When Wisconsin hired Utah State's Gary Andersen as its new football coach, a segment of Badger fans wondered if someone had moved their cheese.
This guy ran a spread offense, they shrieked. We don't do that here. We recruit large people. We run formations called “Jumbo” and “Barge.” Our Heisman Trophy contenders are running backs. Pussyfooters with ding-free helmets aren't welcome.
Bill Busch, Wisconsin's new safeties coach who has worked with Andersen at four schools, appreciates the concern — and is here to tell you it is unfounded.
“Go back to the year before and see what the statistics showed,” said Busch, a Pender, Neb., native and former Husker assistant from 2004-07.
In 2011, Utah State was sixth nationally in rushing (282.7 yards per game), seventh nationally in rushing touchdowns (37) and had the nation's No. 13 individual rusher. Now you're talking Badgerspeak, and the principles on which former Nebraska defensive star Barry Alvarez built the program.
As for Utah State's spread offense in 2012?
It was a necessary modification to fit personnel, Busch said. And Utah State still finished 26th nationally in rushing while winning 11 games.
Wisconsin fans should remember that offense was good enough to nearly produce an upset for Utah State in Madison last September. All that saved the Badgers' 16-14 victory was a god-awful offensive pass interference penalty against Utah State just before a missed 37-yard field goal.
In other words, Andersen will fit at Wisconsin and in the Big Ten just fine.
“I see a lot of similarities between Coach Andersen and Coach Alvarez,” said Busch, who was a graduate assistant for Alvarez at UW in 1994-95.
Andersen played center in college at Utah. He was an offensive and defensive line specialist before his head coaching career started.
“He wins by playing good 'front' football, in both lines,” Busch said. “It fits exactly here.”
So, apparently, will Andersen's style of discipline.
“It's tough love,” Busch said. “You're going to get coached really hard, but you're going to get hugged really hard, too. It's not a country club setting. But the kids will love the structure, and know we care about them.”
Andersen drew national praise after he accepted the Wisconsin job for calling each player on the Utah State roster individually.
The country also took notice of his rebuilding job at Utah State. In the three years before Andersen arrived, the Aggies won six games total. His four years: 4-8, 4-8, 7-6, 11-3.
That last mark was the first double-digit victory total in the school's 114-season history. In the final Sagarin ratings for 2012, Utah State was No. 19 — ahead of No. 22 Nebraska and No. 23 Wisconsin.
“We have a time-tested plan,” Busch said. “You can't be the class clown and have happen what happened at Utah State. We have an exact plan to win.”
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Busch first met Andersen when Busch was finishing his time as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin in 1995. That was after the Nebraska Wesleyan graduate had spent 1990-93 as a G.A. at Nebraska under Tom Osborne.
Brad Childress, formerly head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, was Wisconsin's offensive coordinator at the time and got Busch an interview with Andersen at Northern Arizona.
“They brought in three people for one spot before spring ball,” Busch said. “It was winner-take-all. Coach Andersen picked me up at the airport. He had been hired the day before. The next day, he sits in on the interview. They hire me, and we became great friends.”
Andersen and Busch also worked together at Utah — the head coach at the time was Urban Meyer, now at Ohio State — and Utah State before arriving in Wisconsin.
“There are certain jobs where you would like to finish your career,” Busch said. “This is one of them. We're living in a great place where they love football. I couldn't get back here to Madison fast enough.”
Coaching entered Busch's blood early. His dad, Ron, was a Nebraska high school coach for four decades at Tekamah, Pender, Spencer, Tilden and Creighton. Ron and Sharon Busch still live in Creighton.
“He's the 'real' Coach Busch,” Bill said. “I'm the B team.”
Hardly. At the American Football Coaches Association convention earlier this month, Busch received FootballScoop's defensive backs coach of the year award.
“I had a lot of good players to work with,” he said.
That will be true at Wisconsin, too. The Badgers are loaded with returning starters, and have been pointing to 2013 as a breakout year. There were 27 juniors on last season's roster, and former coach Bret Bielema said 12 are NFL draft-worthy.
“We're excited about what we have coming back,” Busch said.
That's a little code language for saying don't hand the Leaders Division trophy to Ohio State just yet.
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