Thursday, December 20, 2012

Badgers Hire Gary Andersen as Head Football Coach

When it was announced on December 4th that Bret Bielema would be leaving the University of Wisconsin to take the head coaching job at Arkansas there was a mixed reaction from the Badger football faithful. Among the many different reactions to the news was one main concern: Who will Barry Alvarez bring in that can continue the success the team has seen under Bielema in recent years. After winning the first two Big Ten Championship games ever to be played and earning three straight Rose Bowl berths, the Wisconsin football program is at an all-time high. While some fans believed that Bielema’s departure wasn’t as bad as it looked on paper, I believe all were concerned with the future of their beloved Badger program.

Speculation ran wild for the two week period before Andersen’s hiring was announced. Many different names were thrown around but never was Andersen mentioned as much as others such as Chris Pedersen and Mel Tucker. Andersen was a very under the radar hiring, but certainly a good one.

Most Wisconsin fans will remember Andersen for the game against Utah State at Camp Randall on September 15th, 2012. The Badgers snuck out with a 16-14 victory after Aggie placekicker Josh Thompson missed a potential game winning field goal in the game’s closing minutes. Afterwards, Andersen stated that Badger junior Chris Borland was the best linebacker he’d ever seen on a football field. One can’t help but smile looking back at as comment such as that.

Andersen began his coaching career at Southeastern Louisiana before working his way up through the ranks to earn his first head coaching job at Southern Utah in 2003. After a short stint there, he moved on to Utah where he coached under current Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer. He served as the defensive coordinator for the Utes in 2008 when the team finished 13-0 and stood at #2 in the final polls. From there he moved on to take the head coaching job at Utah State University. Before Andersen’s arrival, the Aggie program was one of the worst in the FBS, winning just 9 games in the previous four seasons. Andersen quickly turned the program around, winning 26 games in his four seasons and leading the Aggies to an 11-2 record and a victory over Toledo in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, being named the WAC Coach of the Year and earning a spot as a finalist for the 2012 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award along the way. 2012 was Utah State’s first outright WAC title since 1936 and their first ever appearance in the BCS standings.

Andersen is most revered for his defensive prowess, as were Alvarez and Bielema. Prior to his arrival at Utah State, the Aggies ranked outside the top 100 in overall defense. In 2012, the team ranked 15th in overall defense and 8th in scoring defense, allowing just over 322 yards and 15 points per game. Besides his reputation for defensive excellence, Andersen is revered as one of the better recruiters in all of college football, having been named one of the nation’s top non-BCS recruiters while at Utah. He has made a name for himself in turning average recruits into great college football players and getting the most out of what he is given. One can only imagine what he can do with improved facilities, funding, coaching staff, and administrative support.

When asked about the hiring on Thursday, Wisconsin Athletic Director and Interim Head Coach Barry Alvarez talked about Andersen as a perfect fit for the Badger program and mentioned a conversation he had with Urban Meyer during the hiring process:

“(Meyer has) had some very good assistants,” he said. “Urban told me that Gary is in the top five of all of them; he’s the real deal. I said, ‘Would he fit here? Would he fit in the Big Ten?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’”

If you don’t want to take it from me, and you don’t want to take if from Alvarez, take if from Urban Meyer - easily one of the top coaches in the country. In regards to Meyer, we must remember that Andersen coached under him and will have a great advantage when playing against Meyer’s spread offense when the Badgers take on the Buckeye’s each year.

The biggest concerns will be Andersen’s offensive scheme and how he does with recruiting in the Midwest. He ran a spread offense at Utah State in 2012, something we know Alvarez doesn’t want to see at UW. He will have to make some adjustments in that department, but that’s what good coaches do. This roster is built around a power running game and that will continue. In regards to recruiting, we have to wait and see how well he can sell his program in the Midwest and Florida – the two major hotbeds for Badger recruiting. He has coached his entire career west of Madison and doesn’t have much experience recruiting in the areas that have treated Bielema so well over the past seven years. I think it is imperative that Andersen retain Thomas Hammock (RB) and Bart Miller (OL) and as many other current Badger assistants as possible in order to ensure some degree of continuity and retain a tie to Midwest recruiting.

Finally, if you’re still not sold on Andersen as a coach or a recruiter, hop on twitter and see what some of his former players and beat writers that covered him at USU are saying about his departure. After accepting Alvarez’s offer, Andersen made personal phone calls to each member of the Utah State team to tell them the news. The man is highly regarded and we are lucky to have him donning the red and white.

Overall, I am pleased with the hiring and happy that this whole ordeal is finally coming to an end. We knew it was best to trust Alvarez in the hiring process and he went out and got us a great ball coach. I think it’s best if we reserve our judgments at this point and see how Andersen fills out his staff and manages recruiting in a new area. For now, let’s just enjoy this Rose Bowl and savor every moment of having Alvarez back on the sidelines for the next couple of weeks!

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

- Joe Norton (@JoeP_Norton)

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