Badger coach Gary Andersen talks football, life lessons in Janesville

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Jim Leute
Thursday, March 27, 2014

University of Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen is a firm believer that change is good.

But change carries risk, he said, and risk can be healthy if it's well thought out.

Deciding to leave the comfort of Utah State in December 2012 to become Wisconsin's 29th head coach was a risk, Andersen said Wednesday night at Forward Janesville's annual dinner.

But it was a highly calculated risk made much more appealing by UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and the core fundamentals upon which the university's athletic program is built.

Andersen said the move was an easy decision because he shares the same values: “Taking care of the kids—socially and academically—is far more important than anything we do on the football field, and that's a rare philosophy.”

Keeping in line with Forward Janesville's theme for the dinner and the upcoming year—“Make Some Changes”—Anderson talked about the changes he's made or hasn't made in his coaching career.

In Madison, he said the most notable change has been the difference in approach to the last year's team and this year's team, which is now about halfway through its spring practices.

Last year's team, he said, was an established, veteran squad that he had to learn to pace in practice at the risk of running into the ground. This year's team is much younger, “puppies,” he said, and the approach through spring practice has been far more aggressive.

Andersen also took several questions from the crowd estimated at nearly 700.

--On Tuesday's decision from the National Labor Relations Board that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation's first union of college athletes:

“I'm very happy that my college degree was in political science, and I learned to keep my mouth shut,” Anderson said.

--On whether or not college athletes should be given a stipend by their universities:

“Again, political science degree,” he said with a laugh. “It's certainly an interesting topic, but I don't think the system is broken.”

--On his favorite thing about Wisconsin:

“I would say it's the food, but by the end of my first season it was my worst enemy,” he said, adding that he's come to appreciate the sincerity of the state's people and the compassion they have for one another.

“I guess that shows I'm old school, but old school is new school in my book,” he said.

--On his relationship with other UW coaches and what the basketball team's recent success does for the university:

The relationship among coaches is outstanding, he said, noting that's fostered by Alvarez and the way the school's student athletes co-mingle in a variety of off-field activities.

As for the basketball Badgers, who play the Baylor Bears tonight in a Sweet 16 NCAA tournament game, Andersen said the recognition is invaluable.

And because of tonight's 6:47 tip time, Andersen said a speech he was scheduled to give at a Wisconsin Football Coaches Association has been “officially canceled.”

--On convincing recruits to come to Wisconsin:

“We make sure they understand first and foremost what a Wisconsin diploma does for the young man,” he said. “UW offers an unbelievable education that can carry you through life if you allow it to. It's college football at the highest level, and it's a unique environment both socially and academically.

“When you combine the whole package, the Big Ten is the best conference. You can debate that all you want, but you're wrong.”

--And finally, Andersen was asked about making his new Badger team learn the words to and sing “On Wisconsin.” Specifically, Andersen was asked if he could sing the fight song for the crowd.

He did, albeit in what was likely the quickest rendition on record.

“That was a good one,” he said to the requester. “I bet you thought you were going to get me on that.”

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