Wisconsin Football: Why Gary Andersen Hire Is Better Than We Think

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Wisconsin Football: Why Gary Andersen Hire Is Better Than We Think
Douglas C. Pizac-USA TODAY Sport

The reported hiring of Gary Andersen by Wisconsin Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez has been greeted with mixed reviews.

Rumors swirled Tuesday afternoon that Andersen, the head coach at Utah State, was a candidate for the vacant head coaching position at Wisconsin, and that rumor was confirmed by Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal when he reported Andersen was the choice to coach the Badgers.

Andersen's name hadn't surfaced as a candidate prior to the Aggies' Famous Idaho Potato Bowl victory, but just two days later, he was the new head coach at Wisconsin.

What we know about Andersen is that he is a defensive-minded coach who has four years of head coaching experience at the FBS level. 

Andersen, 48, took over a 3-9 team, and by the time he was done at Utah State, it was an 11-2 football team with a top-15 defense, a WAC championship and its first bowl victory in 19 years. With the players he recruited in place after four years at Utah State, Andersen had essentially built a program from ground-up. 

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He was able to out-recruit the other major programs in the state of Utah (Utah, BYU) and beat the Utes this season for the first time since 1997.

And yet, there are still knocks on Andersen because of his 26-24 career head coaching record, the spread offense he ran at Utah State, a lack of ties to the Midwest and subsequently, being an outsider in regard to "The Wisconsin family."

Being able to recruit at Wisconsin has also been a talking point, as recruiting at Utah State was mainly in-state, as well as Church missionary and Polynesian kids—something you don't see much of in the Midwest.

While that is a legitimate apprehension, the fact that Andersen was able to out-recruit Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall is saying something, and that bodes well for what he can do in the Midwest area. So does this little tidbit from Mulhern:

Not only that, but prior to becoming the head honcho in Logan, Andersen coached at Utah under Urban Meyer, who now happens to coach in the same conference—and division—as Andersen.

His ties to Meyer could have influenced Alvarez's decision to hire Andersen, seeing how he may know how to slow Meyer's tactics on offense and potentially give the Badgers more of a recruiting advantage, as Andersen likely helped bring players to Utah during his time in Salt Lake City.

It certainly doesn't hurt to have recruiting ties to the West Coast, the area Andersen had coached collegiality in since 1995.

There will certainly be an adjustment period to recruiting in and around Wisconsin, and it remains to be seen if pipelines to states like New Jersey and Florida stay open, but there has been a positive vibe among incoming recruits about the Andersen hire.

In regard to Andersen's coaching record, it's unfair to judge him solely by his career record. If anything, Andersen's final year at Utah State should be the only season taken into account considering the mess he inherited back when he took the job in 2009.

The good news is that Andersen doesn't have any rebuilding to do at Wisconsin, as the Badgers will be playing in their third straight Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He can pick up where Bret Bielema left off and have an opportunity to coach a program that is already set up well for the future, unlike at Utah State.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Urban Meyer and Ohio State are expected to dominate the Leaders Division for years to come. Does Andersen's hiring change that train of thought?

As far as the offense is concerned, it is unlikely that the spread offense will be installed at Wisconsin, and that the pro-style offense will remain.

It will be another area in which he will have to adjust, but Andersen's ability to adapt should make that transition easier. He has switched between the 3-4 and 4-3 defense based on the personnel he had at Utah and Utah State, and Alvarez simply wasn't going to hire a coach unwilling to run the power running game at Wisconsin.

Several Wisconsin assistants have departed for N.C. State and Arkansas already, but Andersen is likely to bring most, if not all, of his coaching staff along with him, which bodes well for continuity. 

Does this mean Bart Miller, the offensive line coach at Wisconsin who did such a superb job taking over this season, is the odd man out?

Alvarez has targeted Miller along with a few coaches that have already departed to remain in Wisconsin under Andersen (h/t Mulhern). Perhaps we will learn more at Andersen's introductory press conference on Friday.

The positives by far outweigh the negatives with Gary Andersen, and his appointment as Wisconsin's next head coach is better than we think, even for those already on board with the hire.

There's no doubt that going out of your comfort zone, something Wisconsin football hasn't done for so long, isn't easy.

But that doesn't mean it isn't right.

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