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Wisconsin Football Makes a Home Run Hire in Utah State's Gary Andersen


After a two-week search, Wisconsin has finally found its next head coach. Utah State’s Gary Andersen has been hired to replace Bret Bielema in Madison, becoming Wisconsin’s third head coach since 1990. Bielema left for Arkansas after recording a 68-24 mark in seven seasons.

Although Andersen isn’t a big name, Wisconsin hit a home run with this hire. Andersen inherited a program that was 9-38 in the four seasons prior to his arrival and led the Aggies to a 26-24 mark and two bowl appearances over the last four years. Utah State recorded its first season of double-digit victories and won an outright WAC title in 2012.

Before taking over at Utah State, Andersen cut his teeth as an assistant coach at a handful of stops. He worked at Utah from 1997-2002 under Ron McBride and after one season as the head coach at Southern Utah, returned to work as the defensive coordinator for Urban Meyer with the Utes. Andersen went 4-7 in his only season at Southern Utah but the program showed marked improvement after winning one game prior to his arrival in 2002.

Positives for Wisconsin in hiring Gary Andersen

Built a program from scratch
There’s no doubt Andersen put a lot of hard work into building Utah State from one of the worst teams in the nation to a potential top-25 team in 2013. It’s easy to inherit a program with a proven track record and continue to build on that success. However, it’s another to build it from scratch and turn it into a successful program. Andersen did just that at Utah State, leading the Aggies to a 26-24 mark in four seasons – with 18 wins coming in the last two years. As a program, Utah State is in much better shape than when Andersen arrived on the scene in 2009. Considering what Andersen did with limited resources with the Aggies, he should be able to thrive at Wisconsin with more money to pay assistants, as well as carry the Big Ten brand on the recruiting trail.

A proven winner
This section is essentially an extension of building a program from scratch. Every coaching hire is risky, but Andersen’s track record as a head coach is rock solid. Yes, his overall record is just 30-31, but this is a perfect case of how deceiving it is to judge coaches strictly on record. Andersen took over two struggling teams and brought immediate improvement in the first season and eventually turned Utah State into a top-25 team in 2012. Considering Wisconsin has made three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, there’s not as much (if any) rebuilding for Andersen to do. Expect Andersen to take what Alvarez and Bielema have built over the last 20 years and continue to turn Wisconsin into a consistent contender in the Big Ten.

Defending Urban Meyer and an excellent background on defense
Considering Andersen spent a year working under Urban Meyer at Utah, he probably has some good insight into how to defend his spread offense. With Wisconsin and Ohio State playing each other every year in the Big Ten’s current divisional setup, Andersen’s insight could pay off for the Badgers. Utah State finished 113th nationally in total defense in 2009 but showed improvement in each of the next three years, which included a finish of 15th nationally in 2012. Under Andersen’s watch at Utah, the Utes finished in the top 20 in total defense in 2007 and 2008.

Negatives in Wisconsin's hire of Gary Andersen

Very few negatives in Wisconsin's hire but here are a few things to watch: 

No Big Ten experience
As with any coaching hire, experience in a certain region or conference is largely overrated. However, there is a transition period for any coach stepping into unfamiliar territory. Most of Andersen’s experience has been in Utah, so Wisconsin will be a different challenge.

What type of staff will Andersen assemble?
Considering Andersen’s lack of experience in the Big Ten, it will be interesting to see how he builds his coaching staff. Utah State coordinators Matt Wells (offensive) and Dave Aranda (defensive) are two solid coaches, while defensive assistant Bill Busch is regarded for his work on the recruiting trail. Assuming all three leave for Wisconsin, Andersen would have the makings of a quality staff. Andersen doesn’t need five coaches with Big Ten experience but it couldn’t hurt to surround himself with someone familiar with the conference, as well as anyone who can help the Badgers in their usual recruiting areas.

What type of scheme will Andersen run on offense?
Out of all of the factors involved with the coaching change at Wisconsin, this aspect is perhaps the most intriguing. The Badgers have developed into one of the nation’s top rushing attacks under Alvarez and Bielema, while Andersen ran a spread offense at Utah State. It’s likely Andersen will use some combination of a spread and a run-first offense, so don’t expect Wisconsin to stray too far from what has worked in the past.

Final Analysis

Wisconsin was caught off-guard by Bielema’s departure and considering the length of the coaching search, the fanbase was starting to get restless. However, athletic director Barry Alvarez made one of the best hires of the offseason, selecting Utah State’s Gary Andersen as Wisconsin’s new coach. Andersen’s background on defense and reputation for developing talent is a perfect fit in Madison. The former Utah State head coach will likely tweak his offensive scheme to focus more on the run, but the Badgers should have one of the Big Ten’s best defenses under Andersen’s watch.

As with any coaching hire, it’s important to look past the overall record and dive into the factors surrounding the head coach that contributed or hurt his success. Andersen inherited a program that won nine games in the four years prior to his arrival and led it to its first 10-win season in 2012. Even though he’s not a big-name candidate like Miami’s Al Golden or Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, Andersen is a home run hire at Wisconsin and should keep the Badgers in the mix for the Leaders Division title every year.

Grading Wisconsin’s Hire of Gary Andersen: A+

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