MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez hopes to move quickly to find a new head coach after Gary Andersen's stunning departure to Oregon State.
Alvarez hoped to have a replacement by the 17th-ranked Badgers' bowl game Jan. 1. Alvarez said that the Wisconsin seniors asked him to coach in the Outback Bowl against Auburn, and that he would soon make that decision.
Wisconsin got word that Andersen was leaving on the same day that Heisman Trophy finalist and running back Melvin Gordon officially announced he was skipping his senior year to enter the NFL draft.
''I think everybody was well aware that Melvin was going to go into the draft. Gary's announcement was definitely a surprise and shocking to those (players),'' Alvarez said.
The Badgers seemed just as astonished on social media.
''That's crazy ... Literally out of nowhere,'' senior defensive tackle Warren Herring posted on Twitter
Gordon had just a one word response on Twitter after word had trickled out: ''WOW!''
Andersen was 19-7 in his two seasons at Wisconsin. He was known for an even-keeled demeanor that seemed to calm his players in times of adversity.
As usual, Wisconsin relied on a tried-and-true running game on offense. The defense was ranked first in the country for much of the season, before a 59-0 loss to Ohio State at the Big Ten title game - what turned out to be Andersen's last game with Wisconsin.
Alvarez said he thought Andersen had done a good job. He said Andersen related well to the players and led the Badgers to 10 wins this season, calling the Ohio State loss ''one game.''
Alvarez said that he was waiting for a flight back to Madison in New York early Wednesday afternoon when he got a call from associate athletic director Walter Dickey, who said Andersen had to tell him something. Not knowing when his flight might leave, Alvarez told Dickey to put Andersen on the phone.
According to Alvarez, that's when Andersen told him he was leaving for Oregon State as an opportunity for him and his family. ''I had no idea this was in the works,'' Alvarez said.
''Gary felt like this was an opportunity for him and his family to get back to that part of the country.''
Now Alvarez might have to step back on to the sideline again while he searches for permanent coach. Alvarez turned Wisconsin into a consistent Big Ten winner during a 16-year tenure on the sideline.
Bielema took over for Alvarez in 2006, spending seven years at Wisconsin before leaving abruptly for Arkansas following a victor in the 2012 the Big Ten championship game.
Wisconsin hired Anderson away from the head coaching spot at Utah State a few weeks before the Rose Bowl. Alvarez coached that game while the program was in transition, and the Badgers lost 20-14 to Stanford.
Alvarez said he always keeps a short list of potential head coaches and hoped to hire one by the bowl game. He acknowledged that departures of Bielema and Anderson departures show that Wisconsin apparently isn't a destination job but felt he has a ''great product'' to offer the next coach.
''My phone's ringing off the hook already and word's just leaking out,'' Alvarez said. ''I feel very confident we'll put a good coach in place. I told the kids that. Our program won't take a step back. I know one thing. I'm not going to flinch.''
One potential candidate could be former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who is the head coach at Pittsburgh. Chryst was born in Madison.
Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell played at Wisconsin in the 1990s. He was not aware that Andersen had left for Oregon State when approached by reporters at Seahawks practice on Wednesday.
Bevell has interviewed for NFL head coaching jobs. When asked if he had entertained the idea of being a college head coach, Bevell said ''Being a head coach someday is of interest to me. I would say I have thought about college. I don't know exactly at this point where it would be or what it would be but I do feel like I want to be a head coach someday.''
Armas reported from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.