tom oates

Tom Oates: Barry Alvarez finds fine match in Utah State's Gary Andersen

2012-12-20T04:30:00Z 2013-07-17T17:21:44Z Tom Oates: Barry Alvarez finds fine match in Utah State's Gary AndersenTOM OATES | Wisconsin State Journal | toates@madison.com | 608-252-6172 madison.com

Whenever you face a major decision — whether it's choosing a college, buying a house or finding a spouse — you start out with a list of things you're seeking.

Eventually, you discover no one person or thing can satisfy every requirement and you wind up with something less than the ideal match. That doesn't mean you've failed, however.

So it is with the University of Wisconsin's soon-to-be-hired football coach, Gary Andersen of Utah State. Andersen didn't match all of the criteria used by UW athletic director Barry Alvarez during his search, but that doesn't mean Alvarez failed.

Just the opposite, in fact. Although he comes from an alternate football universe, Andersen appears to fit many of the requirements Alvarez was looking for in a coach and his track record suggests he has the personality and adaptability to alleviate any concerns about the rest.

Based on the criteria he outlined two weeks ago and the things he looked for when he hired Bret Bielema seven years ago, Alvarez's ideal candidate was this: A college head coach with a defensive orientation who understands the culture at UW and in the Big Ten. A coach who will maintain the status quo schematically and is an energetic recruiter who can bring in good kids and maintain a high-quality program.

On many levels, Andersen fits that description.

He is a proven success as a head coach, using his ability to recruit, relate to and develop players to author one of the nation's more remarkable turnarounds at Utah State. The Aggies were 9-38 in the four years before he arrived and are 26-24 in the four years since, including an 11-2 record this year and a No. 18 national ranking.

His teams are known for being tough-minded and physical, a style that fits the Big Ten. UW fans found that out when Utah State threw a huge scare into the Badgers before dropping a 16-14 decision at Camp Randall Stadium in September.

And he has a long association with top-notch defenses. He was a key defensive assistant on Utah's undefeated teams in 2004 and 2008, and his defenses at Utah State have improved dramatically every year he's been there. This year, the Aggies rank 15th in the nation in total yards.

There are areas of concern with Andersen coming to UW, however, and the two biggest are his preferred style of offense — the spread — and his ability to recruit in UW's traditional recruiting areas, most of which are foreign to him.

Neither of those was a deal-breaker for Alvarez and they shouldn't be for UW fans, either.

Here's why.

Alvarez is adamant about maintaining UW's power running game, as he should be. The Badgers' one natural recruiting advantage is their ability to find huge linemen to run behind. To employ an offense that uses smaller, faster linemen would negate that advantage and could lead to disastrous results (See: Morton, Don).

Former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst had great success by layering an NFL-style passing attack over UW's traditional running game. Can Andersen find a way to keep some of his spread concepts and yet utilize UW's behemoths in a power running game?

His defensive track record suggests he's a coach who is willing to adjust his schemes. Andersen coached a 4-3 defense at Utah and, until this season, at Utah State. He switched to a 3-4 this year because that's what his talent dictated.

The good news is Utah State featured balance between running and passing. That meant Alvarez didn't have to sell Andersen on the value of running the ball, only how best to do it given UW's talent pool. Obviously, the two discussed that and it was settled to Alvarez's satisfaction or Andersen wouldn't have been selected.

The other question mark is recruiting. Andersen has few Midwest ties and for most of his career recruited in Texas and the West. At Utah State, his roster was heavy with Utah natives, Samoans and junior college transfers. He won't make a living recruiting any of those communities at UW.

However, Andersen is widely considered to be a master recruiter with a winning personality. At Utah State, he won in-state recruiting battles with Utah and BYU, something that was unthinkable a few years ago. That ability won't leave him just because he switches time zones.

As long as UW's program remains strong, any UW coach will be able to recruit Wisconsin kids, so that shouldn't be a problem. It is UW's other traditional recruiting areas — Big Ten country and New Jersey — that will be a concern.

However, there is a solution there, too. Andersen can move to negate any disadvantage by hiring assistants with recruiting ties to those areas.

Andersen was in demand this month, reportedly turning down offers from Kentucky, Colorado and California. Despite his popularity with athletic directors, however, his name and style didn't immediately resonate with UW fans.

But Andersen's profile isn't as out of sync with Alvarez's criteria as it first appeared. If he can find the right blend on offense and add some Midwestern recruiters, this could be a very prosperous marriage, indeed.


Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com or 608-252-6172.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. seered
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    seered - December 20, 2012 5:13 pm
    I for one really like this hire, i just hope we can afford to keep him down the line. He is that good! Next to a Peterson hire this is the best thing that could happen to the UW.

    Forget all the intangables he will over come whatever they are in his first year. I cant tell you how much of an improvement this guy is over BB. You will see. I live in the west and have seen him take a nothing program into a current ranking of #18. Bucky has much more talent than US and he will get every ounce out of these guys. We and OSU will be the top BCS teams in the midwest.
    Like i said he is 500% better than BB simply because his players love him. BB did NOT have that quality! The state players will love him after he gets his feet on the ground because he is a developmental coach who will absolutely love the walkon program at Wisconsin. The trend of dev. in state kids will reach a new level.
    I really believe the sky is the limit, and i'm talking BCS title someday!......if the UW pays him to stay! They have to realize that in todays market you MUST pay to play!
  2. R Smith
    Report Abuse
    R Smith - December 20, 2012 10:38 am
    Snowbird

    Tom, During this past season you manage to take shots at Bielema and the UW FB team each and every week. Perhaps now you can give it a rest and give the new cpoach a chance before you pull out your knives again.
  3. R Smith
    Report Abuse
    R Smith - December 20, 2012 10:35 am
    I like this hire. Bogeyman, you don't sound like the kind of guy who will come back and admit you are wrong if Anderson should be lucky enough to succeed.
  4. bananahammock
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    bananahammock - December 20, 2012 7:19 am
    I like the hire.
    What could we expect? Barry would never dream of hiring someone with a bigger ego than himself.
  5. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 19, 2012 9:48 pm
    Every new coach starts off undefeated.

    "The triumph of hope over experience"
    —Dr. Samuel Johnson, on 2nd marriages
  6. Bigtenwi
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    Bigtenwi - December 19, 2012 8:23 pm
    I like the hire. I know tradition is huge but he can give is enthusiastic demeanor and bring in some changes WI will need to compete and is defensive minded. Of course things could happen but i will support him. On Wisconsin.
  7. bucky_u_badger
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    bucky_u_badger - December 19, 2012 8:22 pm
    I like the hire, but if the Utah job opens up in the next few years........?

    Maybe by that time Chryst will want to come back.
  8. birdsill
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    birdsill - December 19, 2012 7:55 pm
    bogeyman, I think you are just one of the many haters who will never be happy with anyone Alvarez hires.
  9. bogeyman
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    bogeyman - December 19, 2012 7:04 pm
    Terrible hire. No connection to the Midwest, the Big 10 or Wisconsin. I give him two years tops before he goes back to Utah. What's up Barry?
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