It’s been an unusual getting-to-know-you process for Alvis Whitted, who was just getting started in his new job as the wide receivers coach for the University of Wisconsin football program when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
As if being the only new addition to Paul Chryst’s staff wasn’t challenging enough, Whitted had to build relationships with his colleagues and players while working remotely for a significant chunk of the past seven months.
From the sounds of it, that process went about as smooth as possible. Whitted has adapted to his surroundings as the No. 16 Badgers close in on their delayed start to the season — they open Friday against visiting Illinois — and, just as important, those around Whitted appear comfortable with him.
Take this testimonial from Danny Davis.
“Great dude. I love him,” Davis said of Whitted during a Zoom teleconference with reporters last week. “He’s been actually a mentor to me and I’ve just been soaking in everything I can get.”
Both Davis and fellow senior Kendric Pryor said they were shocked when their previous position coach, Ted Gilmore, announced in a meeting last February that he was leaving UW to coach tight ends on Melvin Tucker’s staff at Michigan State.
But both players made it clear they didn’t have any hard feelings toward Gilmore and understood it’s a business.
Enter Whitted, who was fired after one season of coaching the wide receivers on Matt LeFleur’s staff with the Green Bay Packers.
Continuity has been a hallmark of Chryst’s time at UW, and that’s reflected on his coaching staff. Whitted was joining a group on offense — Joe Rudolph (coordinator/offensive line), John Settle (running backs), Mickey Turner (tight ends), Jon Budmayr (quarterbacks) — that has been together since Chryst returned to Madison following the 2014 season.
“His best asset is he has a humble approach,” Turner said of Whitted, who was a football and track standout at North Carolina State before playing nine seasons in the NFL. “If you kind of come into Paul Chryst’s staff and you think you know it all, we’re such a detail-oriented, hard-work-first kind of mind-set that, unless you live by that, you can kind of get put on blast really quick.
“He’s the exact opposite. He’s like, ‘I’m here to learn, I’m here to do the best I can, and if something’s wrong I’ll get it right.’ He’s not trying to showboat or any of that stuff. He’s been a great fit.”
Pryor did his homework before he had a chance to meet Whitted in person and liked what he read. Four players Whitted coached at Colorado State — Michael Gallup (Cowboys), Rashard Higgins (Browns), Bisi Johnson (Vikings) and Preston Williams (Dolphins) — are playing in the NFL.
Plus, Pryor said he’s enjoyed picking Whitted’s brain about what makes Packers receiver Davante Adams one of the best at his position in the NFL.
“He’s been a great coach so far, just giving us great information, just kind of helping us and giving us things they did in the league, trying to help us get better at our craft,” Pryor said. “Each day, he’s coming up with different drills and different things to do to help us work on our game.”
When Pryor described Whitted as a coach, two words he used were “energy” and “swagger.”
Those adjectives were relayed to Whitted, who chuckled.
“Well, I would say that’s pretty fairly accurate,” he said. “This is why we do what we do. This is why we coach the game, that’s why I played the game. The game has been good to me, it’s been a really important factor in my life and I’m just thankful to be able to pour into these young men and show them the lessons that I learned and to teach and to show them what this game is all about. I try to just go by example and show my passion in everything that I do, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s on the field and I love to see these guys having fun and make plays and really get their teammates going.”
Whitted said he feels fortunate to inherit an experienced group. Even though UW is in the process of replacing its best playmaker (Quintez Cephus) and a four-year contributor (A.J. Taylor), Davis and Pryor lead a senior quartet that includes Jack Dunn and Adam Krumholz.
As of now, UW’s rotation includes those four along with Chimere Dike, a true freshman from Waukesha North who has turned heads in camp.
“A lot of people don’t really know who he is, but I think they’re going to know who he is,” tight end Jake Ferguson said. “He’s making a lot of plays.”
Whitted has a pretty simple philosophy when it comes to what he expects from his players: effort.
“I want to see guys that are around the football when they don’t have it in their hands,” he said. “I want to see the type of energy that they bring. I want to see how they’re progressing in the offense in regards to can they retain and are they coachable, can they apply the first time that you make a correction. Those are the little things that I’m looking for.”
Davis said it’s been easy to follow the lead of their new position coach, a guy who has adapted to a unique first seven months on the job.
“He just keeps it with the energy and juiced up all the time,” Davis said. “We feed off that as receivers and we just love to make plays so we can keep the juice going. He’s definitely, I would say, a big reason for how our energy picks up and how our energy stays.”
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