What would you do if you were Gary Andersen? Stay at Utah State or bolt for the big time?
The automatic answer for a lot of people is at the core of why they themselves haul their sorry carcasses out of bed every morning and trudge off to their job, doing work they won’t get credit for, getting yelled at by their boss for things that aren’t their fault, holding down the fort at their place of business, doing their part to keep everything afloat, then returning home to repeat the process the next day.
Follow the money.
That’s what they’d do.
Andersen, now finishing his fourth season in Logan, is a hot number these days. He hasn’t overtly courted suitors by batting his eyes and turning a heel at them, standing in silhouette at a smoky doorway, a la Marlene Dietrich. He’s done something even more flirtatious: He’s won. Not only has he won, he’s won at a place where winning doesn’t come easy.
And, now, neither will he.
After spinning things around at Utah State, a death ship for most head football coaches who have been foolish enough to try to steer it clear of rocky waters, other schools want Andersen to do the same for them. If he can win at Utah State, where can’t he win?
Kentucky contacted him. Cal and Colorado have showed interest. Other losers will call, too, looking for a good plumber to fix their punctured pipes. He’s plugged the Aggies’ leaks to the tune of winning 15 of their last 18 games, and taking them to their second bowl game in two seasons, after they hadn’t gone bowling for what seemed like the previous millennium.
When Andersen took over at USU, if anybody had said Utah State would have the best football team around here within four seasons, the chuckles would have been thunderous. But I’ll never forget the look on the coach’s face, the tone in his voice after the Aggies lost in a respectably close but still decisive contest at Rice-Eccles Stadium to the Utes in his first game his first year.
He was about five area codes removed from satisfied. In fact, he was steamed.
“We had way too many missed opportunities,” he growled. “We made way too many mistakes. You can’t do that and expect to win.”
Expect to win? Andersen was the only one in the building that night who expected the Aggies to win. His indignation seemed a fumble or two this side of disingenuous. But on account of those expectations, the Aggies did win — four years later, beating the Utes this season.
That September evening in 2009, Andersen said something profound and prescient: “We’ll learn from this and go forward.”
That’s what they did.
And now, that’s what other schools want Andersen to do with them, stirring for the coach the classic conundrum: Stay where you are, where you’ve built something negative into something positive, where you know how to succeed, where the formula for that success includes using valuable connections, utilizing mission kids and tapping into Polynesian talent, or go to a new place where the lights are brighter, the dynamics different, the opportunities better and the bucks bigger.
Andersen signed a contract extension earlier this year, a five-year deal with a built-in rollover that pays him $600,000 a season at USU. Because nobody in college football, for whatever strange reason, takes written contracts seriously, Andersen could leave tomorrow and double that remuneration. If he wound up at a place like Cal, he could coach in the Pac-12, he could do what coaches love to do, build a big-time program in a big-time league with big-time athletes for big-time dollars.
If you’re going to face constant scrutiny and pressure, from fans, boosters and bosses, from yourself, if you’re going to work like a dog, you might as well make as much money as possible for as long as possible as quickly as possible for the effort … right?
Question: Would you rather make $1.75 million per for, say, five years and then be booted out? Or would you prefer making $750,000 for 15 years in a place where you’ve figured out the nuances of winning and, in all probability, can continue doing so over an extended period? Would you rather build a lasting legacy at one school, or would you take your chances somewhere else and reach for the stars — and deposit the large checks — there?
LaVell Edwards told me the smartest professional decision he ever made was rejecting a much more lucrative offer from the Detroit Lions and staying at BYU for more modest pay. “I probably would have been fired after a few years,” he said.
And LaVell Edwards Stadium would still be Cougar Stadium.
That’s not the way most coaches think, though. They are egocentric. They figure, if they’ve been smart enough to make it as far as they have, they’ll be smart enough to keep making it. Besides, there’s no guarantee of longevity in the status quo, especially, in this case, with USU stepping up to the Mountain West.
The money beckons, then. It always does. After that, even if the pressure builds and the winning ceases and the hook is given, floating on a raft in a pool after getting sacked, if that’s the fate, doesn’t seem so horrible.
Lastly, the real effects, the what’s what, of coaches jumping up their career ladders, boosting their pay and their profiles along the way, is all part of the game. It’s the deal. But it’s too bad that that jumping comes at the expense of young athletes upon whose backs coaches make their ascent, athletes who are recruited to a school, then constantly asked by coaches to sacrifice self-interests for the good of the team, for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back.
And then, when things go well, the head coach takes off for a much greener — dollar, dollar bills, y’all — offer.
Those who bust their humps at their jobs say, go for it. Screw everything else. Get yours while you can. Take the money and run. That’s what anybody would do, what anybody should do. But in most workplaces, the element of those aforementioned young athletes who are lured in and do the heavy lifting while the coach dances doesn’t come into play. There’s a compelling mix of reality and hypocrisy in all of that.
Gary Andersen is a good man and a terrific coach. He seems to be saying he’ll stay a while longer, although coaches in his position often lie. He’s got sons playing at USU and he feels a part of the Aggie community. He’s nailed it at a place where few have and he deserves what he deserves. We’re all eager to see if he thinks like so many other mercenary coaches, if he’s automatic like the people, or if he’s extraordinary, if his next big move will be to stay.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
Gary Andersen at USU
2012 • 10-2
2011 • 7-6
2010 • 4-8
2009 • 4-8
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
P Utah State vs. TBD, Dec. 15, 2:30 p.m.
TV • ESPN