Gary Andersen is being introduced as Utah State’s new football coach on Tuesday. Let’s say he improves upon all that he did the first time around in Logan — something he is very likely to do.
It’s pretty easy to remember that when Andersen came to the Aggies the first time as head coach in 2009, they needed him in the worst way. Their records over the nine previous seasons collided and leaked into an abysmal total of 28-75. As college football scenes go, Utah State was the equivalent of an ongoing toxic chemical spill. Year by year, crews showed up with whistles around their necks in Hazmat suits, sometimes the same guys, sometimes different. It mattered not one bit.
The spill remained.
Until Andersen was brought in from his assistant’s role at Utah.
He did what Brent Guy (9-38) and Mick Dennehy (19-37) could not. He won more games than he lost. He was the first Utah State coach to accomplish that since Phil Krueger posted a three-year mark of 21-12 from 1973-75.
He arrived with a plan and he followed it. He cleaned up the mess. He vacuumed the toxicity straight out. He brought pride back to the players. He matched those players to offensive and defensive structures that matched and enhanced their talents. He brought in better players. In the vernacular of the present day, he built a positive, winning culture.
In his time at Utah State, Andersen’s success brought more dollars into football from boosters. He won games the Aggies never would have won without him. He took two of his teams to bowl games, and won a league championship in 2012, when USU finished 11-2, the Ags’ first league title of any kind in 76 years. He sent players like Bobby Wagner and Robert Turbin, among others, to the NFL.
Over a span of four years, he set the foundation for what Matt Wells would add onto in subsequent seasons, as he bolted for Wisconsin. And from Wisconsin (20-7) to Oregon State (7-23). And from Oregon State back to Utah. And from Utah back to … well, you know.
Coach Boomerang is Gary Andersen.
Coach comes around, coach goes around. Coach leaves, coach returns. And then what?
It may be a reality that in the modern world of coaching college football, Utah State is a steppingstone, a program to be propped up and then abandoned. Andersen did it and so did Wells. So, will Andersen do it again?
That must have been a question asked him by the powers that be and that hire at USU — the president, the athletic director, the boosters.
Maybe they fully realize the aforementioned realities and asked the question, anyway, already knowing the answer, not eager to hear the response, not wanting to have Andersen lie to them.
They already know Andersen can and likely will win, again, in Logan.
He wanted eventually to take over as USU’s head coach, having stayed in contact with certain power people in and around the program, even as he coached elsewhere. Andersen’s career didn’t quite pan out the way he might have envisioned after initially leaving Utah State. The Badgers weren’t what he seemed to think they were, even though he won there. And the Beavers? Don’t even ask about that — because Andersen doesn’t want to fill anyone in on those details.
We know from a report in an Oregon newspaper via Twitter that while he was the head coach in Corvallis, Andersen was most unhappy with some of his assistant coaches. Rumors abound beyond that, as for reasons Andersen suddenly quit at Oregon State, and later was hired as an assistant back at Utah, where Kyle Whittingham was fully aware of the good and useful qualities Andersen could bring to an endeavor.
He was hired to coach the defensive line for the Utes, and to be the program’s associate head coach. That’s what he did for a short while. And with his long past history at Utah, some speculated that Andersen was the Utes’ head coach-in-waiting, the guy who would take over when Whittingham decided he had stacked up enough money, enough wins, enough headaches, enough golden years to look forward to, and was done with the coaching business.
Then, Andersen could take over.
Here’s the thing: He still might.
Which brings us back to the question: What if Andersen, with a quarterback like Jordan Love, wins 10 or 11 games over each of the next two seasons? What if he extends that winning over the next three or four?
Whittingham would, by then, have a number after his name that has a 6 in it. Does anyone think Kyle will coach deep past that? He’s a kind of Renaissance man who’s got a whole lot of interests beyond just football, a smart guy whose definition of living blows past solely marching up and down the side of a field, worrying about what a bunch of 20-year-olds are going to do in the final minutes of a ballgame.
Is that when Andersen takes over at Utah? Or if not there, somewhere else?
Or, if he does build that sort of success at USU, will he be satisfied to stay, like he probably said in the interviews he would, and finish his coaching career with the Aggies?
That is what Utah State deserves and that’s what it should get. Not to be stepped on as that steppingstone, but to be the kind of place where recruits and players and fans can depend on their coach to be their coach, not a salesman and a carpetbagger.
Is Andersen that guy? Has he come home to stay? Has the boomerang landed for the long haul?
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.