.”

It’s a variation of a common refrain he tells his kids: You only get one chance to get it right.

And on Saturday, they’ll only get one more chance at Camp Randall under Leckrone, who will direct his last home football game after a 50-year career leading UW-Madison’s marching band.

A Wisconsin institution

Nostalgia has laced much of Leckrone’s last football season: In the back of his mind and in his assistants’ and students’ minds is a ticking clock, counting down the days, the rehearsals, the games he has left.

“Every event, someone will say, ‘This is the last time you’re going to do that,’” Leckrone said. “You’re only going to come on the field three more times. Two more times. Four more times. It’s a constant reminder. As we get closer to ‘the final curtain,’ as Frank Sinatra used to say, I think it’ll be more on my mind than ever.”

Since his first day — Sept. 1, 1969 — six chancellors and two acting chancellors have come and gone. He’s on his ninth football coach and directed halftime shows for 50 of Camp Randall’s 101 years.

“He represents the spirit of the university,” said Janice Stone, a former UW band member who has volunteered as one of Leckrone’s field assistants for 27 years. “When I think of the faces of the university, it’s the chancellor and Barry Alvarez and Mike.”

He’s also a rarity in the college band world: He is the marching band director but he is also the director of bands at UW-Madison, which means he is in charge of instruments, budgets and other administrative work. He also teaches.

Leckrone considered staying on as a music professor next year — he teaches one music course in the fall and two in the spring — but decided to retire fully at the end of this academic year.

His wife’s death in August 2017 — the love of his life, whom he met in seventh grade, married at 19 and spent 62 years with — factored into his decision. Since her passing, tucked into his black band jacket on game days is a photo of the two of them, surrounded by palm trees in Pasadena on their first trip to the Rose Bowl.

Leckrone’s health played a role as well. He had double bypass surgery in January 2017.

He also didn’t want to hear whispers that his time had passed, like a TV series that should have ended three seasons ago. He wants to end strongly, on a high note, like Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

“I wanted to not do it as a last gasp,” he said.

On Aug. 25, Leckrone told his students that this year would be his last. And he requested that this season be “business as usual.”

Students wiped away tears as Leckrone took long pauses and announced he would relinquish not only his baton, but an identity that has defined him.

Not a ‘sweetheart’

What the Camp Randall crowds see is a nice man who always sports a smile, still does the chicken dance at age 82 and looks as fondly at his students as at his six grandchildren.

What isn’t seen in the stadium is the hours of nitpicking on the practice field.

They don’t hear him screeching into his mic, “Hands! Watch the hand positions!”

They don’t see him throwing his clipboard from the tower only to ask a student to retrieve it after a two-minute diatribe about the trumpet players’ failure to “put some fight into it.”

They don’t catch that his request to play it “one more time” really means five more.

They don’t know how much he enjoys blowing his 35-year-old whistle, once, twice, three times in a row, however many times it takes for the students to stop playing so he can tell them what’s preventing them from achieving perfection.

“I don’t particularly have a reputation for being a sweetheart,” he allowed.

Halftime shows

Unlike the football games that sandwich the halftime shows, Leckrone has no final score on which to judge his success.

Cymbals clanging, drums beating, the Badger Band marches up and down the field as it’s done since 1885.

Leckrone’s assessment of the Nov. 3 show: “Pretty good,” but he says he likes to withhold judgment until he gets his hands on the film the following Monday.

Leckrone is always among the last to file off the field. He pats nearly every student’s shoulder or brushes their hand, dishing out a “good job” to those who look like they need it.

The students’ faces are red and their lungs out of breath after the 10-minute show, but they look pleased with themselves and the crowd’s reaction.

As Leckrone turns to head back to the end zone, one of his longtime assistants leans in and says to him what Leckrone has tried to forget all season: “Well, one more.”

‘Nobody like Mike’

Leckrone has the longest tenure of any marching band director, past or present, in the history of the Big 10, according to a survey submitted to each institution’s marching band director.

Mark Spede, president-elect of the College Band Directors National Association, pointed to just one current director with a tenure nearly as long as Leckrone’s. Arthur Bartner started at the University of Southern California in 1970, one year after Leckrone.

Leckrone was the clear frontrunner at UW-Madison, said H. Robert Reynolds, who led the university’s hiring search for the marching band director in the late 1960s.

Reynolds drove down to Butler University where Leckrone had worked his way up to band director just a few years after earning his music degree there. It was clear Leckrone had high energy and a special rapport with students.

Born and raised in Indiana, Leckrone would have been happy staying at Butler for his entire career.

“But you get ambitious,” he said.

Reynolds never expected Leckrone to stay so long. Directing marching bands is “a young man’s game” that people usually trade in for teaching or concert band positions.

Leckrone also didn’t expect to spend 50 years directing. Like many in higher education, he figured the next step in the career ladder was administration.

He tried it out, about 20 years ago, when he served as assistant director of the School of Music before quickly realizing it wouldn’t work. He missed making music.

Leckrone specifically requested not to serve on the search committee for his successor. Having the next director looking over his shoulder at the last one wouldn’t work, he said.

“I think Wisconsin’s been very lucky to have had him for 50 years,” Reynolds said. “And I think this transition is going to be difficult to satisfy the students, the alumni, the crowd at the games. They’re going to expect a Mike Leckrone band. Don’t get me wrong, there’s good marching band directors out there. But there’s nobody like Mike.”

Ideas unfulfilled

At 82, Leckrone still works full time, spending a few hours working from his Middleton home in the morning before driving his Ford Escape to campus between 9 and 10 a.m. Among his pre-set Sirius XM radio channels is Frank Sinatra.

He holds rehearsals from 3:45 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays and handles administrative and teaching duties before practice.

Leckrone gets home at about 6 p.m. and works until 11 p.m. on whatever needs to get done.

“There’s always the next show, always the next performance you have to get ready for,” he said.

He has ideas in his head for next year that will go unfulfilled.

Establishing traditions

Many Badgers fans come for the football and stay for the band.

It wasn’t always that way.

Leckrone took over the band at a “low ebb” in its 133-year history. The football team hadn’t won in 24 consecutive games. With the Vietnam War at its peak, the idea of putting on a uniform and marching around wasn’t popular, and Leckrone fielded fewer than 100 students in his first year.

Whereas others saw setbacks, Leckrone saw an untapped opportunity, a “sleeping giant.”

His 50-year career was not without some bad headlines: hazing, lewdness by band members, and an assistant director who resigned after reported inappropriate sexual behavior.

Leckrone suspended the band from a single home game in 2008, an action he said was wrong in hindsight because it punished all of the students instead of solely the offenders.

As the Badgers football team’s success grew and universities recognized how much money could be made in college athletics, the unbridled band faced new restrictions.

“There are times when I would love to play ‘On Wisconsin’ because I think the crowd needs it and the team needs it, but the script says it’s time to show the whirling hamburgers or whatever,” he said, referring to the advertisements shown on the Jumbotron.

Leckrone is most in his element during the Fifth Quarter, the 15-minute post-game show born in the early 1970s out of Leckrone’s own boredom at playing the same old songs.

“I realize what I do is not the most important thing in the world,” Leckrone said of his legacy. “I haven’t contributed to any great discoveries. I’ve brought a few smiles to people’s faces.”

Moments of happiness

On game days, Leckrone insists on walking from his office to the stadium and back, about two miles round-trip.

He rests occasionally on a stool in the band’s section, particularly in the second half, but is ready to hop on his ladder and strike up the band whenever the Badgers score.

Each year’s group of students has its own personality. Some are a little flaky. Some are tricksters, pulling pranks on Leckrone during practice. This year’s bunch, because of the circumstances, is more serious.

Leckrone has a theory he shares with all of his students about “moments of happiness.”

“Your mind lives on the moments of happiness,” he says. “They sometimes don’t last long and aren’t as big as we think they are, but if you can find a lot of them, you can live on them.”

With 1:06 on the clock and the Badgers ahead 31-17, restlessness sets in among the thousands at Camp Randall on Nov. 3.

Some of the spectators start filtering out of the stadium, hoping to beat the rush in the parking lots. Bucky Badger continues to work the crowd.

The showman stops watching the game, slowly turning himself around, capturing views of Camp Randall from every angle of his perch at the end zone, taking it all in — a moment of happiness.

Coda

After the game, band members gather in the courtyard of the Humanities building, looking up at their leader on the second-floor balcony. At least a hundred others — some parents of the students, others longtime band supporters — squeeze in to listen.

Gone is the voice that boomed over the stereo waking up Elm Drive, replaced with one speaking so softly that the crowd leans in, straining to hear his second-to-last dismissal speech.

The next couple of weeks will go by fast, Leckrone tells them, and himself, as he blinks back tears. He repeats one phrase four times: “Don’t take it for granted.”

Linking arms, the band sings “Varsity,” the tune that caps the end of every dismissal.

Leckrone says he can’t imagine life beyond this academic year. What will happen when there are no more arrangements to dream up in his head? Where will he watch next season’s football games? What will he do every Tuesday through Friday from 3:45 to 5:30?

He still has his last home football game on Saturday. There will be hockey games and basketball games and concert requests around the state. And in the spring, he will direct his final concert.

After dismissal, fans flood Leckrone for hugs and thank him for his service. Young children come up to him for photos or autographs. Much of this season has already felt like the last game, just an extended version of it.

Leckrone finally returns to his office, Room 4557, where dozens of framed photos and plaques adorn the walls. Two more frames lean against his desk, waiting to be hung.

“I’m running out of space,” he said. “But I’m running out of time, too.”

 

Not like the bad old days

A few things are happening in Wisconsin sports starting today, as chronicled by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

There was some to-do Sunday about how the day marked the first time the Packers, Brewers and Bucks all played on the same day. But it’s nothing like what awaits.

The Bucks were playing a preseason game in Ames, Iowa (which they won), while the Packers lost in Detroit and the Brewers won in Colorado to sweep the National League Division Series.

Now, the Brewers know their next game will be Friday at Miller Park, with the first game of the National League Championship Series ahead against either the Dodgers or the Braves. So, starting Friday, you’ll have four days of interesting choices.

Friday, Oct. 12

The ALCS doesn’t start until Saturday, so the Brewers will almost certainly be playing Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday night, just as the Bucks tip off their final pre-season game at 7:30 p.m. at Fiserv Forum.

Saturday, Oct. 13

Both Major League championship series will be playing, so the Brewers could be playing in the afternoon or evening and, at the least, partially conflict with the Wisconsin Badgers huge battle at The Big House at Michigan.

Sunday, Oct. 14

Weirdly, nothing will be happening Sunday. Maybe there’s a church picnic going on?

Monday, Oct. 15

The Brewers will be back, playing on the road, in a game that will be in prime time (with the ALCS in an off day). At Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the Packers will be playing on Monday Night Football, battling the San Francisco 49ers in a 7:15 p.m. kickoff. The two events are almost certainly going to be taking place simultaneously.

Which will you choose?

Bonus: Friday, Oct. 19

Let’s say the NLCS series lasts beyond the first five games. Miller Park will again be hosting Game 6 on Oct. 19, which happens to be the same night that the Milwaukee Bucks host their first regular-season home game at brand new Fiserv Forum downtown, taking on the Indiana Pacers.

Assuming the Brewers series is still taking place, that’s going to be a memorable night in Milwaukee.

Today is also the last day of the high school football regular season, which means some teams will be playing for playoff berths and others will be playing for where they fit in the playoffs. That means next Friday will also be the first weekend of the high school football playoffs. That’s where I will be.

One of the only times a previous weekend like this comes to mind is in 1982, when Wisconsin beat Ohio State 6–0 in the rain in Columbus while the Brewers were tying the American League Championship Series in the rain in Milwaukee. One day later the Brewers completed their comeback by winning the series. The Packers … didn’t play because the NFL was on strike.

There was also 2008, when the Brewers were playing their final regular-season game needing to win and get a Mets loss to go to the playoffs while the Packers were playing. It may have been the first time in the history of WTMJ radio that the Packers, which WTMJ has carried since 1929, moved the Packers off WTMJ. (They moved to their FM, now WKTI.) Now that WTMJ and WKTI both carry the Packers, no decision needed to be made.

Speaking of radio: A colleague in my side thing pointed out that this era right now might be the zenith of Wisconsin sports broadcasting. Bob Uecker announced for ABC and NBC while announcing the Brewers …

… while Brewers TV announcer Brian Anderson is announcing the American League Championship Series for TBS …

… Wayne Larrivee, who has worked for ESPN and Westwood One, now announcing the Packers …

… and Matt Lepay, who could certainly go national if he wanted to, on the Badgers:

50 years of drive

The Badger Herald (for which I wrote a bit while in college):

“Right, left, pivot.” 83 year-old band director Professor Michael Leckrone hollered at the University of Wisconsin Marching Band as they rehearsed for their Sept. 30 performance at Lambeau Field.

The band followed Leckrone’s directions, and their shoes made a “slosh” sound against the wet turf as they stepped into their next position. There was a deluge of rain, but Leckrone and the band continued to strive for crisp, accented moves.

The band played the song “Sing, sing, sing” as they trudged through the rain to perform their newest halftime show. Leckrone stayed on the field with them although he was drenched in rain.

Because the show was new to the band, many band members struggled to perform the moves exactly as Leckrone had envisioned. The driving rain blurred out most things in sight, but Leckrone managed to find imperfections in the band’s formation with ease.

A month earlier, at a practice like today’s but much drier, Leckrone announced to the “Badger Band” that this season, his 50th at UW, would be his last.

“I insisted to the university that you’d be the first ones to know. I wanted you to be the first ones because you’re special,” Leckrone told the band members. “I don’t care whether it’s because you’re in the band for the first time or have never been in the band until you walked on this field last week, but it’s special. This band is special.”

While Leckrone is usually spotted conducting the band’s performances — including the football halftime shows, the fifth quarter and the annual spring Varsity Band Show — his home away from his hometown North Manchester, Indiana lies elsewhere on campus.

Leckrone’s office offered a stark contrast from the bleak reality of the Humanities Building. Warm wood paneling replaced harsh grey cement walls; knick knacks and plaques lined Leckrone’s desk and walls, each with a story begging to be told.

Leckrone and I shared a few laughs over an invoice from Tresona, a music licensing company that  recently made the licensing process for educational bands and choirs more expensive and complicated. He notes that while some aspects of the job have become simpler and more efficient with time, such as his flying rigs for the annual Varsity Band Show, others have become more complicated.

One thing, though, has remained simple and pure: Leckrone’s love and passion for music.

First steps

While Leckrone has inspired many UW students throughout his career, Leckrone himself was heavily influenced by his father’s love of music.

“I grew up knowing nothing else than music,” Leckrone said. “I don’t have any memory of life without music being there.”

His father was the local high school band director. He kept a large record collection which Leckrone inherited. Leckrone still owns every record by Bix Beiderbecke, a jazz trumpeter who he remembers listening to with particular fondness.

Leckrone and his father would often put on shows in the local community. There, Leckrone experimented with instruments like the trombone and the clarinet. While Leckrone considers himself primarily a trumpet player, he learned he could trick audiences into believing he had mastered all instruments by learning to play simple tunes on each one.

The thrill of performing, Leckrone said, drove him to pursue music.

“I don’t know that I set out to direct marching bands; I set out to be in music,” Leckrone said. “I think what made me decide was that nothing else had the appeal. It came down to the fact that [music is] what I felt happiest doing.”

Rising through the ranks

Tucked away behind his computer and multiple stacks of papers, a mug from Leckrone’s alma mater Butler University stands out among a room full of red and white.

While at Butler, Leckrone continued his streak as a “jack of all trades” when he received the unusual opportunity to play simultaneously in their classical, jazz and marching bands — musicians normally have to pick a genre to focus on at this time in their career.

Butler’s band director retired just as Leckrone finished his training. Inspired by his director’s mentorship, Leckrone started directing the Butler marching band program the fall of 1966. For three years, he directed not only the band but also other musical projects, including the men’s glee club for a period of time.

The UW band director position opened up in 1969, when the UW band was lost in a transitional period. UW’s football program was not performing well, so the band did not have an active performance schedule. Leckrone, however, saw a program with immense potential waiting to be unlocked.

“What I saw in Wisconsin was a band that had a great tradition and a great history,” Leckrone said. “ I saw it as a sleeping giant. It was something that had great potential but it hadn’t really been realized because no one more or less said, ‘Well, we’re going to try this.’”

Fine tuning

When Leckrone first took charge of the Badger Band in the fall of 1969, he sought to change the band’s character and bolster its confidence by asking its members to perfect drills and performance practices.

While he knew it was impossible to perfect a band overnight, he was determined to train the corps to have the most attentive ready-to-play position — “horns up,” in band speak — in the nation. This helped instill a greater sense of pride in the band members.

Leckrone also invented Wisconsin’s signature “stop at the top” style of marching, which was modified based on the standard “chair step” style adopted by most Big Ten bands at the time he became UW’s director.

“I wanted to keep that [higher] step, but as I saw the band in the stadium I wanted more energy.” Leckrone noted. “You have to march with that sense of energy, that sense of dedication. I wasn’t seeing it. I felt that if you put a little hesitation as one brings the foot up before they bring it down, it will appear to the eye that the step has more energy. People noticed it.”

These two improvements together brought attention to the band. Soon, interest to join the band increased. Leckrone, too, sought to turn the marching band from a seasonal activity to a year-long involvement.

The show sold out its first venue, Mills Hall, in 1976. The show then moved to bigger venues to accommodate its growing audience, eventually finding its home at the Kohl Center.

If you want to be a Badger

At the heart of the band’s growing success was Leckrone and the band’s dedication to preserving its spirit and integrity — their ability to “eat a rock.”

“When you go out tomorrow to do the show, you’ve got to be a lot tougher. You’ve got to be tough enough to chew nails,” Leckrone recalled saying in an after-rehearsal speech. “No, you got to be tough enough to eat a rock.”

As soon as the words came out of Leckrone’s mouth, the band started chanting “eat a rock.” Bands throughout the years have understood the meaning of this phrase.

The same pride and dedication underscoring the phrase “eat a rock” also carried through Leckrone and his band until they finally came across the chance to perform at the Rose Bowl in 1994, halfway through Leckrone’s tenure.

“It took me 25 years, that’s a career in itself. I thought it was never going to happen.” Leckrone reminisced. A picture of the band on the field at the first Rose Bowl hung on the wall behind him. “I felt like I had trained the band to believe that they were worthy of that performance. Then suddenly it did, almost without warning. Everybody jumped in as they never did before and frankly haven’t done since … It was so special.”

Though he has since been able to conduct at five more Rose Bowls, he said none of them matched his first outing.

Pasadena?

While the band’s Rose Bowl performances are Leckrone’s proudest professional accomplishments, Leckrone himself is perhaps best known for reinventing the repertoire of the UW marching band.

Among his legacies is the shortened version of the song “On Wisconsin,” which he created by removing earlier verses to lead the band directly into the iconic “On Wisconsin” chorus that fans continue to sing along with every touchdown.

Leckrone wanted to program tunes that everyone would know and enjoy, so he incorporated rock-and-roll style beats into classic songs to appeal to both the older and younger crowds.

“Each act has to have its own identity, [but] I think it’s also important that you have segments of shows that can appeal to a lot of people,” Leckrone said. “I’ve said many times to people, ‘If you don’t like what we’re playing right now wait a minute, because we’ll be playing something completely different.’”

The band today has a diverse repertoire. While “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie may not be a traditional choice for a marching band set, the UW marching band plays it alongside other classics such as George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. Songs from broadway shows Jesus Christ Superstar and The Music Man are also featured in the current season.

A different love

Broadway holds a particularly dear place in Leckrone’s heart. He fondly remembers watching different shows at the Great White Way in New York City with his late wife, Phyllis.

Tate Warren, a recent UW graduate and Badger Band alumnus, witnessed this love firsthand when a Nor’easter storm grounded a portion of the band in New York City this past spring. Warren was one of many band members who won tickets to see the Spongebob Squarepants musical on the trip. Whereas most lottery winners in the band invited their friends to the show, Warren invited Leckrone.

“Before the show started he explained to me that he used to go to Broadway every year with his wife before she passed away, and that it brought back a lot of memories for him to be there,” Warren said. “It made me reflect on how many different performances Mike has seen and conducted and that I was lucky to be able to sit next to him to watch one.”

Professional accomplishments aside, Leckrone insisted his proudest personal accomplishments stem from the love of his life, his late wife Phyllis. The pair began dating in the seventh grade and were married for 62 years until her passing last August. Leckrone said she has always assured him that he could pursue his passions with the band, even if that meant he couldn’t be at home as much as some husbands could.

When Phyllis passed, Leckrone’s children gave him a ring with her fingerprint engraved on it, which he wears on his right ring finger. On his left ring finger is his wedding band.

Hitting the right notes

Unlike his memory for Phyllis, Leckrone believes people’s memory of him will pass quickly because he typically is involved in only four years of people’s lives.

But freshman Kristen Schill said she decided to keep marching in college only after hearing about Leckrone’s leadership from her high school band director, Kurt Dobbeck, a Badger Band alumnus who attended UW in the early 80s upon Leckrone’s encouragement.

“The thing I remember most is that he pushed us to do excellent work all the time,” Dobbeck said.  “One day in particular, we were at practice, and he ran out and came right in front of me. I knew all he wanted me to do was work as hard as I possibly could. From then on, I did it.”

Throughout his career, Leckrone’s work ethic has been guided by excellence. Although humble about his legacy, Leckrone hopes that the band will carry on his relentless pursuit of perfection.

“I try to avoid using the word perfection because I don’t think perfection is obtainable. I’ve seen many different types of performances, from marching band shows to Broadway, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen perfection,” Leckrone said. “I hope my passion of searching for that perfection gets passed down.”

For Leckrone, the key to perfection lies perhaps in the band’s confidence and dedication.

But for UW senior CJ Zabat, the band’s drum major, this perfection comes in the form of “moments of happiness” Leckrone has inspired Zabat to pursue on and off the field.

“Mike can’t promise you complete happiness, but he wants to promise you moments of happiness,” Zabat said. “Those are those moments where something is so awesome you feel so happy that you have to hold on to those moments throughout the bad moments … As I got further and further along [in college], I had to find the things that gave me those ‘moments of happiness’ and made me want to work hard.”

The beat goes on

Back on the field, the skies began to clear up. The back of the band began to perform to Leckrone’s choreography, which few marching band directors today can say they create by themselves.

After running the routine again, Leckrone determined the band was in good shape and dismissed them to hear drum major Zabat’s final message for the day.

After practice, members went up to Leckrone to ask questions about spacing in the formation. Another went up to return a bracelet Leckrone had lost on the field. A friend had given the bracelet to Leckrone to help reduce his arthritis. And although Leckrone believes the healing power of the bracelet to be purely psychological, he cherishes it for its sentimental value.

The drumline stayed behind to conduct a sectional practice after an already grueling two hours of rehearsal. Their beats can be heard from the bus stop a quarter mile away.

Even with Leckrone off the field, his music keeps marching on.

The impending end of an era

At the end of the first week of 2018 UW Marching Band rehearsals …

… came this announcement Saturday:

Michael Leckrone, longtime director of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Marching Band, announced today that he will step down at the end of the 2018-19 academic year.

He made the announcement to the band following rehearsal. Students were visibly moved, linking arms and joining with him to sing “Varsity.”

This is Leckrone’s 50th year leading “The Badger Band.” He made his decision a few weeks ago but delayed sharing it publicly until he could meet with students. “I wanted the band to know first,” he says. “Any other talk, any other planning — that came second.”

The university will conduct a national search for a new director.

Leckrone, 82, has not decided on future plans and says there is no significance to the timing. “I wanted to go before somebody told me to go,” he quips. “No, really, it was going to happen sooner or later, and I didn’t want to stay on too long.”

His wife, Phyllis Bechtold Leckrone, passed away a year ago this month. They were married for 62 years. 

Leckrone has had a remarkable career as an educator and conductor. He has won myriad awards and in 2017 was inducted into the UW Athletic Hall Fame. More than 200 of his arrangements and compositions for marching band and concert band have been published. He is the author of two texts for marching band directors, a handbook for band arranging and a text about popular music in the United States.

His impact on campus has been legendary. This fall he will have been on the field of Camp Randall for 50 of the stadium’s 101 years. Only Bucky Badger has reigned there longer, and then only by 20 years. Band members have married and seen their children and then grandchildren under his tutelage. The band has attended 16 bowl games under Leckrone’s direction.

“We are immensely grateful to Mike for the joy he’s brought to generations of Badgers on the football field and in the concert hall. Every time I watch them perform at a football game, I think we have the best band in the country,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Under his leadership, the band has been a valued part of our campus – I know that will continue.”

“Mike’s record of service is enviable,” says Susan Cook, director of UW–Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. “He has given tirelessly to the School of Music’s athletic band program and to the university at large, and with his remarkable years of teaching has provided models of musical leadership.”

“What I especially appreciate about Mike,” she adds, “is his commitment to his students. He cares deeply for the students and it shows in all that he does.”

Leckrone is recognized by peers around the country as a titan in the field.

“Mike has changed and enhanced thousands of young lives over his amazing 50-year career as director of bands at the UW,” says Frank Tracz, professor of music and director of bands at Kansas State University.

Leckrone was hired by the late Dale Gilbert, then director of the UW School of Music. His son, Jay Gilbert, is now chair of the music department at Doane University in Nebraska.

“For those of us who have followed in his footsteps as band directors and know him well, we are awed by his incredible musical gifts,” says Jay Gilbert. One of his favorite memories from the 1970s is marching back to the Mosse Humanities Building after a game.

“On the way, Mike would stop the band outside of the children’s ward of the University Hospital, which was in the center of campus at that time, where we would play a few tunes for the children,” he says. “We knew it was meaningful for him and it became meaningful for us.”

In his early years, Leckrone found a partner in athletic director Elroy Hirsch. “He inspired me to do so many crazy things,” says Leckrone, such as riding onto the field on a camel and on an elephant, and departing Camp Randall on a palomino while the band played “Happy Trails.” Hirsch let the band play inside miniature tanks, bring in a calliope and clowns, and allowed a mock Superman to fly on a wire from the upper deck down to the band.

“I don’t ever remember Elroy saying no,” says Leckrone. “He was very important to what I was trying to do.”

Leckrone especially credits his field assistants, who (among other things) line the field to relay his hand movements. Some have been with him more than a decade. “They are primarily volunteers who saw a need to help and just did it.”

In 1985, on the event of the band’s 100th anniversary, President Ronald Reagan wrote to congratulate Leckrone and the band. “Despite the discipline and long hours of preparing for concerts,” he noted, “you have had the good fortune of enjoying yourselves as you’ve entertained others.”

The hours have indeed been long, and the band has indeed enjoyed itself, notably during its famous postgame “Fifth Quarter,” a tradition that began in 1977.

The Marching Band is a one-credit class at the UW–Madison Mead Witter School of Music. In the spring semester it’s named Varsity Band, and students perform at indoor sports events, leading up to the three-night Varsity Band Concert, an annual concert extravaganza at the Kohl Center that draws as many as 21,000 fans from adjacent states and every county in Wisconsin, and is subsequently broadcast statewide on Wisconsin Public Television.

The University of Wisconsin band was formed during the 1885-86 school year, as part of the University Military Battalion. The band’s second-longest-serving director was Ray Dvorak, a showman and noted John Philip Sousa scholar. A UW institution himself, Dvorak led the ensemble from 1934 to 1968. He instituted the singing of “Varsity” and its traditional hand-wave. He maintained the military band demeanor of the group’s early years.

He also gave his successor a supreme gift: “a clean slate,” says Leckrone. “Ray told me that it was my show now, and that he would never intrude, he would never second-guess me.”

However, on Monday mornings following a game, Dvorak often would stop by. “He’d tell me what a great show we’d had, and how much he enjoyed it,” recalls Leckrone. “And then he’d lean back and say, ‘Y’know, one thing I might have done …’”

Leckrone intends to give his successor the same freedom he enjoyed when he took over in 1969.

By the end of Dvorak’s career, campus had undergone abrupt change. Leckrone arrived during the Vietnam War years, and he recalls protests and the smell of tear gas. “Marching around in a military uniform wasn’t exactly popular right then,” he says.

Band enrollment was down and, after two interim directors, morale was poor — especially when Leckrone instituted physical conditioning. Band members have since trained like athletes in order to perform the band’s particular high-step, called “stop at the top.”

Leckrone thoroughly remade the organization, including its distinctive uniforms, which he designed.

“It’s the band — all the students from all the years — who deserve the credit. I just happened to be the guy standing in front,” says Leckrone, “although, depending on where you sit in Camp Randall, maybe I was the guy in the back!”

Others see it differently. “Mike has given me and countless others the talents, ambition, energy and enthusiasm that few have or ever will,” says Tracz, who received his master’s in music at the UW. “In a world where we have all needed inspiration, Mike has been there to provide what we need.”

The School of Music includes three University Bands, the Concert Band and Wind Ensemble. Leckrone usually conducts the Concert Band each spring. As director of bands, he oversees them all, though many of these duties have already been passed to Professor Scott Teeple. Leckrone will also step down from these responsibilities at the end of the school year.

If you’ve read this blog — say, here, here, here and here — you know what I think about this.

Steve on TBS

All I learned, as he said in the video, was how to have fun while doing good work, the value of excellence whether or not anyone notices (between 1983 and 1988 UW had one bowl game and zero NCAA tournament appearances in any sport), such phrases as “Root hog or die,” “Eat a Rock” and doing things with “Inergy!” and “Drive!” A fellow band member estimated that he taught those things to about 4,000 band members over 50 years, and I think none of us have forgotten those things.

(I graduated from UW–Madison 30 years ago. I rarely have dreams about college classes. Much more frequently I have the dream in which I am supposed to play or march in that night’s game, lacking most of what’s needed, such as a uniform, music or marching charts. The trumpet isn’t an issue, and at least at this point during these dreams I have been wearing clothes.)

There are seven home football games, 16 home men’s basketball games, 17 home men’s hockey teams, one assumes some number of postseason games, and of course three UW Varsity Band concerts April 11–13 (tickets on sale in January). Those and the other band concerts before the Kohl Center finale will be the last chances to see a Leckrone-direcrted UW Band.

 

Of course Badgers should eat at Red Robin

This week’s Sports Illustrated features …

… Wisconsin Badgers starting offensive linemen eating at a Red Robin restaurant, along with …

If center Tyler Biadasz had to endure an initiation when he became the youngest member of the Red Robin High Council, his fellow Wisconsin offensive linemen aren’t revealing any details. “The first rule of Fight Club,” left guard Michael Deiter says, “is don’t talk about Fight Club.”

That might be one of the most accessible, decipherable statements from a group that communicates frequently in quotes from movies (The Big Lebowski), TV shows (It’s Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaThe OfficeTrailer Park Boys) and YouTube videos featuring random Canadian bumpkins fixing cars. The more obscure the reference, the better. “Nobody knows what they’re talking about except for them,” Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook says.

That’s why one of the linemen drops a “Those are good burgers, Walter” (Steve Buscemi says it to John Goodman in Lebowski) as the group devours an array of burgers, shakes and french fries. This outpost of the Red Robin chain in a Madison suburb has become holy ground for the 300-pounders who protect Hornibrook and open holes for Heisman hopeful Jonathan Taylor. Deiter, Biadasz, left tackle Jon Dietzen and right tackle David Edwards populate the High Council, which meets weekly. Right guard Beau Benzschawel has yet to be admitted to the Council because of his insistence on ordering fish and chips or chicken fingers instead of a burger*. Yet all five agree on the restorative powers of Campfire Sauce, the barbecue sauce/mayonnaise mix into which they dunk dozens of fries on each visit. “Just get a light coating,” Edwards advises. “Not a huge glob.”

*Don’t feel bad for Benzschawel. He owns a boat, which makes him the most popular lineman on the mornings when the weather is nice and the walleye are biting.

These five began playing together in spring 2017, when Biadasz won the center job as a redshirt freshman. That allowed Deiter, who had been playing center, to move to left tackle. (Deiter has since flipped spots with Dietzen and starts preseason camp at left guard, where he began his career.) Last year, the Badgers averaged five yards a carry and allowed only 21 sacks. In the process, Wisconsin reached double-digit wins for the fourth consecutive season and won the Big Ten’s West division for the second consecutive season. Deiter, Edwards and Benzschawel explored the possibility of entering the NFL draft, but they quickly decided they wanted to play one more season together on the Wisconsin team that might finally be talented enough to break through, win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff.

Indeed, SI ranks the Badgers third in the preseason rankings, and predicts a trip to the playoff.

The group also could pave the way for a Taylor assault on Melvin Gordon’s school record of 2,587 rushing yards, which could put the back in striking distance of the Division I mark held by Barry Sanders (2,628). Taylor ran for 1,977 yards as a freshman, but at first, he didn’t realize how dominant his offensive line was. At early practices, he would watch the line plow open a hole and wait. “I was hesitant to go through it,” Taylor says. “I didn’t think a hole was supposed to be that big.” Taylor assumed a safety or linebacker was hiding behind the mass of bodies waiting to clobber him. He quickly learned there is no trick. “Oh, that’s normal,” Taylor says. “Those guys have got that thing sealed off.”

They also regulate the mood of the offense. When players bicker in the huddle, Deiter bellows and quiets them so Hornibrook can call the next play. When a Tyler Childers song called “Charleston Girl” flows from the speakers at practice, Deiter screams the lyrics. This causes a chain reaction down the line that occasionally ends with five 300-pounders singing and dancing and Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards yelling, “Why do we play this song?”

This apparent hivemind comforts Hornibrook, whose safety depends on the giants who gather to fish, to sing, to eat burgers and, ultimately, to move other large humans. “They’re never alone,” Hornibrook says. “They’re together all the time.” Deiter offers the ultimate explanation why. It’s not the Campfire Sauce. It’s the company.

“We’re forced to lift together. We’re forced to practice together. We’re forced to meet together,” he says. “That’s about it. All this stuff? We just like to do it. It’s pretty much an excuse for friends to hang out and eat their favorite food. We make this big thing about it, but it’s just us eating Red Robin. But when you know guys like that and you step on the field, nothing ever feels off. You’re playing Ohio State and it’s super loud. Frickin’ Nick Bosa is standing there. There’s a lot of stuff that can psyche you out. But then you look at Beau and he’s doing something stupid or Deitz is saying something stupid or it’s me saying something just so stupid. If you weren’t good friends, it would be so much different.”

Offensive line is, of course, the most important position group on offense. A quarterback has time to find receivers behind a good offensive line. A good running back has holes to run through behind a good offensive line. Behind a bad offensive line, neither happens.

This made me think of the 1980s Washington Redskins teams under coach Joe Gibbs. One reason why Gibbs should be mentioned as an answer to the question of the best coaches in the Super Bowl era is that he won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks and three different featured running backs. The reason was what were called the Hogs, the Redskins’ offensive line (including tight ends because Gibbs ran a two-tight-end one-running-back offense.) Gibbs won one Super Bowl with quarterback Joe Theismann and running back John Riggins. He won a second Super Bowl with quarterback Doug Williams (who had been beaten nearly to death by defenses at Tampa Bay and in the United States Football League) and previously-unheard-of running back Timmy Smith. He won a third Super Bowl with quarterback Mark Rypien and running back George Rodgers, who had been nearly beaten to death behind porous New Orleans (S)Aints offensive lines.

That’s basically how college football works. No player ever starts for more than four seasons, and that’s only if, like Hornibrook and before him Joel Stave, you start quarterbacks as freshmen. Coach Paul Chryst therefore has to change everybody every year or two, and yet he’s made it work every season.

 

A bunch of Big Red what-ifs

This week is the 50th anniversary of one of the strangest incidents in the history of UW athletics, summarized by Madison.com:

In 1968, the University of Wisconsin interviewed seven finalists for its vacant head basketball coaching position, before choosing Army coach Robert Knight, 27. The UW Athletic Board was searching for a replacement for John Erickson, who resigned to accept the position of general manager of the NBA’s new franchise in Milwaukee.

Knight, announced as the new coach on April 25, renounced his selection in anger 2 days later, over the premature release of his acceptance.

John Powless, the number two choice, and an assistant under Erickson since 1963, was then selected after an emergency meeting of the Athletic Board.

The rest of the “first four” besides Knight were UW–Milwaukee coach Ray Krzoska, Southern Illinois coach Jack Hartman, and Earl Lloyd, who played in the NBA in the 1950s and after this coached the Detroit Pistons.

Hartman might have been a good choice. (Read on for why I write “might.”) He got Southern Illinois from the NCAA’s Division II to Division I, moved on to Kansas State, and between junior college, the Salukis and the Wildcats won 578 games in 24 seasons, getting to the D1 Elite Eight four times and the Sweet Sixteen twice at K-State. Krzoska went 86–87 in seven seasons at UWM, and left two seasons after applying at UW. Lloyd went 22–55 with the Pistons.

The “last three” included two UW assistants, John Powless and Dave Brown.

Also included was a guy with some similarities to Knight, Jim Harding, the coach at La Salle in Philadelphia. Harding coached one season at La Salle and went 20–8, though La Salle was then placed on NCAA probation over two players’ revoked scholarships, and Harding was fired. One of his players, eventual American Basketball Association player Roland “Fatty” Taylor, said, “Forty years later, if I saw him today sitting in a wheelchair, I’d walk over and smack him.”

Instead of going to Wisconsin (or to the Bucks, where he reportedly was a candidate for their coaching position), Harding then went to the American Basketball Association’s Minnesota Pipers, and, well, here’s what happened there, according to Stew Thornley:

The Pipers would open the season in Minnesota with a new leader. Vince Cazzetta, who had coached the Pipers to the championship, resigned after Erickson and Rubin refused to give him a raise to cover moving his wife and six children to the Twin Cities. Hired to replace Cazzetta was 39-year old Jim Harding, who had compiled a 93-28 record in five seasons at LaSalle College in Philadelphia.

Harding had been equally successful in coaching tenures at two other colleges, but he left behind a trail of NCAA violations and endless turmoil, the latter a pattern that followed him to the professional ranks. …

The tension between Harding and the players came to a head after an altercation between the coach and center Tom Hoover. Unhappy that the incident was reported in the newspapers, Harding ordered his players not to talk to sportswriters and closed all practices to the press. The Minnesota management, in turn, refused to back Harding and all restrictions on the press were lifted.

During the next week, Harding began experiencing chest pains and underwent an electrocardiogram. Just before the team was to fly to Houston for a December 20 game, it was announced that Harding would not be making the trip. Concerned by the coach’s chest pains and dangerously-high blood pressure, doctors ordered Harding to take an indefinite leave of absence.

[General manager Vern] Mikkelsen assumed the coaching duties in the interim. The Pipers won only six of thirteen during that time but still maintained the lead in the division. Originally, Harding was to be gone for six weeks, and the Pipers said Mikkelsen would take his place as coach of the East squad in the All- Star Game. Harding, however, returned three weeks early and was back on the bench in mid-January. …

Harding was angered, however, by Washington and Williams absence at a banquet the night before the All-Star Game and attempted to fine them $500 each. His anger increased when he was overruled by team officials, and he sought out part-owner Gabe Rubin.

The result was a bloody midnight confrontation that left Rubin with a welt on his temple (and Harding with a scratched face). Harding was immediately relieved of his All-Star duties by Commissioner [George] Mikan; two days later, he was fired as coach of the Pipers.

Harding then spent four years at Detroit Mercy (after being the Titans’ second choice when first-choice Don Haskins of Texas–El Paso quit two days after he was hired — yes, there’s a theme developing here), going 55–45 while apparently alienating all his players due to his methods to the point where, at the beginning of his second season, all of his players quit. Harding, who had coached high school basketball in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa before going to La Salle, had only one losing season in six years of college coaching, but never coached after leaving Detroit Mercy. (Harding’s eventual replacement: Dick Vitale. Really.) Harding eventually became athletic director at UW–Milwaukee from 1975 to 1980 and is in the Gannon University Athletic Hall of Fame.

So apparently Wisconsin had two, shall we say, volatile coaches to choose from. Their choice was Knight:

Here, however, is where things get murky. Madison.com’s version is that Knight quit due to anger over reporting of his hiring before he had a chance to tell his wife and his bosses. (That would not be the last time Knight had a run-in with the media, of course.)

A slightly different version comes from a coach named Bo but not Ryan — Bo Schembechler, a candidate to replace Milt Bruhn as UW football coach in 1967:

After we won our conference title in my third and fourth seasons at Miami–1965 & 1966–Wisconsin called. From the outside, it seemed like a pretty good job. Wisconsin’s a good school in a great league. It was about ten o’clock on a Sunday when I walk into this meeting room to face twenty guys sitting around–and some board member falls asleep, right there in front of me! Now what does that tell you?

They also had a student on the committee, and this kid asks me how I would handle Clem Turner, a Cincinnati kid, who was always in trouble. Well, how the heck do I know how I would handle Clem Turner? I’ve never met him! And that’s exactly what I told that kid. But I’m thinking, Who the hell’s running this show?

The whole thing lasted maybe forty minutes, and the second I was out that door I walked to the nearest pay phone and called Ivy Williamson, the Wisconsin athletic director, and told him to withdraw my name from consideration.

Jesse Temple adds:

“They brought in all the candidates at the same time but put us up at different hotels,” Schembechler said in the book. “Real secret agent stuff. They asked Johnny Ray and me to come down together, and he goes in first before the committee. I guess it’s about 10 (p.m.) before it’s my turn.

“You have to picture this. They’ve got 20 guys sitting around, and one of them — a board member, I guess — is sound asleep. He is sitting there asleep. I mean, how the hell would you feel? I’m mad. Really mad. I don’t even want to be there. I don’t want to answer any of their questions.”

According to author John U. Bacon, the entire interview lasted all of 40 minutes. Schembechler also wasn’t thrilled that a student seemed to relish asking smart-aleck questions during the interview. He promptly walked out the door, found the nearest pay phone and called Wisconsin athletics director Ivy Williamson to withdraw his name from consideration.

“I really got miffed when I got there,” he said. …

The story behind Knight’s near-hire is equally maddening for Badgers fans. In 1968, he was a coach on the rise at Army and arrived in Madison as one of seven candidates to appear before the athletics board for the vacant men’s basketball coaching position. The previous coach, John Erickson, had resigned to become general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Knight wowed the board and was offered the Wisconsin job. There is some dispute as to whether he outright accepted the position or whether he asked simply for more time to think about it upon his return to West Point — which he claimed was the case in his book, Knight: My Story. Either way, he was not prepared for school officials to leak any news of his hiring to a local newspaper. That move, however, is exactly what happened.

“Almost as soon as I left, they announced me as their new coach,” Knight said in his book. “When I arrived home at West Point, I heard what they had done. Now, I was in a hell of a spot. I was up all night trying to figure out what I should do.”

The only person Knight could think of to run his decision by was Schembechler, who was still coaching at Miami (Ohio). Schembechler had served as an assistant to Woody Hayes when Knight was in school at Ohio State, and Knight was aware of his situation one year earlier at Wisconsin.

“I told him how Wisconsin had released my name as the new coach before I’d had a chance to talk to them about what was necessary for them to do — that I’d have liked to take the job but I didn’t think I could, under those circumstances,” Knight said. “He listened to everything I said, then told me, ‘Just call them and tell them you have no interest in the job.’ I did.” …

Knight recalled that about 20 years after he spurned the Badgers, an alumnus of Wisconsin approached him at a golf course and asked for his version of what happened when he almost became Wisconsin’s coach. He told the man about his situation and the one a year earlier with Schembechler

“If Wisconsin had handled both situations a little better, Bo and I might have been coaching there together for a long time,” Knight told him.

After relaying the story, Knight could sense disgruntlement on the alum’s face. “I think the football part bothered him the most,” he said.

And so …

So did Knight quit over the premature notice or because of what Schembechler said about why he turned down UW? We report, you decide.

This was not the last time UW had to get coach choice number two, or failed to hire the right coach. After Coatta was fired …

… UW offered the football job to North Dakota State coach Ron Ehrhardt, who turned UW down. (Ehrhardt went to the pros instead, becoming an assistant coach, then head coach of the New England Patriots. After his firing, he was hired as an assistant coach for the New York Giants under Ray Perkins, then Bill Parcells, then going to Pittsburgh, getting him three Super Bowl appearances and two wins as an offensive coordinator.)

UW ended up hiring UCLA assistant John Jardine, who had one winning season in eight years, but it was exciting:

Jardine was replaced (though to his credit he remained a UW football supporter until his death) by Dave McClain, who coached Wisconsin to the Badgers’ first bowl win …

… plus two other bowl games …

… including the only bowl game I got to march in …

… before his death of a heart attack at 48 in April 1986.

McClain was replaced by defensive coordinator Jim Hilles. UW had most of its starters back, including eight players who were drafted by the NFL — running backs Joe Armentrout and Larry Emery, linebackers Rick Graf, Tim Jordan (who was one year ahead of me at Madison La Follette), Michael Reid and Craig Raddatz, and defensive backs Nate Odomes and Bobby Taylor — plus five players who would be drafted in the next year’s draft.

That 1986 team might be one of the biggest what-ifs in UW athletic history. They played four nonconference games that were winnable, but went 1–3 instead, and they won only two games after that.

Would that have happened had McClain lived? Hilles was the logical choice to replace McClain since he was assistant head coach, but what if Hilles had, as some head coaches do, focused on his side of the ball and let the offensive coaches run the offense?

Hilles was quoted in the UW media guide that “I will take the responsibility for the offense, and I will also take the blame. We will definitely be more aggressive physically; we want to knock some people off the line of scrimmage — let them know who we are. Since we feel our strengths are in the offensive line and our running backs, we will first set out to be as strong a running team as we can be. An effective running game will open up the throwing game for us, and that’s how we’re going to approach things.”

That is not different from the approach UW had under McClain once McClain switched from the option to the pro set when quarterback Randy Wright transferred in from Notre Dame. They had the same two quarterbacks, Mike “The Springfield Rifle” Howard and Green Bay’s Bud Keyes, though they were minus their top two receivers from the 1985 season, tight end Scott Sharron and wide receiver/kick returner Tim Fullington and one of their offensive linemen, Bob Landsee, who preceded Gruber and Derby into the NFL.

In a sense, though, Hilles’ offensive problems predated Hilles’ one year as head coach. Wright was a good enough quarterback to play for the Packers. His best receiver was Al Toon, who also played in the NFL. The season after Wright graduated, the Badgers had Toon, plus two other good wide receivers, Michael Jones and Thad McFadden, plus tight end Bret Pearson, who was drafted (though did not play) by the San Diego Chargers. None of them arguably were capably replaced, and when a team can’t move the ball through the air, defense becomes easier for their opponent.

Once the 1986 season started going south, UW started looking for a new coach. The five semifinalists included Hilles, Wyoming coach Dennis Erickson (right after Wyoming beat Wisconsin in Madison in Erickson’s first season), West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, Northwestern coach Francis Peay (a former Packer offensive lineman), and Tulsa coach Don Morton.

That list includes one coach who won two national championships, Erickson, and another who coached in a national championship game, Nehlen, winner of 202 games in his career. Neither were finalists for the job. Morton was hired over Hilles, and it could be argued that neither choice was the right choice. Morton won six games in three years, and his ineptitude resulted in the death of the UW baseball and gymnastics teams and nearly the rest of the UW Athletic Department.

If that seems like a mess, the mess of four years earlier was even worse. Erickson’s (and Knight’s) replacement, Powless, had only two winning seasons in eight seasons as coach. Powless’ replacement was Virginia assistant Bill Cofield, who had only one winning season in six seasons as coach. (Cofield died of cancer two years after he coached his last game.)

The options to replace Powless included Boston College coach Tom Davis, who grew up in Ridgeway and graduated from UW–Platteville. UW should have hired Davis, but didn’t. Davis went to Stanford, then to Iowa, where he beat on UW with regularity until he retired in 1999. Instead, UW hired UW–Eau Claire coach Ken Anderson, who then backed out of the job three days later. (One version of the reason was that he got wind of NCAA rule violations that resulted in the Badgers’ forfeiting all eight of their wins the next season; another is that he was making too much money as a landlord to UW–Eau Claire students to leave.) UW hired Ball State coach Steve Yoder, who at least got UW in a couple of NIT tournaments before he quit in 1991.

It should be pointed out that the fact that Schembechler was highly successful at Michigan (though he has two fewer Rose Bowl wins than UW), Knight was highly successful at Indiana (as in three national championships), Hartman was successful at Kansas State, Davis was highly successful at Stanford and Iowa, Nehlen was highly successful at West Virginia, and Erickson was highly successful at Miami (though not so in the NFL) does not necessarily mean any of them would have been successful at UW.

Two years after Schembechler declined to go to UW, he went to Michigan, replacing Bump Elliott (who ended up becoming Iowa’s athletic director and hiring football coach Hayden Fry as well as Davis). Michigan wasn’t at its usual standards, but Schembechler inherited the remainder of a team that had gone 8–2 the previous season. UW was five seasons removed from a Rose Bowl trip, but had finished tied for seventh in the three previous seasons before Schembechler was not hired.

Three years after Knight changed his mind about UW, he went to Indiana, inheriting a team that had gone 17–7 and had long-standing basketball tradition, though they had slipped in the seasons before Knight arrived. Erickson left of his own accord after two 13–11 seasons, but he had had only one other winning season in nine seasons.

UW had issues in the late 1960s that Michigan may not have had. In addition to more intense turmoil over the Vietnam War, The Cap Times chronicles 1968:

After threatening to boycott the final game of the season against Minnesota, 18 black Wisconsin football players skip the team’s season-ending banquet. The group earlier filed a list of grievances with the UW Athletic Board, saying the coaching staff lacked rapport with the black players and that coaches stacked black players at one position. Assistant coach Gene Felker resigns, complaining of “weak, frightened administrators, black athletes and their grievances.” The Athletic Board recommends establishment of a coach-player committee to address grievances, but it also gives unanimous endorsement to John Coatta, who was 0-19-1 in his first two seasons as head coach.

I’m sure Schembechler and Knight would have been successful somewhere besides Michigan and Indiana. I’m not sure they would have been successful at Wisconsin over the long run. I could see them sticking it out at Wisconsin for a few seasons, butting heads with faculty and administration because of their different views of who should be in charge (i.e. themselves) and, in Schembechler’s case, academic standards preventing certain players from admission (Knight never had that issue, but Michigan is not really a strong academic school, contrary to what Wolverine backers would like you to think), and leaving for greener pastures elsewhere. Irrespective of Knight’s late-1980s comments, I wonder if two big personalities like Schembechler and Knight could have coexisted on the same campus, given battles for resources.

Davis turned things around at Stanford somewhat (though his career record was 58–59), and inherited a better situation at Iowa than Yoder did at Wisconsin. Morton was a disastrously bad hire, and should have been fired after his second season. However, UW’s Athletic Department was a financial mess that was bolstered by decent football attendance before Morton got there. Once Morton drove the football program into the ground, the Athletic Department’s financial issues got exposed. (Read Rick Telander’s From Red Ink to Roses and you’ll see how bad things were.)

Nehlen probably would have been a success at Wisconsin. I’m not sure Dennis Erickson would have, given that his formula for revitalizing a program involved junior college transfers, something unlikely to work with UW’s academic tradition. Erickson clearly had the next level in mind since he left Wyoming after that season for Washington State and left Washington State for Miami after two seasons.

Here is a demonstration of how things eventually work out. Jardine hired as one of his assistants Madison Edgewood’s George Chryst. Chryst’s son, Paul, played for Wisconsin, was an assistant coach for Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema, and then was hired by AD Alvarez to be the Badgers’ coach. Cofield hired William Ryan as an assistant coach. You know Ryan as Bo, who was chosen to coach the Badgers in 2001 over more well known coaches including Milwaukee’s own Rick Majerus. Ryan had one more Final Four trip than Majerus.

 

TWTYTW 2017

For, let’s see, about the 18th year and the 11th consecutive year, it’s time for That Was the Year That Was 2017, patterned on …

In contrast to the ’60s British TV series “That Was the Week That Was,” rarely has been a year of so many things that defied rational description. Some of them had nothing to do with America’s First Tweeter, either.

Let’s start with the worst trend of 2017, a continuation of the last few years — tribalism and people’s stubborn refusal to judge things on their merits. That includes unthinking praise of everything Donald Trump does, and knee-jerk criticism of anything Donald Trump does.

Worst trend number 1B is also a continuation of the last few years — hypersensitivity and, on the left, unthinking accusations of racism, sexism, misogyny and every other -ism they hate, and on the right, unthinking accusations of disloyalty, particularly when confronted by ideas they don’t agree with but cannot say why or what’s wrong with those ideas.

I saw an example of that Sunday — the latest Star Wars movie, which some conservatives have been complaining about because of what they claim to be too much diversity. As if normal viewers should care one way or another about that.

I’m certainly fine with the self-demolition of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, etc., whose past bad acts ended their careers this year. Due process was completely ignored, of course, which will make for interesting days depending on which liberal icon is next claimed to be a sexual harasser like Bill Clinton. (Who skated, as did Hillary, because of their positions on abortion rights.)

How did The Donald do? Rob Saker posted this list …

… I expected Jeff Sessions to be beyond horrible. I think I am on the record as saying I believe him to be an authoritarian religious zealot who isn’t very bright. To date, I can’t think of anything he has done that I disagree with (Any suggestions on how to prepare crow would be appreciated).

My list of great accomplishments…

1. Signed an Executive Order demanding that two regulations be killed for every new one creates. He cut 16 regulations for every one created, saving $8.1 billion.

2. Gorsuch on the SCOTUS.

3. Tax cut bill.

4. Jerusalem announcement, ending a game of delaying tactics and signaling our firm support for Israel (after they were attacked by Obama’s administration).

5. Revoking the EPA’s navigable waters interpretation, which was an egregious seizure of property rights.

6. Nominated 73 federal judges. Trump is filling up lower courts with lifetime appointees.

7. Recognized opioids as a national epidemic and putting resources against it. This is possibly Obama’s greatest failure.

8. Removed the gloves on the fight with ISIS. What was believed a year ago to be a war that would last years is now in its last stages.

9. Eliminating the Obamacare individual mandate.

10. Generating such confidence in the economy that a mature market saw record gains (Yes, Obama saw large gains but on an artificially low market thanks to the crash).

11. Respect for law making process. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice will cease the practice initiated by President Obama of issuing “guidance memos” to enact new regulations that sometimes have had the effect of changing federal laws.

12. Diversity of opinions. EPA Director Scott Pruitt placed 66 new experts on three different EPA scientific committees who espouse more conservative views than their predecessors.

13. Manufacturing. During Trump’s first six months, the manufacturing index was the highest it had been since 1983 under President Reagan. Michigan’s ISM reported its June barometer of manufacturing rose to 57.8, the fastest pace in three years (50 is flat).

14. Withdrawal from a Paris climate treaty that would have required huge sums on the US with no appreciable beneficial impact on the climate.

15. Rescinded Title IX “dear colleague” letter that led to kangaroo courts and the denial of due process. There are numerous general benefits such as VA reform, reducing waste in government spending, and a healthy uptick in government job attrition.

… to which was added:

Arctic wildlife drilling, keystone pipeline, UN budget cut
Hiring freeze at State.
Placing a Secretary of HUD who has lived in public housing.
With respect to policy toward North Korea, no longer kicking the can down the road.

How did the stock market do?

Based on admittedly a small sample size, Trump could be said to be the most pro-business president in the nation’s history. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained one-third in the 14 months since Trump was elected president.

As someone who did not vote for Trump but has vowed to praise Trump when praise is due and condemn Trump when condemnation is due (see previous comment about tribalism), I find that to be a pretty good list of accomplishments, whether Trump actually accomplished them or regular old Republicans did. Trump’s various idiotic tweets and public statements make some people forget those actual accomplishments, while other question, with some validity, who deserves credit — Trump or “establishment” Republicans — for those accomplishments.

Meanwhile, how was Gov. Scott Walker’s year?

The project at the top made Kevin Binversie comment:

You know who I feel sorry for sometimes? The children of deeply-committed Scott Walker haters who due to their parents’ obsessions will never own either an iPhone, Nintendo Switch or 3DS.

All three products are assembled by Foxconn.

The MacIver Institute assembled its own top 10 list, which included:

#10 – WISDOT Audit

It was a bad sign when Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb resigned just weeks before the Legislative Audit Bureau was set to release a report on the State Highway Program. When the report came out in January, it was in a word – devastating.

The auditors found the DOT regularly breaks state law in budgeting, negotiating, communicating, and managing contracts. Among these statutory violations: the department does not always solicit bids from more than one vendor, it does not spread out solicitations throughout the year, it does not post required information on its website, its cost estimates to the governor are incomplete, and it skips steps in the evaluation process for selecting projects. These practices manifest themselves through an inescapable reality: the cost of major projects tends to double after the DOT gets approval from the governor and Legislature to proceed. The auditors looked at 16 current highway projects and found they are over-budget by $3.1 billion.

Some public officials tried to spin the report, claiming it indicated the state is not spending enough on transportation. That didn’t fly. Instead the audit became an insurmountable obstacle for those seeking to raise the gas tax. It also sparked a series of reforms that aimed to make the DOT more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

#8 – UW Regents Protect Free Speech

As protests and demonstrations gripped campuses across the country, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents took a stand for free expression this year. In October, the Regents voted to allow any UW campus to expel students who repeatedly disrupt speakers or stifle speech.

The sole dissenting vote was that of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who is running for governor.

Jose Delgado, a UW Regent who came to America from his native Cuba in 1961 at the age of 13, spoke to MacIver about his yes vote. Delgado’s family fled the oppressive Castro regime, which brutally struck down dissenting speech. Delgado said that back then, the Cuban government would simply arrest and murder anyone who disagreed with it. For that reason, the 70-year-old said, he has always been passionate about his freedom of speech as an American. He’s been deeply troubled by the decline of peaceful dialogue, especially on university campuses.

Summing up his reason for the vote, Delgado said “I cannot make you listen, but I can certainly prevent others from preventing you from listening. You have the right to listen.”

#7 – Gas Tax Battle Heats Up

Predictably, the forces behind a push to increase the state gas tax, vehicle registration fee, or other source of revenue for transportation saddled up in 2017.

Gov. Walker – insistent he would not sign a budget that raised the gas tax or registration fees – made the first move when he appointed Dave Ross to be secretary of the Department of Transportation after the resignation of Mark Gottlieb. Since he took over in January, Ross has been steadfast in insisting the department doesn’t need new revenue, it needs to find savings in the multibillion dollar budget it already has.

Members of the Legislature spent the summer sparring over the issue. A protracted public relations battle raged across the state – possibly manifesting itself in a series of phony letters to the editor that appeared in newspapers from Janesville to Rice Lake begging lawmakers to increase taxes. All along, MacIver was suspicious that more revenue was truly needed – and we found plenty of examples to back us up.

Proponents of an increased gas tax have advocated putting more money into a department with a record of wasting it. We, at MacIver, refuse to just go along with this ‘increase taxes first, ask questions later’ mentality. We’ve suggested instead that Secretary Ross should have the opportunity to scour the department for savings before Madison lawmakers foist a permanent tax increase on Wisconsinites.

#6 – Russia, Russia, Russia!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no human contact throughout all of 2017, you’ve likely heard the words “Russia” and “collusion” on a near-daily basis.

Ever since President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, liberals – still in shock that they lost – have been charging that the Trump campaign was working with Russian agents behind the scenes to hack the election, propagate fake news, and swing the election. Throughout 2017, a special investigation being run by former FBI Director Robert Mueller has produced nonstop daily headlines that might sound nefarious to the casual observer. But other than nabbing Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI (never do that, by the way) the probe has so far come up mostly empty-handed.

We saw the birth of this story all the way back in December 2016, when members of Wisconsin’s electoral college cast their ballots for Donald Trump at the state Capitol – the first time Wisconsin Republicans did so since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide. While they voted, they were serenaded by protesters screaming about selling out the country to Russia and Putin and ushering in fascism. …

#4 – Foxconn

At the beginning of 2017, it’s likely the vast majority of Wisconsinites had never heard of Foxconn, but most had likely used their products.

Then earlier this year, President Trump hinted that the state would soon get good economic news when visiting a Snap-on plant in Kenosha in April. The mystery soon was lifted, and a months-long saga of negotiations, deal-making, and legislative action ended in a contract signing between the electronics manufacturing giant and the State of Wisconsin.

The deal that was inked is the largest development agreement of its kind in American history, offering Foxconn up to $3 billion in tax incentives if the company invests $10 billion in a massive manufacturing campus and creates 13,000 jobs. Foxconn’s Wisconsin operation — now on track to begin construction in 2018 — won’t just be a plant, it will be a small city unto itself in southern Racine County.

Emerging over the course of a few months in 2017, the Foxconn deal will surely be a transformational project for the entire state of Wisconsin. The company’s leaders have signaled their goal is to establish a high-tech manufacturing hub right here in Wisconsin to rival (and supply hardware to) Silicon Valley.

From groundbreaking ceremonies to other new announcements related to the massive new development, we expect 2018 to bring lots more news about Foxconn.

#3 – Wisconsin State Budget: Entire Taxes Eliminated, No Tax Increase

What would a list of the top stories of the year be without talking about the state budget? It might’ve crossed the finish line months late, but the 2017-19 budget included some historic reforms, including completely eliminating two taxes.

Under the new budget, the state Forestry Mill Tax and Alternative Minimum tax are both deleted from the books. The budget also holds the line on income taxes and continues the push to reduce the property tax burden, while increasing spending in classrooms.

It’s easy to forget the old days when Jim Doyle and the Democrats were raising every tax imaginable and increasing spending by leaps and bounds. It’s also easy to take today’s momentum for reducing taxes for granted.

It’s for exactly that reason that here at MacIver, we work hard to celebrate these conservative wins. It’s certainly not every day that entire taxes are eliminated, and it’s certainly not every state that is determined to walk down a path of lowering taxes and shrinking government. On, Wisconsin.

#2 – John Doe Returns

In last year’s annual roundups, we had hoped that 2017 would bring a new era of toleration for ideas from all sides of the debate, including for the victims of the John Doe probes. With the Supreme Court officially declaring the efforts illegal and ordering that they be shut down immediately, we hoped that those victims would see some justice.

After all, those individuals had their private information illegally seized, their homes searched in pre-dawn raids, their rights to free speech trampled, and their names dragged through the mud, all while an unsympathetic media continued to cover the story with an eye on Gov. Walker.

Unfortunately, in 2017, that new era did not come. Rather, we learned that government employees had continued their unconstitutional search through private records. The very watchdog meant to uphold the government’s standard of ethics seized even more personal records – including private text messages between a Senator and her daughter – and put them in a file labeled “opposition research.”

This all came to light after the state’s Department of Justice looked into leaks, suspecting that private records had been illegally handed off by members of the Ethics Commission – the old Government Accountability Board. In the end, the DOJ declined to press charges in the leak, saying that the wrongdoing was so widespread and the data so mishandled that they couldn’t determine who exactly was the source of the leak.

In many ways, John Doe returned to headlines this year…but in reality, we found out that it never went away at all. In its report, the DOJ itself refers to the new probe as “John Doe 3.” Just before Christmas, the Senate Committee on Organization voted to authorize the DOJ to dig deeper into the wrongdoing. While we hoped that the saga would come to an end, we now know that the last chapter of this story has not yet been written.

Without further adieu, the biggest story of 2017…

#1 – Time to Cut Taxes – the federal government’s first go at significant tax reform since ‘86

The last time they did this, Top Gun was the highest-grossing movie in America, the world met Ferris Bueller, and Whitney Houston’s self-titled album was at the top of the charts. That’s right — it was 1986 the last time the federal government took on tax reform. Boy, has the world changed.

This year, congress made good on its promise to pass a tax reform bill and get it signed into law by Christmas. Among many (many) other things, the bill cuts both individual and corporate rates, cleans the tax code, and nearly doubles the standard deduction. According to the Department of Revenue, the average Wisconsin family will see a tax cut of more than $2,500. That’s more than $200 every month that hard-working families won’t have to turn over to the IRS.

Not only will individuals be able to file their taxes on a form the size of a postcard, our economy will take notice, too. By lowering the tax burden on everyday Americans and unlocking the secret to economic success, the plan is undeniably pro-growth.

Sean Davis has a list of the top 10 undercovered stories, including …

2. The economy roared

The U.S. economy came roaring back in 2017. GDP growth is strong and steady, and the unemployment rate now approaches lows not seen since the early 2000s. The economy has added over 1.9 million payroll jobs this year. Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. The 2017 economic recovery is nonetheless a major story widely ignored by the political press. …

4. Islamic State was crushed in Raqqah and Mosul

A year ago, the Islamic State wasn’t just on the rise in the Middle East, it was firmly in charge, with wide swaths of the region under its control. But in October, U.S.-backed forces completed the total liberation of Raqqah, the Islamic State’s Syrian capital. That followed the liberation of Mosul, a major Iraqi city captured by the Islamic State in 2014. In less than a year, Trump and his national security team accomplished what the previous administration suggested was impossible.

5. Thanks to James Comey, the FBI’s reputation is in tatters

This year we learned that the FBI’s top ranks were infested with political actors eager to use the agency to settle scores. Not only did former Director James Comey abscond with confidential documents, he leaked them to his friends and the press, then refused to give those documents to Congress. In addition, his top deputies — those responsible for investigating both Hillary Clinton and Trump — were sharing text messages about how important it was to defeat Trump. One of these Comey deputies even mused about deploying a secret “insurance policy” to keep Trump out of the White House. Comey’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t equitable enforcement of the law; it was the corrupt politicization of the agency’s leadership ranks and the destruction of its reputation.

6. We still know nothing about what motivated the Vegas shooter

Months after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, we don’t know why the gunman fired on a crowd of innocent concertgoers. If law enforcement authorities have any leads or theories, they’re not sharing them with citizens eager for answers. Perhaps the feds don’t have a clue, either. Either way, it’s shocking that, months later, the country is still in the dark about what happened.

7. The Iran deal’s facade collapsed

Despite the Obama administration’s assurances that Iran would be a reliable partner for peace, the opposite has proved true. By deliberately funding and fomenting terror against the U.S. and its allies in the region, Iran has shown that it cannot be trusted, and the Obama administration’s claims about the peaceful intentions of the top terror sponsor on Earth had no basis in reality.

8. Persecution of religious minorities continues across the globe

In the U.K., Jews were targeted in record numbers in 2017. Just weeks ago, a synagogue in Sweden was firebombed. Throughout India, Christians continue to be targeted by violent religious extremists. In North Korea and China, totalitarian atheist governments regularly imprison and torture those who openly worship and proselytize. And in the Middle East, Muslims remain the No. 1 target of radical jihadists hell-bent on purging from the Earth anyone who rejects the authority of the Islamic State’s caliphate. …

10. Due process and rule of law were restored to college campuses

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos finally restored the rule of law to college campuses and put an end to disastrous campus courts. Prior to her much-needed rule change, campuses across the country declared that secret proceedings, bereft of due process, were the best way to handle sexual assault allegations. That kangaroo system, justifiably gutted by DeVos, resulted in predators who were allowed to avoid law enforcement, victims who never received justice, and innocent people who were denied basic rights such as jury trials and access to attorneys.

As far as football was concerned, to quote Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of recent times. The Badgers had their best season that didn’t include a Rose Bowl berth, winning a record 13 games and their first Orange Bowl. With a young team, this season might not be the best season of the decade.

The Badgers’ season was particularly good because the Packers’ season was quite bad, thanks to the second broken collarbone of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career, which served to expose all the holes the Packers have on both offense (including backup quarterback) and defense (for which defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be sacrificed). Every football problem today can be traced back to the players, but the person responsible for getting those players, general manager Ted Thompson, hasn’t shown signs of departure, voluntarily (he could retire) or not.

As always, may your 2018 be better than your 2017. It can’t be stranger … can it?

Plunge right through that line

This blog needs to start with some music:

(I am curious about what year this was recorded. The fanfare sounds like one we played in 1984–85, which would mean I’m playing in this. We recorded an album — remember those? — at the Stock Pavilion that year.)

(If I was starting a new high school this would be my choice of fight song. It was written by John Philip Sousa. How many

Wisconsin plays Ohio State in the Big Ten football championship in Indianapolis Saturday night. The Badgers have played in more Big Ten championship games than any other team. Ponder that for a moment.

The storyline for this game, I predict, will be big Bucky against Ohio State’s superior speed and athleticism. But is that accurate? Adam Rittenberg suggests otherwise:

If the favored Buckeyes win, the script goes, it’ll be because they have more speed and more explosive players who were once much higher-rated recruits than the Badgers. Similar things were written after Wisconsin fell to Penn State in last year’s Big Ten title game.

But there’s a twist with this Wisconsin team. The Badgers are fast and furious. Their top-ranked defense has enough speed, especially at linebacker, to track down anyone, including the Buckeyes. Wisconsin’s offense also can make explosive plays, and not just Jonathan Taylor, who, fairly or unfairly, gets grouped with previous Badger backs who were celebrated more for their power than their speed. A young group of receivers recently emerged to stretch defenses and provide chunk plays to help a run-heavy offense.

Wisconsin has had speedy players before, but the collective trait stands out. Even Lou Holtz noticed when he stopped by a preseason practice, telling UW athletic director and former coach Barry Alvarez that the Badgers “can run with anybody.”

“You want to be as fast as you can,” coach Paul Chryst said, “and we’ve got some guys who can run.”

As the Badgers enter the final leg of the playoff race, they know they can keep up.

“When you think of Wisconsin, you think of tough running backs, power, things like that,” wide receiver Kendric Pryor said. “But we’re trying to change that. We’re trying to show people we’re fast on the outside, too.”

Pryor, a redshirt freshman, forms an exciting young troika with sophomore A.J. Taylor and freshman Danny Davis. The three have accounted for seven of Wisconsin’s past eight pass plays stretching 20 yards or longer. Pryor also has touchdown runs of 32 yards against Michigan and 25 against Iowa. This big-play prowess has helped since top receiver Quintez Cephus suffered a season-ending leg injury in a Nov. 4 win against Indiana. At the time of his injury, Cephus had accounted for seven receptions of 20 yards or longer, the most on the team.

After Wisconsin’s Nov. 18 win over Michigan, Davis talked about his desire to “win with speed.” His first career catch went for 35 yards against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 9. His second went for 50 yards the next week at BYU. Although tight end Troy Fumagalli leads the team in receptions, Davis, Taylor and Pryor each average better than 14 yards per catch.

“I know they’re going to do everything they can to fight for the ball and make sure we get it,” quarterback Alex Hornibrook said, “and then after the catch, they do some things that are pretty special, too.”

Wisconsin’s defense is doing special things, too, ranking first or second nationally in points allowed, yards allowed, rush yards allowed and pass yards allowed. The Badgers have allowed 10 or fewer points in half their games and just five touchdowns in their past seven contests. Although Wisconsin has been a top defense the past three seasons, speed is taking this year’s group to the next level.

Need proof? Look at the linebackers, especially T.J. Edwards, who is tied for the team lead with four interceptions, and Ryan Connelly, Wisconsin’s top tackler. The two have combined for 21 tackles for loss. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard also loves the athleticism he has with linebackers Garret DooleyAndrew Van Ginkel and Leon Jacobs, who has hopscotched positions throughout his career but once tracked down Melvin Gordon on a long run in practice. Jacobs is thriving this season as a starting outside linebacker, recording 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

“All those guys can run,” Leonhard said. “They can chase plays down. It’s not just a power game. Get us out of the box, and you’ve got us right where you want us. We don’t feel that way with that group.”

No player reflects the new Wisconsin and the program’s developmental roots more than Connelly, a 228-pound outside linebacker. He played quarterback in high school and received no FBS interest, so he walked on at Wisconsin. After showing bursts last season, in which he started eight games, Connelly has become a blur of speed and aggression this fall, always around the ball.

“That guy is bouncing around the field 100 miles an hour,” Edwards said.

Connelly perfectly complements Edwards, a Butkus Award finalist who is bigger (244 pounds) and admittedly a bit slower but who also uses his speed to reach the action.

“He’s not afraid to throw his body around,” Leonhard said of Connelly. “He plays at a high rate of speed, so when he hits something, there’s usually pretty good contact. He trusts his athleticism, and he just plays fast.”

Badgers players and coaches are aware of how they’re viewed, how they’re included in the still popular belief that the Big Ten’s best can’t run with the best from other leagues. Fullback Austin Ramesh, who had a 41-yard gain on a jet sweep at Minnesota — yes, Wisconsin runs its fullbacks on jet sweeps — said Wisconsin “might not win the combine competition” against most of its opponents but added, “We’re not a slow team.”

Leonhard recently detailed how Wisconsin’s defense matches up athletically at all three levels, highlighting players such as end Alec James, free safety Natrell Jamerson, cornerback Derrick Tindal and linebackers Jacobs, Van Ginkel and Connelly. He then paused and added, “I don’t know if this conversation can really apply to the Big Ten. It doesn’t really fit the narrative of the big, slow Big Ten anymore.”

Leonhard played in a different Big Ten when he starred for Wisconsin at safety from 2002 to 2004. Only Purdue and Northwestern ran spread offenses then, so power mattered more than speed, and Wisconsin had plenty of it. Four Badgers defensive linemen were drafted in 2005.

“It’s more of a space game [now],” Leonhard said. “Everyone is trying to find athletic players at all positions, and we obviously put a premium on the physicality and how we want to play up front, but you need athletes who can run around the field and make plays.”

Connelly thinks speed can cover mistakes. Although the Badgers are strong tacklers and seemingly always in the right position, their pursuit en masse can stop the running back or receiver who breaks free.

“That’s what’s going to win you games,” Connelly said.

Wisconsin has won every game this season, recording the first 12-0 start in team history. But to get rid of the annoying labels once and for all — really, really good but not quite elite; solid and smart but athletically limited — the Badgers need to beat Ohio State and secure a College Football Playoff spot.

From time to time, Leonhard will show players video of top college and NFL defenses, the best statistically and athletically. He’ll tell the group, “This is what the best is doing. Can we do that? Is that how we play?”

On Saturday in Indianapolis, Wisconsin hopes to deliver the answer.

Readers might recall the 2003 Fiesta Bowl between Miami of Florida and Ohio State. The former had National Football League-level athletes. But OSU won 31–24 in double overtime because the Buckeyes’ defense made one last stop. That could be analogous to Saturday’s game, except that this year’s Buckeyes have the role of the 2002 Hurricanes and this year’s Badgers are the 2002–03 Buckeyes.

The Badgers are unbeaten largely because of their defense, with improvements stemming from the second-half disaster in last year’s Big Ten championship game, as Jesse Temple reports:

The opponent and circumstances surrounding the game are different. But the lessons the Badgers took from that second half still apply.

“It’s definitely a learning experience to know that even if we get in a situation where we’re down, we’re not completely out of the game,” [inside linebacker Ryan] Connelly said. “Also, if we get up big to know they’re not out of the game. Really, anything can happen. It just goes to show you’ve got to play every down like it’s your last down.”

Wisconsin’s defense has carried that approach into this season, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular.

Wisconsin ranks No. 1 in total defense (236.9 yards per game), No. 1 in rushing defense (80.5), No. 2 in pass defense (156.4) and No. 2 in scoring defense (12 points). Wisconsin has allowed 15 touchdowns this season, the fewest of any FBS team. But the defense has been responsible for only 12 of those touchdowns.

Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said a big reason for that success stemmed from the number of returning players from last season, which has created confidence at all levels of the field. Two of the most important talking points Leonhard uses each week are to stop the run and not allow explosive plays in the passing game, and the Badgers have adhered to that strategy well.

Wisconsin is the only team in the nation to not surrender a run of 30 yards or longer this season. The longest run against the Badgers was a 28-yarder by Nebraska tailback Devine Ozigbo on Oct. 7. Wisconsin’s defense also has allowed just 32 plays of at least 20 yards. Among Power 5 conference teams, only Washington has given up fewer explosive plays with 31.

“For the most part, we’ve won our 1-on-1 battles this year,” Badgers inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “Guys are challenging players on every play. I think that’s just guys playing with confidence. Confident in the game plan and confident in each other that if something does go wrong, there will be a guy right next to you to have your back. I think it’s very easy to let it loose and play free when you know someone is going to be there to help.”

Tindal said he has been impressed at what he’s seen from the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs.

“Every time I watch film, I’m amazed at what I see,” Tindal said. “Like, dang, all these guys really are down there working. I appreciate that from my standpoint and it makes me feel like, man, they’re down there working, I’ve got to handle my job, make sure their job is easier.

“We work in tandem. I’m just proud of everybody. What we’ve been able to accomplish, all the doubters, all the naysayers, ‘Oh, y’all losing this, y’all losing that.’ They say it every year, man. But Wisconsin always finds a way.”

Wisconsin’s defense was so good this season that 12 different players earned some form of all-Big Ten honors — even more impressive considering only 11 players can be on the field at one time.

But before members of the defense begin patting themselves on the back, they are aware that their most difficult challenges are still to come. That starts Saturday against an Ohio State team that ranks fourth in the FBS in total offense (529.8 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (43.8 points).

“There’s some weeks we know that we weren’t exactly challenged and we know there’s better opponents out there waiting for us,” Connelly said. “To know that we will face better opponents keeps us hungry not to completely accept the fact that we’re so amazing or anything.”

Wisconsin has spent the week studying Ohio State game film, which has provided another lesson on the importance of finishing games. Last season, Wisconsin led Ohio State 16-6 at halftime and clung to a 16-13 lead after three quarters. But Ohio State forced overtime and escaped with a 30-23 victory at Camp Randall Stadium. The previous matchup between the two teams resulted in Ohio State drubbing Wisconsin 59-0 in the 2014 Big Ten title game.

Given that a playoff berth is at stake, what happened in the Big Ten title game last season, and the team Wisconsin is playing, there will be no shortage of motivation for the Badgers defense to excel.

“I’m expecting them to come out and think they’re just going to beat us because they go to Ohio State,” Tindal said. “They just say they’re better than us. … They expect that they’re going to dominate us. We can’t let that happen.”

The faults of quarterback Alex Hornibrook aside (and there were hardly any faults in the Badgers’ Paul Bunyan Axe-winning game over Minnesota last week), Saturday’s game will be either won or lost by Wisconsin’s defense. Defense and running the ball are not just the staples of the Barry Alvarez era; they go back farther than that to when a seven-win season was a good season at Camp Randall.

The UW Athletic Department produces an online magazine, “Varsity,” which included interesting thoughts from athletic director Barry Alvarez that started with former men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan:

Every successful player or coach has done it their own way. That’s why I thought it was interesting to hear the different stories Sunday at the Hall of Fame basketball event in Kansas City.

Bo Ryan’s story is a reminder that there’s not one magical formula to winning, regardless of the level of competition or the sport.

Bo had certain things that he believed in — core principles that he taught and coached — and it was sound at every level: Platteville, Milwaukee and at our place.

Watching his teams play, you could see that his coaching was based on the fundamentals and he never got away from that. It’s pretty much how we run our football program.

Don’t try to create something you can’t do. Be true to who you are. Play to your strengths.

After Bo retired, Greg Gard has emphasized the same things. He took over a team that wasn’t playing very well and he turned them into a good team.

He never lost the kids. You saw them get better. That’s good coaching.

I can still remember going in and talking to Greg after a couple of tough losses that year. I told him, “You’re getting better. You’re getting closer. Trust yourself.” And you saw what happened.

Greg and Paul Chryst have taken comparable approaches. Unlike many coaches today, they truly care about the players. It’s not about their next job and it’s not about breaking the bank.

It’s about coaching and caring about those kids.

We never say goodbye …

… because Saturday isn’t UW’s last game. It may not even be the Badgers’ next-to-last game. Ponder that, because …

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