Colleagues, former players tout new University of Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen
Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, July 22, 2013
On that day, Scott Barnes was hired as Utah State's athletic director after three years as Washington's senior associate athletics director for advancement.
Barnes quickly realized he needed to repair Utah State's ineffective funding model, super-size a woeful commitment to the football program and remove Brent Guy as head coach.
Eight months after taking the job, Barnes hired Andersen away from rival Utah, where he was a decorated defensive coordinator. If Andersen did as well as he anticipated at Utah State, Barnes believed, a larger program from a BCS conference would eventually hire Andersen away.
That came last December, because Andersen needed only four seasons to turn a dreadful program—the Aggies had finished above .500 just four times in the 30 seasons before his arrival— into a league champion and a consensus top-20 team that finished 11-2. In the process, Andersen gave Utah State its first season of 10 or more victories in the 114-season-history of the program.
Now Andersen, 49, will be asked to shepherd a UW program that has won three consecutive Big Ten titles and has produced a consensus top-25 team 11 times in the last 20 seasons, including five top-10 finishes.
Will Andersen be able to maintain the recent run of success? Will UW regress on his watch? Or can Andersen guide the program to greater achievements?
“If Wisconsin hired Gary to maintain where they are,” Barnes said, “they got the wrong guy.
“He is not about maintaining. He is about building and improving.”
Strong words. Yet as Andersen prepares for the 2013 Big Ten Conference preseason meetings Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago, those who have worked with him have no doubt UW will flourish under his guidance.
Utah State players who, under the guidance of Andersen and his staff, helped turn Utah State into a winner thought Andersen was an outstanding coach and leader.
“He is the coach that can get the most out of all of his players,” said redshirt junior linebacker Zach Vigil, a former walk-on who was a second-team all-Western Athletic Conference pick last season. “He always brings out the best in his kids. Like he says, he is going to hug you up when it is good and he is going to kick you in the (butt) when it's bad.
“Gary is going to be successful because the kids are going to love him and they're going to want to please him. That is how it was here. He was more of a father figure than a coach. He is a guy you don't want to let down.”
Andersen and his staff won recruiting battles against Utah and BYU to make Logan the destination in the state.
Now they must convince players to choose the Badgers over Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and other Big Ten schools.
“He will put together a recruiting road map that speaks to Wisconsin's strengths but also stretches them,” Barnes said.
Andersen posted records of 4-8, 4-8, 7-6 and 11-2 in his four seasons at Utah State, a program that had only 46 winning seasons from 1900 through 2008. When the Aggies cracked the Associated Press poll at No. 25 on Nov. 18 of last season, it marked their first appearance in the top 25 since the end of the 1961 season.
Utah State senior offensive tackle Eric Schultz and senior linebacker Jake Doughty see Andersen in the mold of Urban Meyer and Brian Kelly, two successful Division I coaches who built a strong reputation coaching in smaller programs.
“I think he does whatever it takes to win,” said Schultz, a former walk-on who was a first-team all-WAC pick last season. “He is here working all hours. … He just has that attitude and mentality to succeed, no matter what it takes.”
Doughty, another first-team all-WAC pick, added: “He will be successful at Wisconsin because he is the hardest-working man I think I've ever met. He gets in here early. He stays late.
“He breaks down schemes like nobody's business. He knows the smallest tendencies you could ever imagine. He won't accept failure.
“I don't care where he goes. He is going to be successful just because of his work ethic.”
Andersen's work with the Utes led to a job offer from Barnes.
His subsequent work at Utah State impressed Alvarez and led to a job offer.
Andersen could have become the head coach at California and Colorado last winter. Both offers were extended before Alvarez needed to find a replacement for Bielema.
“It was the perfect job for Gary,” Barnes said of UW. “In a lot of ways Wisconsin is Utah State on steroids. There are a lot of similarities. I think it is a tremendous fit for him.
“But there is a stigma at the mid-major level, whether it be AD, basketball coach or football coach. Believe me, they haven't settled on anyone. Other BCS schools saw the same things and they didn't get there.
“He didn't jump at the first opportunity. He took a job he knew he could succeed at. It matched his abilities and talent.
“I think it is about the fit, and he is a hand-in-glove fit.”