Gary Andersen returns to Utah State after seven years away to find himself a changed coach, the university in better football condition and expectations that weren't there when he first arrived in Logan. But for all of the newness, there is a constant.
Andersen's core beliefs of how a program should operate and what players should accomplish on and away from the field remain sturdy and unchanged. That status, more than anything else, leads one to believe that he will be successful.
"There are a lot of ways to do things," Andersen says. "I've been doing this a long time, and this place has in place what I believe is a structure for student-athletes from the first day they move in until the last day on campus that is similar to my core beliefs."
Andersen's return to Logan caps an interesting seven-year odyssey that saw him make stops at Wisconsin, Oregon State and Utah. At both UW and in Corvallis, he left under some controversial circumstances. He bolted Madison after two highly successful seasons due in part to his frustration at not being able to get some of his preferred recruits admitted to the school. In 2017, he resigned at midseason from the Beaver program, citing culture issues and taking the virtually unprecedented step of releasing the school from all buyout obligations. After a year assisting Kyle Whittingham at Utah, he has returned to the place he considers his football home.
Both school and coach are excited about the reunion, but there are some who wonder whether Andersen is capable of being satisfied in a role. Since he was happy at Utah State before, and his three children graduated from USU, one would imagine he would have an enjoyable tenure in his return to Logan.
"We obviously vetted his walking away from [Oregon State] thoroughly," Utah State AD John Hartwell says. "There is no doubt that was an unusual circumstance, but we felt comfortable with what we learned. Gary was very candid with us, and we feel very good."
The Aggies program is in a much different state than when Andersen took it over in 2009. Then, Utah State had posted 11 consecutive losing seasons and had won a total of nine games in the previous four campaigns. Under Andersen's successor, Matt Wells, the Aggies played in bowl games in five of six seasons, reached double-figure wins twice and tied for the Mountain West Conference's Mountain Division title in 2018.
The school has upgraded its practice fields and locker room and just completed a renovation of the west end of Maverik Stadium. Expectations have grown, and Andersen will be charged with continuing the improvement. He wants to build a program that "plays meaningful games in the month of November" and prepares its players for life. "It's great for young men to move in here early in their lives and to leave ready for the next adventure," Andersen says. Just like their coach is.
— Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports' 2019 SEC Football preview magazine.
(Top photo by Eli Lucero/AP)