Andersen fitting in just fine at No. 23 Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Any concerns about how Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen would be accepted by the team’s strong fan base may have been dissolved in the wind blowing through a cornfield.
A farmer recently decided to carve a corn maze with the likeness of the face of the Badgers’ new coach and the school’s signature “W” logo on a football.
Welcome to Wisconsin, Gary.
“The longer you’re here, the more you understand how people are passionate about Wisconsin as a whole and the university, and football is a big part of that,” Andersen said. “I like the football and the motion ‘W’ in it than the other piece of the maze.”
It didn’t take long for him to fit in. Andersen arrived in Madison after four years at Utah State, taking over the 23rd-ranked Badgers following the awkward departure of Bret Bielema for Arkansas. Bielema led the Badgers to a 68-24 record over seven seasons before leaving in December, before Wisconsin’s third straight Rose Bowl appearance.
Enter Andersen, who led a remarkable resurgence during his four years at Utah State. A program that had just six wins in its previous three seasons won 26 under Andersen, including a school-record 11 victories in 2012, a WAC title and a 41-15 win over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Displaying a soft-spoken and mild-mannered demeanor in a recent interview, Andersen can be tough, too. It’s a personality that seems to fit in well in the upper Midwest.
At work, he expects everyone’s full effort. But he doesn’t want his coaches or players to get overtaxed, either, and encourages them to get out of the office as much as possible.
Training camp practices have been open to the public and media, too, adding to the new vibe at Wisconsin. The Badgers host Massachusetts to open the season Aug. 31.
“It’s unique. Coach Andersen has been able to get a lot out of us without overtaxing us,” linebacker Chris Borland said. “We’ve been on the same page as coaches and players. Working hard, getting things done, but keeping guys safe out there.”
The adjustment to running a power conference program has gone well, he said. Yes, there may be CEO-like duties with more when it comes to football operations, but Andersen stresses that attitude ends when dealing with players.
In deciding to make the move, Andersen sought a program that had players at a program with a similar attitude as he had at Utah State with hard-working players and mainly model citizens off the field. It helped that he made a trip to Camp Randall last September, when Wisconsin held off the Aggies 16-14.
The recruiting intensity is much different, though, at Wisconsin. He is in a conference, after all, competing with the likes of Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Brady Hoke at Michigan. Andersen was also a defensive line assistant while Meyer coached at Utah.
It’s in Andersen’s office in a corner of Camp Randall, with a scenic view of the Badgers’ home field, that the new head Badger handles recruiting chores or watches film on the large, flat-screen television near his desk.
“Every day in Wisconsin … it’s a full-court press every single day. It’s obviously very competitive,” Andersen said. “My activity and my involvement in recruiting … It’s as close to 100 percent more than it could possibly be. It’s a lot.”
Andersen doesn’t like meetings. He does like checking in with his assistants to see what they need. He tries to keep a long-term calendar that goes as far out as three or four months, and a short-term calendar that might look three or four days ahead.
Borland, one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten, said his new coach “hates to waste time.”
“When we do meet, it’s absolutely necessary … and very informative and efficient,” Borland said.
And while Andersen can be seen in a car commercial for a sponsor, the coach prefers to stay out of the spotlight that might come outside of the typical duties for a head coach.
“Eighty-thousand people are never going to come to a stadium to watch nine coaches run up and down the sideline,” Andersen said. “It’s about the young men in the program.”