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Kragthorpe: Utah State fans can't begrudge Gary Andersen's move

Published December 19, 2012 5:14 pm

College football • Disappointment with how he's leaving shouldn't overshadow his accomplishments.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

That kick just keeps killing Utah State.

As it turns out, the missed field goal at Wisconsin that kept the Aggies out of the Orange Bowl probably cost them their coach. A home loss to USU and a 6-6 regular-season record would have made former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema much less attractive to Arkansas.

But the Badgers won, Bielema moved and Gary Andersen is about to replace him in Madison. So blame USU kicker Josh Thompson's wide-right miss or former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino's indiscretions for this sequence of events, but don't blame Andersen for deserting the Aggies — not forever, anyway.

The immediate reaction from Aggie fans should follow the precise allotment of the 640 words in this column: 20 percent disillusionment, 40 percent appreciation of Andersen's work and 40 percent analysis of where USU's program goes from here.

Some temporary bitterness is authorized in Cache Valley, but not to the degree of cheering against the Badgers when BYU visits Wisconsin next November. Personally, I'm disappointed in Andersen, who signed a contract extension in October. Professionally, I totally understand his move, with Andersen having landed one of the 25 best coaching jobs in college football.

Andersen owes apologies to every fan who profusely thanked him for staying in the 18 days following his announcement that USU was "the right place." That school-issued news release was self-serving and should haunt him, even if we all should have parsed his statement and discovered the shrewd phraseology — "I plan to remain ..." — that's straight from the Urban Meyer book.

Well, it was true at the time. Having rebuffed California and Colorado, Andersen could not have known Bielema would leave Wisconsin four days later, or that he would be highly marketable in Madison, even after USU's good showing in that 16-14 loss in September.

The reality is that Andersen was never going to become another Stew Morrill in Logan, sticking around for 15 years. He's too ambitious and simply too good of a coach to remain at that level. When the shock wears off, Aggie followers will value his achievements in four seasons, resurrecting a program that appeared hopelessly beyond saving.

The support of president Stan L. Albrecht and athletic director Scott Barnes facilitated Andersen's success, but it would not have happened without him. His ability to recruit, relate to players and build a program resulted in a remarkable turnaround. Having a top-tier Big Ten school hire him is a testament to his work, and USU is the beneficiary.

Think about where this program stood before Andersen arrived, with nine victories in the previous four seasons. He delivered 16 wins in his last 19 games, positioning the Aggies to compete favorably as they move into the Mountain West in 2013. Maybe Logan was not "the right place" permanently, but Andersen left USU much better than he found it. So now what? The next coach will have a tough job, with Andersen's 11-2 closing act as the new standard, a higher level of competition and the loss of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who made an amazing impact in one season.

Yet Barnes believes the program is situated for sustainable success, and someone like Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake or USU offensive coordinator Matt Wells just might become the next Gary Andersen.

Sitake is intriguing, because he would extend the Polynesian connections and in-state recruiting approach of Andersen. Wells would provide even more continuity, and you'd better believe quarterback Chuckie Keeton would endorse him.

Wells' 4-year-old son, Wyatt, wears a complete football uniform to every USU home game. His helmet stays on his head from the opening kickoff until he gets into the car. That's the kind of commitment his father would bring to the job, easing the loss of the Aggies' greatest football coach of the past half-century.