New University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Chris McIntosh picks up where his mentor left off
In July, McIntosh replaced the retiring Barry Alvarez as athletic director.
This story starts in summer 1994, at a house in Pewaukee.
University of Wisconsin–Madison head football coach Barry Alvarez and his offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, were there to offer an athletic scholarship to Pewaukee High School senior-to-be Chris McIntosh, a physically imposing — if unpolished — offensive lineman.
The coaches were riding high, and why not? Earlier that year, the Badgers won their first-ever Rose Bowl. Now they expected a verbal commitment from McIntosh (the official signing day was still months away). Instead, McIntosh — admittedly a bit naïve about the process — asked Alvarez, “Why would I commit now?”
The coach replied: “Wouldn’t it be nice if you went into your senior year knowing that if you got hurt, we would [still] honor your scholarship?”
The next day, by phone, McIntosh verbally committed to the Badgers.
Here, the story takes a turn.
Early in his senior season in Pewaukee, McIntosh tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, requiring surgery. Worse, he developed a staph infection in his femur bone, requiring the self-administration of IV antibiotics and a three-week stay at University Hospital in Madison.
“I lost 45 pounds,” McIntosh says. “I think I came closer than I’d like to admit to losing part of my leg.”
Alvarez came to the hospital to visit.
“I was really sick,” McIntosh says. “When he left that room, he had to be thinking, ‘There’s a waste of a scholarship.’ ”
But on signing day, the scholarship offer was still there. “In the face of all that,” McIntosh says, “he stood by his word. He delivered what he promised.”
In the end, everybody won. McIntosh recovered and went on to spend a Hall-of-Fame-clinching four years on the Badgers’ offensive line. For Alvarez, there would be more Rose Bowl appearances — and a celebrated last act as director of UW Athletics.
In July, 27 years to the month after that 1994 verbal commitment, McIntosh replaced the retiring Alvarez as athletic director.
If McIntosh has profoundly personal reasons for wanting to carry on and burnish his predecessor’s legacy, he knows it won’t be easy.
“The challenges we face today,” McIntosh says, “are as significant as those we faced at any time in our history. They’re different, but they’re as significant as the challenges Pat Richter faced in 1989.”
That year, the incoming athletic director had a moribund football program and a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
Today, McIntosh leads a department still dealing with the financial impact of the pandemic, just as college sports experience a seismic shift in how student athletes may profit from their name, image and likeness — with more such changes on the way.
“It will be important for us to understand how we will fit and be successful,” McIntosh says, “while holding true to our values, in what is likely to be a completely different landscape of college athletics.”
McIntosh’s background suggests an ability to adapt.
It dates to at least seventh grade in Pewaukee, when a sudden, 6-inch growth spurt (to 6 feet, 6 inches) led to his first knee surgery and the realization he was through with basketball. McIntosh took up wrestling. By his junior year in high school, he was a state champion.
“I think it was what I accomplished in wrestling that really put me on the radar of the [Badgers] football staff,” he says.
McIntosh’s four seasons as a Badger included individual honors (consensus All-American) and team accomplishments (two Rose Bowl wins). Ron Dayne broke the NCAA career rushing record behind McIntosh and his offensive linemates.
McIntosh’s abiding memory, however, is not of any awards or even victories. It’s of those teammates. The bar for offensive linemen at UW–Madison is set high. McIntosh learned from the older guys and then passed the expectation on in turn.
“I think the culture that exists, the bond that exists in a room of linemen, is unique,” he says.
On the field, it’s a grind — demanding and repetitive. Linemen must work in concert. Inches matter.
“Nobody notices us unless we make a mistake,” McIntosh says; but here, too, Dayne — who didn’t relish attention — went out of his way to credit his blockers.
“Pretty special,” McIntosh says.
McIntosh was a first-round NFL draft pick, but his pro career became another pivot point when a neck injury forced an early retirement. He turned to business — real estate and startups related to health and wellness — and he and his wife, Deann, started a family that now includes three children.
McIntosh may have stuck with business — they were living in Colorado — if he hadn’t been inducted into the UW Athletic Hall of Fame and returned to Madison for the 2014 ceremony.
“When I came back,” he says, “it stirred up all kinds of old feelings and memories. I think it was the first time I really realized the effect this place had on me.”
McIntosh joined the department that year; by 2017, he was Alvarez’s deputy athletic director. His duties ranged over business partnerships, government affairs and — most recently — diversity and inclusion issues.
If he worked hard, well, McIntosh had never forgotten that distant day in 1994 when Alvarez honored his verbal commitment for a scholarship.
“I wanted to make sure Barry was being supported on the back end of his career the same way he supported me on the front end of my playing career,” McIntosh says.
With the torch now passed, McIntosh plans to hit the ground running.
“I believe these new challenges will necessitate [that] we up our game and come up with creative solutions,” he says. “That’s the exciting part about accepting this role at this time.”
Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Read his blog, “Doug Moe’s Madison,” on madisonmagazine.com.
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