New Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen had to do some thinking when interviewed by a couple of athletic directors over the past few weeks while still with Utah State.
Apparently the offers drew little interest from Andersen, and he promptly announced to his former Utah State squad that he wasn’t leaving for any other jobs.
But then Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez gave him a call.
“The second that coach Alvarez had contacted me and gave me the opportunity, I knew that was a job I was going to take,” Andersen said. “Coach Alvarez didn’t have to make any pitch to this guy.”
It was the only job offer from Alvarez. He acknowledged that he did talk to “a number of people” during preliminary phone interviews, but met face-to-face with only three.
Andersen has been on Alvarez’s radar longer than most would imagine. Alvarez first took notice when Andersen’s Aggies very nearly upset Auburn—then-defending national champions—in each team’s season opener last season. The Aggies lost 42-38 and ended up 7-6 on the season, losing to Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Aggies finished 11-2 this season, which included a perfect 6-0 record in the Western Athletic Conference. They demolished Toledo on Dec. 15 by a score of 41-15 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“[Andersen is] the whole package,” Alvarez said. “Just his entire philosophy and how it fit here.”
“As we left [the interview], Walter Dickey (the Senior Associate Athletic Director) made the comment, ‘if I would have had a blindfold on, I would have thought that was you answering the questions.’”
Andersen said he would be bringing “three or four” coaches with him from Utah State, but said the offensive coordinator position is still “up in the air.” He also said he would be retaining secondary coach Ben Strickland, who was a former defensive back for the Badgers and is in his first year as a full-time assistant coach.
“Ben has shown me how important he is,” Andersen said. “He is Wisconsin, if you will.”
Junior running back James White told reporters following Friday’s practice that running backs coach Thomas Hammock would be staying.
Questions unsurprisingly surfaced about the spread offenses that Andersen instilled in his offense during his time at Utah State. But Andersen reiterated that he doesn’t intend to mess with the power run game that the Badgers have constructed. Not too much, at least.
“This is the University of Wisconsin,” Andersen said, who boasts a highly defensive-oriented resume. He spent three years as defensive coordinator for Utah, which included the 2008 team that went undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
This year’s Utah State team ranks eight nationally in scoring defense at just 15.4 points per game.
“I do want to have a touch of option within the game plan every week to force defenses to deal with it,” he admitted. “But we’re going to line up and let those big kids work. That’s what they like to do.”
Andersen also addressed the concerns about his ability to recruit in a different area. He was quick to point out the success he has had in the state of Utah. He said there were only 18 players on Utah State’s roster in his first year as head coach there, but now has 55.
“We will secure our own state,” he said. “We’ll wrap our arms around every player, and we’ll have a strong walk-on program because there are terrific coaches, there are terrific players in the state of Wisconsin.”
Although Andersen’s presence has unsurprisingly created a large amount of buzz, he said he would not interfere in any way.
“The last thing they need from me is to hang around them,” he said. “Coach Alvarez, the staff, and the young men will go put themselves in a position to go win the Rose Bowl.”
It appears as if the players have the same mindset.
“[I’m] definitely excited for him to get here and to get the ball rolling in that sense,” redshirt junior linebacker Ethan Armstrong said after practice Friday. “But we definitely have one more job left and that’s to win the Rose Bowl. Then we’ll worry about all that stuff in January.”