When the Tweets started flying and the speculation began to swirl, very few people had any kind of idea who Gary Andersen was. They did not know how to spell his name, let alone have any in-depth knowledge of his coaching legacy and philosophy.
If not for a nervous kicker, Andersen's legend would have been off to a mythical start in Wisconsin as his oft-maligned Utah State Aggies came within a field goal of slaying the goliath Big Ten Badgers. But when his team ran off the field, it seemed as though little of Andersen's presence lingered in Madison - but it was enough to leave an impression.
Today, a little more light has been cast on the mysterious figure that was Coach Andersen. While the requisite honeymoon period is still in full swing with Wisconsin, the unpolished gems of his character and history are revealing themselves. And fans should be very excited about the man leading their team in 2013 and hopefully beyond.
Where the offensive line goes, so go the Badgers.
Last year's chaos bred a streak of games that had fans shaking their heads and coaches headed to the unemployment line. Unlike other schools, Wisconsin proudly publicizes its positional favoritism and happily sends a linemen or two to the NFL every year.
Badger supporters can rest assured Gary Andersen knows what it takes to field a great offensive line, because he played center throughout college. That may come as a surprise to many given Andersen's defensive prowess, but the new head Badger protected quarterbacks before scheming to sack them.
Andersen finished up his playing career as a center for Utah from 1985-86 after a JUCO All-American tour at Ricks College. This kind of experience speaks well to his ability to keep the pipeline for "big palookas" flowing into Madison.
No hasty meetings. No post-it notes or emails. No half-hearted talks about the business of the game.
When Gary Andersen left Utah State, he left the right way. Unlike his predecessor who huddled his players together for a surprise meeting that lasted half an hour — Andersen decided to take a different approach. When he took the job and the leaks began to spring across the college football landscape, the former Utah State coach took action.
His players were off on their winter break, and slowly the rumors began to fill their inboxes and Facebook newsfeeds. The reactions were incredulous until their phone rang one-by-one. Gary Andersen was calling every player on his team to say goodbye.
Every. single. player.
In fact, his act turned Tweets from venom into sugar. Yahoo! Sports reported that Brandon Swindall, a freshman Aggie receiver, wrote: “Wow... He jus gone leave like that smh” which then turned into "Much love to him. The same article noted Andersen "made 106 calls and finished up at 2:30 a.m."
Leaving is one of the hardest things to do at any job, and a respectful, sincere exit can leave a lasting impression on players, families and fans of both allegiances.
Change provides opportunity. It offers a renewed perspective on the ultimate goal of an institution. From everything he has said and done, it sounds like Gary Andersen sees this coaching shake-up as a chance to reset Badger sights on the ultimate goal.
No one wants a leader who shoots for the middle, or picks the status quo over what could have been. While the Idaho Potato Bowl may have been the zenith of accomplishment for a Utah State team more used to watching bowls at home — he is playing in a new ballpark of expectation.
In an article from the Wisconsin State Journal by Tom Oates, Andersen sounds more like a man on a mission than a man banking on mediocrity.
"I would not have entertained the thought in any way, shape or form, of taking a job at this point in my career if I didn't think we could come in and compete and play for championships," Andersen said. "I'm not a prediction guy. I'm not going to reach out there and say we're going to do this or we're going to do that. ... I know this football program has everything it needs to compete at the highest level. In everybody's mind, I'm sure the national championship is at the highest level."
For a man who turned around one of the worst football programs in the country, idle words don't seem to be in his nature. Welcome to the Andersen era.