Friday morning Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez finally introduced his new head football coach: Gary Andersen.
In his introductory press conference alongside Alvarez, UW’s 29th head coach expressed not only his excitement to be with the program and a commitment to developing his players on and off the field, but also showed how well-spoken he is, giving Badger fans a strong first impression of their new head coach.
The former Utah State head coach came within a field goal of upsetting Wisconsin Sept. 12. After his brief experience at Camp Randall, Andersen said when Alvarez offered him the job, no persuasion was necessary.
“Coach Alvarez didn’t have to make a pitch,” Andersen said. “The pitch was made when I got to spend three hours out on that field. When coach offered me the job I just said ‘yes.’ I think (Alvarez) was shocked. I didn’t ask any more questions, I just had my hand in the air.”
While Andersen was more than excited to accept the position, Alvarez said that he didn’t offer the job to anyone else but Andersen and interviewed three different candidates.
Alvarez also went on to add that Andersen – who led the Aggies to an 11-2 season just four years after taking over a perennial loser – had a philosophy that matched Wisconsin’s football brand.
“All the things he believed in, I believed in,” Alvarez said. “The whole package was there. I thought he would be the perfect fit for our fans, for our players and for everyone associated with our program.”
Prior to taking over the Utah State program, Andersen served as the defensive coordinator at Utah. During his time with the Aggies, he transformed the defense to one of the best in the league and this year USU currently sits eighth in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 15.4 points per game.
Andersen’s defense isn’t the same as the one the Badgers have employed in the past, but the fundamentals are still there, according to Alvarez.
While the defense will maintain a similar feel, questions about the offense have arisen as Andersen ran a spread offense at USU.
True to Wisconsin’s pro-style, running tradition, the first question Andersen faced in the his first press conference with the Wisconsin media concerned what offensive strategy will be used.
“We will be a power run team,” Andersen said. “We will use tight ends and multiple sets … 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 down as the game goes on and to out tough you and out physical you. (It’s an) easy thing to sit up on the podium and say, but that will be the mindset, and that’s the way it’s always been whenever I’ve had the opportunity to coach a football team.”
After accepting the position Andersen said he contacted each of his former players and gave them a chance to react to the news to him personally. Just days after winning the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl with a 41-15 decision over Toledo, Andersen admitted his players were not thrilled, but that they understood the situation.
“Why was it so important to me? Because the kids deserve that,” Andersen explained. “If they’re frustrated, they deserve to tell me they’re frustrated, which not one of them was. I’m not going to tell you they were doing back flips, but they understood the situation. They understand the University of Wisconsin. They understand, because a lot of them were here and it helped them. They were able to be on that field. They were able to see the stands, the crowd, the city, so that made it much easier for every one of those young men.”
Andersen noted that he would not be bringing any of his former players – including his son Keegan who is a sophomore tight end for the Aggies – or other recruits to Wisconsin. This seems to wipe away previous speculation that Utah State’s deal-threat quarterback, sophomore Chuckie Keeton, would become a Badger.
With few ties in the Midwest, recruiting certainly was an important question surrounding the new head coach. Andersen made it clear that any great coach should be able to attract any player, whether previous ties exist or not.
“Good coaches, good recruiters can walk into any living room and show what a university is,” Andersen said. “A lot of coaches like to talk about, oh, when you’re a recruiter, you’ve got to sell your university. No, you don’t, not here. You have to show what you have. You have to get young men on campus. You have to get the mentor or the parents or the coach or whoever it may be on campus, and there’s just – you just have to show who you are and what you have. There’s no selling.”
As Andersen starts to assemble his staff – bringing some of his former assistants with him – he did indicate that he will keep defensive backs coach Ben Strickland on staff and will work on pursuing other key assistants who are mulling other offers. Bret Bielema’s predecessor also confirmed after the show that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will join him in Madison.
As Andersen starts to interact with the Wisconsin players, he said he will work to establish a strong relationship with them – they are his “kids” too. But the new head coach also spoke of the importance of establishing the foundational motivations within the program.
“The hardest thing to break down and build in my opinion is the belief to win,” Andersen said. “There’s something to be said about that. It’s not in a bottle. It’s not magic dust that you sprinkle over the top of their heads. It’s an expectation that they work all year to do, and these young men expect to win. Because of that, every year is a challenge, and every year is a different set of challenges … I know the young men that are here, and we’re excited to continue a winning tradition. It’s a little different than the team we took over last time for sure.”