As expected, the Aggies are moving quickly.
Utah State interviewed offensive coordinator Matt Wells on Wednesday as a candidate to replace Gary Andersen, multiple sources confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Sources close to the Utah State athletic department said the first-year coordinator is one of the leading candidates to take the reins of a program now in flux. The interview, only a day after reports came out that Andersen was headed to Wisconsin, shows that the school is moving swiftly to shore up any questions about a team that went 11-2 and won a bowl game this year.
Besides Wells, the other name that has surfaced early is Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. Sources close to Sitake indicate he is very interested in the job, but it is unknown if he has yet been contacted.
A lot hangs in the balance for the Aggies, particularly when it comes to building on momentum and salvaging a strong incoming class of recruits. So athletic director Scott Barnes could be picking from a short list of candidates with local ties, and it is in Utah State’s best interest to be quick about it.
Meanwhile, Andersen’s formal introduction as Wisconsin’s new coach has been pushed back to Friday because of a large winter storm in the upper Midwest. According to reports, he will sign a five-year contract worth between $1.8 million and $2 million per season, with annual raises.
Andersen made a base salary of $565,000 at USU this past season, with incentives that pushed his earnings to $755,000.
A source close to the USU coaching staff told The Tribune that Wells, an Aggies alum who has close ties to many of the players on the team, would likely be the leading candidate.
Wells brings continuity, first and foremost. He helped develop Utah State’s passing game and molded Chuckie Keeton into a true dual-threat quarterback. His relationship with Keeton, the offense as a whole, and a number of high-level recruits could play a big role in whether Barnes hands him the keys.
However, Wells has only one season as a coordinator at the college level, and no experience as a head coach. He might also have the chance to join Andersen’s staff at Wisconsin, which could bring a big paycheck.
Sitake would be a candidate in the vein of Andersen: a defensive coach from the Utes who could inject some big-program juice into the Aggies. He’s been the defensive coordinator at Utah since 2009, and coached under Andersen at Southern Utah and with the Utes. As a recruiter, he’s an in-state heavyweight who has had success bringing Polynesians into the Utes’ program.
Sitake has never been a head coach either, but still has more experience at a higher-level program than Wells. He would probably shake things up more than Wells — perhaps bringing some Utah coaches with him — but would maintain Andersen’s defensive focus and the caliber of players he recruited.
When Barnes fired Brent Guy before the end of the 2008 season, he had a month to run a search. This time, Utah State doesn’t have that luxury — a national search could eat up valuable time for anyone to come in and keep assistants and recruits.
Still, thanks to Andersen, the coaching job today is better than it was four years ago.
Andersen set a higher bar for success in Logan, winning 16 of his last 19 games with the Aggies, and it brought other benefits as well: Higher salaries, better facilities, a move to the Mountain West Conference and increased fan support are some of the perks that Utah State didn’t have in 2008.
Utah State offensive coordinator
• Led USU to a No. 23 ranking in total offense this year
• Two years with the Aggies, one as coordinator
• Wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for New Mexico
• USU alum, three-year letterman at quarterback
Utah defensive coordinator
• Has run Utes’ defense since 2009
• Led Utah to No. 22 in run defense, No. 37 in total defense
• Coached under Gary Andersen at Southern Utah and Utah