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Utah State football: With Matt Wells, Aggies look to continue success

Published December 20, 2012 2:36 pm

College football • Former OC will take Andersen's place.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Logan • Matt Wells walked in the room in a newly bought suit, twinkling in every way from his eyes, to his big grin, to his striped blue tie.

The square-jawed Oklahoman looked the part of Utah State's next head football coach. And as he laid out his vision and his passion for the program that he had gone through as a player, the crowd of players, school officials, boosters and fans started to nod in unison.

This much is clear: The Aggies believe they have found their man. And Wells looked ready for the challenge of his first-ever head coaching job Thursday afternoon at his introduction.

"I don't know when those dreams happened, and I don't remember this many people around [in my dreams]," Wells said. "But to say this is a dream come true is an understatement."

Only two days after Gary Andersen's departure for Wisconsin, Utah State turned in-house and tapped its first-year offensive coordinator as the football program's next leader. The school administration said they never looked past Wells, an Aggie alum who they felt had the right mix of ability, familiarity and dedication and could continue the program's recent success.

"We're not starting over," university president Stan Albrecht said. "This is not in any way a step back, and we think a wonderful step forward. We're going to put the right foundation in place to continue to move our football program forward in a very positive way."

Wells was sharp in his first address as coach, and he pledged that the biggest marking of his era will be no change at all.

He said he'll run the same no-huddle spread offense, still focus on in-state recruits, and put players first in his program. His hire was in part a reflection of the players' view of him, something athletic director Scott Barnes acknowledged he took into account.

The main question mark seems to be experience. Wells, 38, has had stops at Navy, Tulsa, Louisville and New Mexico before finding his way back to Utah State, but had never been a coordinator before this past season for the 11-2 Western Athletic Conference champion Aggies. But that didn't deter school officials from promoting Wells, and he didn't count it as a negative.

"That's something I can't change, that's something I'm not going to apologize for," he said. "That's what the question was last year: You don't have any coordinator experience, can you do it?"

Wells had a successful first year as a coordinator for Utah State, leading the Aggies to a No. 23 ranking in total offense. He's known to be a strong mentor to Chuckie Keeton, the team's all-WAC quarterback who has two more seasons left in Logan.

But Wells has many challenges ahead: Filling staff vacancies as Andersen takes coaches to Madison, retaining a strong class of incoming recruits and navigating the program through its first season in the Mountain West Conference. Andersen, who won 16 of his last 19 games at the school, leaves a large shadow in the wake of his four-year tenure.

Still, players who were able to attend the introduction — most of the school is now on winter break — had only positive things to say about the hire.

For the Aggies' faithful, it's the end of a brief roller-coaster ride since reports surfaced Tuesday night that Andersen was leaving on the heels of Utah State's win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

The drop was disorienting to much of the returning team members. But Utah State's administration quickly brought in Wells to interview on Wednesday, and had announced his introductory news conference by Thursday morning.

"I'm excited for it and ready to take the next step," Jamie Markosian said. "Definitely having our say or input for coach Wells is huge. I think the continuity is a big deal because he can keep us on the track we've been."

Among the attendees were Wells' old teammates and mentors. Wells spoke fondly of coach Dave Kragthorpe, who during his playing days tried to talk him out of going into coaching. He also gave thanks to Andersen for giving him an opportunity at his alma mater.

Former teammate Jim Ray said even as a quarterback with the Aggies, Wells had possessed coaching instincts.

"You can tell from the time you met him that he's a person who is going to listen to those who know more than him, and then incorporate it into his life," Ray said. "It's kind of surreal. I said to him the other night, 'Stick around, because you're going to be the head coach some day.' "

It was clearly a surreal moment for Wells, who swallowed back some emotion as he introduced his wife, Jen, and their three young children — Jadyn, Ella and Wyatt — to the crowd. Then he pledged to keep the program up to its newest standard.

"We have an unwavering commitment to build this program," he said. "We aim to make you proud to be in the Aggie family."

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Matt Wells at a glance

• Oklahoma native, 38 years old

• Played quarterback at Utah State, graduating in 1996

• Assistant at Navy, Tulsa, New Mexico and Louisville

• Served as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the Aggies