by Rexford Sheild
Badger fans can finally breathe easy with the hiring of Gary Andersen after the roller coaster coaching search that that at various points pointed coaches as varied as Boise State's Chris Petersen to Toledo's Matt Campbell to Jacksonville Jaguar's defense coordinator Mel Tucker as the next head coach in Madison So who really is Gary Andersen? Is he the guy that will guide the Badgers to uncharted waters and contend for a national championship? Or will he be like his predecessor and maintain the status quo? Here's what you need to know about the newest coach who will lead the team out of the Camp Randall tunnel in 2013 and what is still unclear.
What you need to know
First and foremost, Andersen is a heckuva football coach. He has a proven track record at the FBS level, owning a respectable 26-24 record at Utah State. What is far more impressive than his record is rebuilding effort he undertook in Logan. He constructed a program from the ground up.
Andersen inherited a program that won three games in 2008 the year before his arrival and six total over the 2006-08 seasons. After two 4-8 seasons he led them to bowl appearances in the last two years, including a school-best 11 win season in 2012 and a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Andersen appears to run an open, upbeat practice.
A players-first mentality stands out and was further reinforced by his actions after taking the Wisconsin job. According to reports Andersen called all 106 of his Utah State players to notify them of his decision to leave the program, an action that cemented the respect of the players he was leaving behind in Logan and laid the foundations for a strong relationship with the players and fans in Madison.
Moreover, several current Badgers players, including Chris Borland,Beau Allen and Jacob Pedersen were impressed enough last Friday when Andersen was introduced and took to Twitter to profess their glowing remarks about their new coach.
His relationship with players has paid off in recruiting and development as he has put a number of his players in the National Football League, including linebacker Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks) and running backs Robert Turbin (Seattle Seahawks) and Michael Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) to name a few. Andersen was named as the nation's No. 1 non-BCS recruiter in 2005 by Rivals.com and a Rivals.com Top 10 non-BCS recruiter in 2008.
Despite a defensive background Bret Bielema’s teams were more identified with an explosive, pro style offense than anything on the defensive side of the ball. That phenomenon may be a thing of the past. Gary Andersen was part of two undefeated teams at Utah before becoming head coach at Utah State. He was the defensive line coach on Urban Meyer’s undefeated 2004 squad and Kyle Whittingham’s defensive coordinator in 2008 when Utah routed Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl. Andersen’s 2008 squad was amongst the best in the country in scoring defense and defensive pass efficiency.
These trends continued on at Utah State. This past year, the Utes were ranked eighth nationally in scoring defense, sixth in sacks with 42 and second in interceptions with 14.
With the Badgers Andersen will have some work to do as Wisconsin loses three starters in the secondary and also loses all-Big Ten linebacker Mike Taylor. On the flip side, all of the front four will be returning and Chris Borland is due for a monster senior year.
On the offensive side of the ball, the traditional Wisconsin pro-style attack that has been successful dating back to Alvarez's coaching days will not change. “We will be a power run team. We will use tight ends and use multiple sets and multiple formations, absolutely,” Andersen said in his introductory press conference. “I believe we'll be a football team that will be run first, and our goal and our mindset and our want will be to wear you downs as the game goes on and to out tough you and out physical you.”
Whatever offensive style Andersen chooses, a lack of explosiveness should not be a concern based on Utah State’s recent performance. In 2012 the Utes had 13 plays of 60 yards or more and 18 plays of 50 yards or more—best in the nation in both categories. Contrary to the defense, Andersen inherits an extremely talented offense. Despite losing All-American running back Montee Ball and left tackle Ricky Wagner, the dangerous duo of James White and Melvin Gordon will have an extra year of experience under their belt and every receiver on the team returns (assuming Abbrederis doesn’t opt for the draft) which will bode well for a unit that lacked experience.
Andersen was wide to keep Thomas Hammock and Ben Strickland on staff for continuity. Hammock has been the brains behind the stellar play of the running backs and was recruiting coordinator this past season help put together a strong 2013 class and lay the foundation for an even better one in 2014. Strickland’s retention reinforces in-state recruiting ties.
What remains unclear
It has been established that Andersen quickly turned around an abysmal Utah State program. This was competing and recruiting in the WAC. Will he be able to convert that on-the-field and off-the-field success to the Big Ten against his old boss at Ohio State or any coach in the conference for that matter? Fans must be patient. Leading a team to a championship – conference or national - in year one is a difficult task for any new coach. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how he fares with the Wisconsin faithful.
In the last years of Bielema's tenure, fans grew tired of his lack of ability to win the big game and will be looking to Andersen to make that leap before he can ever be fully embraced. Can this be done quickly? Again, fans must be patient. Coaches usually sink or swim in their third or fourth year, as players get accustomed to the system at this point and the coach gets his own recruits in. In short, Barry Alvarez’s heir to Bielema cannot be judged quickly. This will have to play out
There have been a plethora of coaches who have made the jump from mid-major conferences to AQ conferences and there is no perfect system to predict success. Brian Kelly jumped from Western Michigan to Cincinnati and ultimately to Notre Dame and had glowing success at all three programs. On the other hand, Derek Dooley was hired by Tennessee and fell flat on his face after a successful stint at Louisiana Tech.
Will Andersen surpass his predecessor's accomplishments? Time will tell but I bet you my beer money that his every move will be heavily compared to the man he replaced.
Welcome to Madison, coach Andersen.