Gary Andersen found the landing spot many college football followers expected he would.
Andersen, a longtime former Ute assistant who abruptly resigned as Oregon State’s head coach in October, is returning to the Utah staff as an associate head coach and will work with the defense, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham announced Tuesday morning.
The Salt Lake City native will begin his third stint at Utah — the first since the program moved to the Pac-12 — when the new NCAA rule allowing FBS staffs to add a 10th full-time on-field assistant coach goes into effect on Jan. 9.
“It’s a great opportunity for myself and Stacey [his wife],” Andersen told The Tribune. “I’m excited to be back home and back in Utah being on the staff be with guys that I coached. Morgan [Scalley] was a player when I was coaching. It’s exciting to be in that room with guys. A ton of respect for those guys. I’m excited to be back.”
The hire does not come as a surprise. Whittingham acknowledged Andersen was being considered as a candidate to join the staff following the end of the regular season.
Whittingham said Tuesday night that Andersen would most likely work with defensive line coach Lewis Powell on the defensive front, but Whittingham said nothing is set in stone. The Utes have had two assistants coaching the defensive line in the past, including when Whittingham served as defensive coordinator.
Andersen takes the title of associate head coach, and Scalley retains the job of defensive coordinator/safeties coach. The Utes operated this past season with a similar dynamic on offense. Offensive line coach/assistant head coach Jim Harding worked on an offensive staff that included offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Troy Taylor, who handled play-calling duties.
“That’s not an uncommon situation for the defensive coordinator to not be the assistant head coach or the assistant head coach and another position coach have that title,” Whittingham said. “Really, Morgan is in charge of the defensive room. He’s the defensive coordinator, and he’s in charge of the defensive room.
“Gary is going to be a great resource for me as far as a sounding board as far as to bounce ideas off of. He’ll have a lot of input in recruiting in addition to that. Sometimes you get a little carried away with titles, but a guy that has his experience and knowledge — I just felt it was appropriate.”
As far as Andersen being a head coach in waiting, Whittingham downplayed that notion.
“Gary is coming on as an assistant on our staff and a guy that has a great deal to add, a lot of value that he can bring to the table,” Whittingham told the Tribune. “First of all, a head coach in waiting is more of an AD’s designation than coming from the coaching staff. So no, don’t make any more of it than it is. He’s a guy that we have a history together and have worked together for a lot of years. I’m very excited to be able to have him back on the staff helping us out.”
Andersen begins his 12th overall season with the Utes after nine years away as the head coach at Utah State (2009-12), Wisconsin (2013-14) and Oregon State (2015-17). Among his head coaching highlights were a Western Athletic Conference championship in 2012 with Utah State and the 2014 Big Ten West Division title with Wisconsin.
Andersen’s first stint with the Utes was as a defensive line coach from 1997-2002 under then-head coach Ron McBride. He also served as the assistant head coach from 2001-02. After a year as the head coach at Southern Utah in 2003, Andersen returned to the U. in 2004 as Urban Meyer’s defensive line coach. From 2005-08, he was Whittingham’s defensive coordinator, assistant head coach and defensive line coach. He departed for the head coaching job at Utah State after Utah’s win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
“Kyle was unbelievably supportive through the process,” Andersen told The Tribune. “Wherever I went, we always stayed in touch. I’m grateful he’d give me the opportunity. I’m also lucky to get to a point in my coaching career where I have a chance to do what I want to do. It was not a difficult decision for me at all.”
Andersen became available after resigning as Oregon State’s coach on Oct. 9, citing frustrations with setbacks his program encountered during his third season in Corvallis, including a general unhappiness with his coaching staff.
Beyond the timing of Andersen’s resignation was his decision to walk away from the $11.6 million remaining on his contract, though he did receive a much smaller, six-figure severance payment on his way out the door.
Oregon State was 1-5 when he resigned. The Beavers were 7-23 overall during Andersen’s tenure.
“I’m excited to coach a position and to be around those kids in that setting,” Andersen said. “There’s still a special relationship between position coaches and the players. I love those relationships and I take great pride in that.”
Andersen deflected when asked about wanting to be a head coach again in the future, saying, “I’ve done this long enough that I know I’m going to do everything I can to help really good. My future plans are to coach like crazy and I’m excited to be in it and be back where I’m at. I just know I’m going to give Kyle everything I’ve got and the University of Utah everything I’ve got.”