Gary Andersen’s return to Logan as Utah State’s football coach in 2018 was cause for celebration in Logan. Aggie fans were elated to have their old coach — who originally coached at USU from 2009-12 — back after Matt Wells left for Texas Tech.
Which makes Andersen’s departure all the more stunning.
Utah State relieved Andersen of his head coaching duties Saturday, athletic director John Hartwell announced. Andersen led an Aggies team that has started 0-3 this season, three lackluster losses that turned into blowouts.
“After a thorough analysis on the current state of our football team, we believe a change at head coach is in the best interest of our program moving forward,” Hartwell said in a statement. “The continued success and development of Aggie football is a priority and we want to make sure we are regular contenders for the Mountain West Championship.”
Hartwell said USU assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile has been named the Aggies interim coach for the remainder of the season.
Utah State also "will start an immediate national search to find the best candidate to lead Utah State football going forward,” Hartwell added.
Andersen had three years left on his contract at $900,000 per year. His deal was set to expire Dec. 31, 2023.
When Andersen returned to the Cache Valley to coach Utah State, he was considered the right man for the job at the right time, largely because he had been there before, building the program Wells inherited. Andersen said it also felt like home. He never sold his Logan home after leaving USU the first time, making the transition back that much smoother. “It’s in my guts,” he said last March.
But something wasn’t quite right. Andersen’s return season was a mixed bag, and a disappointment. He couldn’t unlock star quarterback Jordan Love after a breakout sophomore season the year before. USU, went 6-2 in the Mountain West, but lost to Kent State in the Frisco Bowl to finish 7-6 overall.
Then came 2020, a year already mired by the coronavirus pandemic. Andersen changed offensive coordinators for a second straight season. He brought in Jason Shelley from the University of Utah to play quarterback. And it has been a disaster. The Aggies opened with a 42-13 loss at Boise State, got routed 38-7 by San Diego State in their home opener and fell 34-9 at Nevada on Thursday.
USA Today first reported Andersen’s departure.
This season was always going to be difficult. Andersen was working with a young roster that featured many inexperienced players who took on significantly larger roles compared to just a season ago. He had a new quarterback and a backup that was returning from a major injury. Meanwhile, the Mountain West Conference got better around Utah State.
Though three games, the Aggies are last in the conference in total offense and second to last in total defense. They’ve lost by an average of 28.3 points per game.
Andersen was critical of his team after Utah State lost to San Diego State at home on Halloween, calling the effort “embarrassing” and “pathetic.” His comments were more muted after Thursday’s loss to Nevada, but his frustration was still evident.
The second-year coach also made headlines earlier this season when he suggested that he would not allow his players to opt out of the season over COVID-19 concerns. He later walked back those comments, as they were contrary to NCAA and Mountain West policies.
Andersen’s first stint at Utah State was memorable.
He went 26-24 in his first four years at USU including the school’s first back-to-back winning seasons (7-6 in 2011 and 11-2 in 2012) since 1979-80. He was also the first coach since Phil Krueger (1973-75) to notch an overall winning record. During the 2011-12 seasons, Andersen led the Aggies to an 18-8 record, including an 11-2 conference mark.
Andersen departed USU after that last season to take the Wisconsin job, later moving on to Oregon State.
Andersen’s departure from USU appears in keeping with the last six years of his coaching career. He left Wisconsin in 2014, after two successful seasons and less than two years into his contract. He reportedly had to pay the university $3 million to do so.
He then chose to forgo the $12 million left on his contract at Oregon State after he and the university mutually parted ways in October 2017. He had signed a contract extension the previous December.