Utah State athletic director cites negative trajectory as reason for Gary Andersen’s dismissal

(Photo courtesy of Utah State Athletics) Utah State Athletic Director John Hartwell said coach Gary Andersen's departure had to do with the negative direction of the team in the past two seasons.

Utah State athletic director John Hartwell and Aggies football coach Gary Andersen talked several times about how the 2020 season was going. The team was losing a lot, by a lot, and the conversations were candid about what that said about the state of the team.

Eventually, the two men came to an agreement: the program needed a change.

Utah State parted ways with Andersen and named co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile as interim coach after the team went 0-3 to start the season. Hartwell told reporters via videoconference Monday that the decision to let Andersen go wasn’t knee-jerk in nature and had to do with the program heading in the wrong direction.

“The first three weeks, other than a snippet here or there, was not Aggie football as we have grown accustomed to,” Hartwell said. “That’s not the product he [Andersen] wanted, that’s not what I want, that’s not what any of Aggie Nation wanted. … It was not just a matter of where we were. It was the trajectory of the program as well.”

Hartwell recalled just two seasons ago when the Aggies were among the best in the country on offense. He juxtaposed that with present day, when the team is among the bottom of the Mountain West Conference on that side of the ball. Of the Utah State’s offensive performance, he said “those tables have been flipped in the wrong direction.”

Hartwell acknowledged what Andersen meant to the football program several years ago when he lifted it from the ashes and turned it into a juggernaut. Maile and senior defensive lineman Justus Te’i also acknowledged Andersen’s contributions to their respective lives.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be sitting in this seat for a lot of different reasons,” said Maile, who served under Andersen in the former coach’s first stint with USU. “He was really the one person who gave me a shot at coaching right out of grad school. I owe a lot to him. I’m indebted to him forever.”

Maile enters his second stint as interim coach of the Aggies. He did it in 2018 when Matt Wells left after the regular season to coach at Texas Tech. He coached Utah State to a victory in the New Mexico Bowl.

Now Maile has five weeks to attempt turning the season around. Te’i has full confidence in him.

“There’s nobody better than coach Frank to lead this team moving forward,” Te’i said. “This team has full trust in him and we’re excited.”

Maile said he was confused about the decision to let go of Andersen and that it caught him off guard. But his message to his players was one of moving forward through tough times in life. He used a boxing analogy to drive his point home.

“I told them we have five rounds left,” Maile said. “Unfortunately we got knocked down the first three rounds. But like we do in life, man, we have to get up and settle your feet, get your base set in the ground and keep swinging.”