Andy Baggot: UW football coach Gary Andersen says 'this is where I want to be'

2014-02-20T07:15:00Z Andy Baggot: UW football coach Gary Andersen says 'this is where I want to be'ANDY BAGGOT | Wisconsin State Journal | abaggot@madison.com | 608-252-6175 madison.com

Gary Andersen was on a recruiting trip in Ohio last month when the University of Wisconsin football coach got an unexpected telephone call.

Would he be interested in coaching in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns?

“A complete curveball,” Andersen said. “The call came basically out of the blue.”

Andersen isn’t sure how then-Browns CEO Joe Banner and his top lieutenant, Mike Lombardi, got his cell number because they didn’t contact his agent, Kenneth Vierra, or go through his boss, UW athletic director Barry Alvarez.

“I have no idea where it started or where I even got into the mix,” Andersen said.

Coming off his first season as coach of the Badgers, Andersen was asked if he wanted to meet and talk about the opening created when Cleveland fired Rob Chudzinski after last season.

“No, I’m good,” Andersen said initially.

When Banner and Lombardi pushed for a meeting, Andersen, flattered and wary given the delicate nature of the recruiting calendar, said he first wanted to check with Alvarez.

“What do you think?” Andersen asked.

“Gary, it never hurts you to talk,” Alvarez replied.

So Banner and Lombardi arrived at a small airport in Ohio and met with Andersen for “a couple hours.” Andersen didn’t deviate from his original itinerary because he had a home visit scheduled, mindful of the fact national signing day was roughly three weeks away.

“It wasn’t really an interview,” Andersen said Wednesday, his 50th birthday. “They were telling me what direction they were headed in and they had a plan. They gave me some information.”

Banner and Lombardi wanted a second meeting, according to Andersen, but he ultimately declined after speaking again with Alvarez.

During his second conversation with his boss, Andersen asked Alvarez why he never made the jump to the NFL despite multiple opportunities to do so during his 16 Hall of Fame seasons as Badgers coach.

Alvarez spoke of his love for the college game — its rhythms and rewards — and how much he enjoyed working with young people.

Andersen already knew what he was going to do, but he said it felt good to hear Alvarez reaffirm those instincts.

“The interest is flattering, but it’s not me,” Andersen said. “I had no interest in going any farther with it.

“I made a commitment to the kids here and obviously the kids that we were recruiting.”

The Browns wound up firing Banner and Lombardi, but not before the two hired former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as coach.

Andersen, fresh off a 9-4 season with the Badgers and a mostly blissful transition from Utah State, said he learned a lot from the experience.

For one thing, he’s not interested in moving on to the NFL.

For another, he’s here for good as long as we’ll have him.

“I think everybody knows how hard it was for me to leave where I was at,” he said, alluding to the deep roots he and his wife Stacey had in their native Utah. “I loved where I was.”

Andersen loves where he is now just the same.

“This is the place for me,” he said. “I don’t have any desire to reach out to anybody in any way, shape or form for anything.

“Not just the NFL. It’s the same way in college. This is it.”

That declaration should ease the fears of UW fans that went into full tizzy mode when news of Andersen’s brief encounter with the Browns broke last week.

The concern was understandable.

Some thought of how Bret Bielema blindsided the masses on his way to taking the job at Arkansas in December of 2012.

Some thought of how Andersen signed a contract extension at Utah State — only to get an offer from Alvarez to replace Bielema and bolt.

“I get it, I do,” Andersen said of the wary reaction. “But I hope (the fans) get me, too … that I had no intentions of reaching out to anybody in any situation.

“This is where I want to be and I want to make sure the fans know that.”

Alvarez said he wasn’t surprised Andersen got a call from the NFL — citing Andersen’s track record for developing pro players as an assistant at Utah and head coach at Utah State — and reiterated how much he appreciated the way Andersen handled the matter.

“There was no sneaking around,” Alvarez said. “Everything was upfront.”

Alvarez also made a point of emphasizing how fortunate UW fans are to have such a stable environment atop the marquee. He coached the Badgers from 1990 to 2005 and has been the AD since.

Bielema had the reins for seven seasons before giving way to Andersen.

Meanwhile, Bo Ryan has run the men’s basketball program and Mike Eaves the men’s hockey team since 2002.

“Look around the country, people move,” Alvarez said. “They leave really good jobs. They move within leagues. They move to different parts of the country. They move for different reasons.

“We’ve been spoiled around here. We haven’t had a lot of movement. Most places don’t have that.”

Contact Andy Baggot at abaggot@madison.com or 608-252-6175.

Copyright 2014 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. Fflambeau
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    Fflambeau - February 20, 2014 9:53 pm
    Great comment Adamman, love the humor. As to how the Browns got Andersen's cell phone number, the most likely way is that he called them. As in applying for a job. (Reasoning: I'm only making $1.9 million a year, I only have a 5 year contract, I have problems at QB and now my running backs coach has left, and one of my prized recruits flipped to MSU). That makes far more sense than a call out of the blue by unknown people who don't even have someone's cell phone number. Of course, the athletic department and its agents (read virtually all local reporters) immediately went into damage control mode with the party line being: the call came from the Browns (even though they didn't have his number), the subsequent interview was cleared by Barry (why even need a subsequent interview if you have reached your "dream job" and you can get all the info you need in the initial phone call?) and so on. Sure! It's like the old saying, success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.
  2. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - February 20, 2014 1:43 pm
    Donna practically offered Richter a lifetime lease on Camp Randall to get him to take the job. Plus she brot attitude — a winning attitude — and a totally unfeigned enthusiasm to a position that had previously barely tolerated the athletic component of the university.

    And if you think Richter deserves respect for what he did with the athletic program (which he certainly does), you should have seen him in the 1963 Rose Bowl — probably 2nd in Pasadena only to Vince Young's single-handed trouncing of USC in 2006 — where Ron Vanderkelen later compared it to "throwing into a 20-foot-wide funnel".
  3. Maui Jim
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    Maui Jim - February 20, 2014 9:39 am
    Absolutely, and he carried himself with way more class and less arrogance than _______(fill in the blank).
  4. adamman
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    adamman - February 20, 2014 9:30 am
    Anyone can call the Athletic Office and ask to be put through to the Coach.
    Usually Barry Alverez mistakenly takes the call, but if you sweet talk him he will transfer the call to Andersen.
    When I tried this, I had to pledge my support for Barry to be the coach if the Badgers get to another Rose Bowl while he's still alive. I agreed, but I had my fingers crossed behind my back. Hehe.
    When I finally spoke to Andersen, he told me (on the condition of anonymity) that he spoke to the Browns only because, at this point, "I don't want to burn any bridges. Plus, Brown is my favorite color except Red".
    When pressed to elaborate, Andersen confided that the quarterback situation at Wisconsin has him worried. "With our sorry quarterbacks, we may not win a game next season and I would be fired. Then I'd need another job that would pay at least 1.9 mil.
    Hey, I'm just looking after number 2 'cause number 1 is Barry."

    Such candor is refreshing at any level in the football world. To speak with Coach Anderson, call 1-800-I NEED ANOTHER RUSSEL WILSON 911.

  5. MagnusP
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    MagnusP - February 20, 2014 8:49 am
    How did the Browns get Anderson's phone number? Could there be another Big Ten team that wanted him to leave hoping to disrupt the Badgers?
  6. ddiver54
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    ddiver54 - February 20, 2014 6:42 am
    It would be rude of him not to take the phone call. Taking the call and politely turning it down only enhanced his reputation as a good man. Never hurts to have a HC who the NFL thinks highly of. That pays dividends with kids in recruiting whose lifelong dream is to play on Sundays.
  7. toby
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    toby - February 20, 2014 6:36 am
    "There was no sneaking around" "Everything was upfront" Wish our Governor had those same qualities!!!
  8. adamman
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    adamman - February 20, 2014 6:26 am
    Richard,
    Yes. I don't know too much about what Donna did. Was she responsible for the Richter hire?
    I do believe that Pat Richter hasn't been given enough credit for what he did at the UW.
    Mr. Richter is a modest man, despite all his accomplishments. He gets my respect.
  9. bananahammock
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    bananahammock - February 19, 2014 10:19 pm
    Well we now know Mr Flambeau's life is likely haunted by wouldas, shouldas, couldas and if onlys. Coach A can sleep soundly knowing he at least had the conversation. On Wisconsin!
  10. Fflambeau
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    Fflambeau - February 19, 2014 10:11 pm
    Let me refine my comment. I can understand any coach taking a telephone call (and remember lots of the original "stories" did not mention a personal interview but talked only of the call for an obvious reason) but NOT the subsequent interview. You can find out all you need to know in a 15 or so minute call if you are "just looking" but not really interested. Going to a personal interview, at a critical time in the college recruiting season no less, indicates far more than someone just dreaming.
  11. Fflambeau
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    Fflambeau - February 19, 2014 9:42 pm
    Sorry, Richard, but Donna Shalala and Pat Richter's days together are long gone. College sports have become far more money oriented (as the expansion of the Big 10 shows). I'm sure that GA is a good man, a decent man and he seems to be a very good coach. However, to even take the call and go to the interview after saying he had attained his "dream job" seems to me to indicate some interest. If it had been a team that was more of a "contender" who knows what might have happened? I can see the scenario now which would begin with something like this: "this new opportunity has given me and my family something we long hoped for." Loyalty in the coaching ranks is simply not there anymore. Times have changed. I'm not sold by this story.
  12. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - February 19, 2014 9:33 pm
    The long-term legacy of Donna Shalala and Pat Richter pays dividends yet again.
  13. madtowner
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    madtowner - February 19, 2014 7:42 pm
    Never doubt coach Anderson again people SMH
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