CHICAGO — “It's great to be here, excited to get to this point of the year. It's been a crazy 6Ĺ months. And just a lot of thanks goes out to everybody surrounding Wisconsin, from the administration, Coach Alvarez and all of his people that made the transition possible for the coaches, the wives that are involved, the kids that are involved, the staff.”
Wipe that yawn off your face. Yeah, you. I saw it. Gary Andersen started talking and you started drifting in your office chair. Don't deny it.
You sincerely want to know what's going to happen to Wisconsin football without Bret Bielema — aka “The Big Schmooze.” But every time you try to pay attention to Gary Andersen, you start reaching for your coffee. It's OK, you're not alone. Every journalist at Big Ten media days thought the same thing Wednesday.
It's really Alvarez's fault.
In this age of wide-open offenses, the three-time defending Big Ten champions forge ahead with tight ends, fullbacks and quarterbacks who cover 40 yards as fast as a Madison winter. Rather than hiring another Bielema, who never met a camera he didn't like, Alvarez chose to double-down on boring with Gary Andersen.
But you know what, boring — when executed properly — works splendidly. Substance beats style.
Who is Gary Andersen (a perfectly boring name, isn't it)? Good question. He is not the former Minnesota Vikings kicker, as I originally thought when his name first surfaced as Bielema's replacement.
He is 49 years old (a perfectly boring age for a football coach). He grew up in Utah and played center for the Utes in the '80s (a perfectly boring background). He cut his coaching teeth in small colleges and high schools in the West before catching a break in 2004, when Urban Meyer hired him to coaching Utah's defensive line.
Meyer said he's had 11 assistants who went on to be head coaches.
“But Gary I would put in the top two, three hires I've ever made,” said Meyer, whose Utes went undefeated in '04.
When Meyer left, Andersen took charge of the Utah defense, leading to his first college head coaching job in 2009 — Utah State (a perfectly boring place to break in).
The Aggies hadn't won five games in a season since 2000. They hadn't won nine since Merlin Olsen was flattening quarterbacks in 1961. Andersen went 4-8 the first year (a perfectly boring debut), then 4-8 again, then 7-6 (losing to Frank Solich in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), then broke out in 2012 with 11 wins.
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Eleven? At Utah State? That's an eye-opener.
Alvarez, accepting Solich's recommendation, called Andersen. After he took the job, he stayed up half the night and called every Utah State player so they'd hear the news from him. Another eye-opener.
The first time Wisconsin's stud linebacker Chris Borland met him was outside Alvarez's office. He got a good feeling immediately.
“He's a straight shooter,” Borland said. “He's very honest, straightforward, no-nonsense type of guy. He's confident and clear. I think that's what athletes appreciate in their coach, someone who can tell you how it is.”
Andersen comes to Wisconsin and probably feels like he has everything, said Fox analyst Charles Davis. But he's still the guy who fought, scratched and clawed his way up the coaching ladder.
“I think he knows who he is,” Davis said.
Nobody else does. Not yet anyway.
Meyer couldn't walk down Dodge Street without drawing a crowd of onlookers. Andersen, meanwhile, could appear on ESPN with a whistle and you still might not recognize him. He showed up in Chicago Wednesday without prepared remarks — better to speak from the heart, he said.
He touched on:
Ľ His biggest priority since taking over.
“If you don't have trust within a program — trust within a family, which is what we are — we have no chance to be successful.”
It's not convincing guys to listen. It's formulating a plan, presenting it and backing it up with time.
“If you're a pretender, they're going to figure it out real quick.”
Ľ His biggest surprise — recruiting.
The month before signing day at Utah State is like summers in the Big Ten, he said.
“There's never a break. There's never a dull moment. You can't take a day off in recruiting because they're always going after your guys.”
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Ľ His offensive style.
“We're going to run the football. If you look at our history as a coaching staff and you look at the history of the University of Wisconsin when it comes to running the football, I would say it matches up very well.”
Ľ His quarterback race.
Joel Stave started the first NU game last fall. Curt Phillips started the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. Tanner McEvoy is a junior college transfer.
“We want a quarterback that can win with his mind, win with his arm and win with his legs,” Andersen said. “In turn, that will force him into leadership situations. ...
“When the offensive linemen look at him and it's third-and-7 and all I have to do as an offensive lineman is pick up this blitz, our quarterback is going to do everything he can to get that first down.”
Ľ His wristband, which says, “Players make plays. Players win games.”
“If fans need me to carry the torch, that's not what college football is,” Andersen said. “I never saw 85,000 people walk into a stadium to watch nine or 10 coaches run up and down the sidelines.”
Last year, his home was a 25,000-seat stadium. This year, his first road conference game will be at The Horseshoe, capacity 106,000.
“It's still football,” Andersen said.
It's still Wisconsin. Moments later, Andersen's interview time was over. He stood up in his tan suit and red tie and offered an apology.
“Sorry if I was boring.”
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