Just three months ago I was at Camp Randall Stadium when the Wisconsin Badgers narrowly avoided what would had been a major upset when Utah State’s late 37-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Sitting behind the visiting team tunnel that night, I could not help but notice the appreciative ovation the losing Aggies received from the UW faithful as they trudged off. Conference rivals such as Michigan State or Ohio State no doubt get much ruder sendoffs win-or-lose in Madison, and it was a moment that reminded me of much of the good in college athletics.
I had no clue that I would be writing 90-some days later about the visiting coach from that night becoming the next head man at the University of Wisconsin.
Then again I didn’t foresee Bret Bielema joining the very conference that he was bashing the past off-season.
Nothing will be official on Gary Andersen’s imminent hiring until Thursday (UW head football coach is a state position, so hires cannot be announced until two weeks after posting), but according to several media sources and Utah State student-athletes on social media Tuesday night, it is a done deal.
Although Coach Andersen might want to hang out back in the Wasatch area for a couple more days, something about a nasty blizzard hitting Madison.
Don’t worry though coach. Contrary to popular belief, Wisconsin weather isn’t always that brutal.
The hire would be a mild surprise in that it appears Barry Alvarez has indeed decided on a man without any previous ties to the UW program besides his team nearly beating them in September.
In fact, Gary Andersen (not to be confused with Gary Anderson or Morten Andersen of place-kicking fame) has spent most of his life in the Mormon Corridor. He was born/raised in Salt Lake, then attended/played for Ricks Junior College (now a four-year school that goes under the handle BYU-Idaho) before transferring to the University of Utah.
Andersen’s early coaching stops included Southeastern Louisiana (1988), Ricks College (1989-92), Idaho State (1992-94), Northern Arizona (1995-96), and the University of Utah (1997-2002)
He became a head coach for the first time at Southern Utah University in 2003, then returned for a second tour of duty at Utah the following year, a tenure that culminated as defensive coordinator in 2008 when the Utes went 13-0 and defeated the mighty University of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, setting the stage for the HC hire at USU. The 48-year old Andersen has a tight end currently on the USU squad, and also twin sons verbally committed to the Utah State program.
The Aggies are coming off possibly their best season in school history, finishing 11-2 after routing the University of Toledo 41-15 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and will likely place in the top 25 in the final polls. Sensing their coach as a potential hot candidate, Andersen was inked to a contract extension earlier in the season, which would reportedly have paid him up to $765,000 per through 2018. Andersen is 27-24 in his four years at Utah St.
Still, that didn’t stop Andersen from being linked to several openings in the college coaching carousel, including California, Colorado, and Kentucky. As recently as November 30, Andersen made a statement that was supposed to reaffirm his commitment to staying long-term with the USU program. But also note the 11/30 press release was three days before the Wisconsin job suddenly became open.
(Aside – don’t bet against Penn State’s Bill O’Brien looking at an NFL opening, you think he WON’T be interested in the Philadelphia Eagles?)
Andersen obviously found an opportunity too good to pass up. He interviewed in Madison on Monday and reportedly was offered the job shortly thereafter. Utah State will be hard pressed to ever surpass the accomplishments achieved in 2012, so in that respect Andersen jumping to a program to his liking makes sense with his resume at its peak.
The new coach’s philosophies should be a good fit in Madison, as the Aggies will finish 2012 ranked amongst the top-15 defenses in FBS. Utah St. became known as a spread offense under Andersen. We’ll see what part of that scheme, if any, get implemented at Wisconsin considering Barry Alvarez is traditionally not a fan of the spread. Offensive line also become a team strength at USU, very similar to what Wisconsin has traditionally been and what likely won his new bosses over in the interview process. Another legacy of Andersen’s four-year run at Logan was seeing both running back Robert Turbin and linebacker Bobby Wagner both drafted by the Seattle Seahawks this past year. In fact Wagner is closing in on a Seattle rookie record for tackles in a season.
Andersen will also be able to hire basically his entire staff. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada became the latest member of the Bielema regime to jump ship over the weekend; Canada will be re-united with Dave Doreen at North Carolina State.
Personally, I did not figure on Andersen being a lead candidate since I was taking him on his word regarding remaining in Logan. And if you are a Utah State fan, you no doubt may have some hard feelings regarding loyalty and your coach doing a similar about-face that Bret Bielema did here two weeks ago. That said, I still like the hire from a UW standpoint – and am not bothered by going with a candidate with no previous Wisconsin ties, which I would not consider a mandatory prerequisite.
Furthermore, Andersen will not have the Barry Alvarez shadow lurking as much as Bielema being hired early in his coaching career. And as weird as it may be to say after three consecutive conference championships, I believe Bucky will long-term end up upgrading in the coaching department.
As it is with virtually all HC hires, time will tell how this works out, but without the benefit of hindsight yet, I like the decision.