Sporting a red and gray tie and a smile as wide as can be, Matt Wells gave thanks. In his introductory press conference Saturday morning as the new head coach at Texas Tech, the former Utah State coach stood at the podium for more than 40 minutes, explaining his plans for the future of Red Raider football.
But Wells, first and foremost, thanked those back in Logan. Thanked university presidents and athletic directors for giving him a shot at leading his alma mater.
“Those guys believed in me,” Wells said, “[and] gave me a vision for Utah State. And I truly believe we left that [program] in a better place and I’m proud of what we did there.”
Successful eras of some programs are often precursors to eventual relocation plans for head coaches. That’s just the way it is. And Utah State is no different. Wells went 44-34 in his six seasons. The 10-2 2018 season got the Aggies to their fifth bowl game in six years under Wells, who was recently voted the Mountain West Conference’s Coach of the Year for a second time.
So which direction does USU athletic director John Hartwell go in what is now arguably his most important hire to date?
There are plenty of options, and the nationwide search is ongoing.
One candidate is a familiar face, and it’s no surprise. Former USU coach Gary Andersen has been confirmed as a candidate for a potential return to Logan. Andersen, who preceded Wells as Aggies head coach from 2009 to 2012, returned to his alma mater, Utah, earlier this year where he’s spent 2018 as assistant to the head coach and a defensive line coach.
Andersen helped turn USU football around in Logan, making what was for so long a downtrodden program into an established winner with a high annual ceiling. The Aggies won 11 games in 2012 and the WAC title that year before the 54-year-old Andersen eventually left for Wisconsin. Andersen was head coach at Wisconsin from 2013 to 2014, then moved to Oregon State, where he coach for nearly three years before the two sides parted ways in October 2017.
When FootballScoop.com reported Sunday that Andersen was expected to be named USU’s new head coach, several reports later contradicted that. Andersen’s son, Keegan, a former USU tight end who is now part of Utah’s player personnel department, tweeted Sunday that the report had no validity, but later deleted the tweet.
A university athletics spokesperson said there were no updates on the coaching search as of Monday.
Hartwell told reporters last week that his intention was to have a new head coach hired and in place within 10 days to two weeks.
Other names being floated as likely candidates are Jay Hill, who reversed the fortunes of a struggling program at Weber State. The Wildcats have made the FCS playoffs three straight years under Hill, who has led his team to the No. 2 overall seed in the FCS postseason bracket. Hill was a longtime staffer under Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, where he was special teams coordinator.
Former USU assistants Dave Aranda (defensive coordinator at LSU) and Todd Orlando (defensive coordinator at Texas) would be lofty targets for Hartwell, but worth exploring. Aranda is one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in college football making $2.5 million per year, according to USA Today. Wells’ salary at USU before leaving was $900,000, per USA Today’s salary database.
According to Chris Vannini of The Athletic, a pay increase could be enough to sway potential Power Five coordinators who might have interest in the job. USU is also set to receive Wells’ $800,000 buyout with his move to Texas Tech official.
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and The Athletic mentioned Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich as a name to keep an eye on. Rolovich led Hawaii to an 8-5 record in 2018. Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson would be an intriguing fit. Anderson coached at Utah State in 2004, is considered one of top recruiters on the West Coast and has regularly made the Beehive State a hotbed for Stanford recruiting.