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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gary Andersen: From Utah State to Wisconsin

Photo Source: Salt Lake Tribune (AP Photo/Kita Wright)
Reports are indicating Gary Andersen has accepted the head football coaching job with Wisconsin. Various articles citing unnamed sources have indicated it is mostly a sure thing, but the greatest evidence seems to be phone calls the coach has made to his Utah State players to let them know he has accepted the Wisconsin positions.

I want to sound off on a three of four things.

First, what Andersen has done at Utah State is nothing short of remarkable.

The Aggies could have easily beaten both Wisconsin and BYU - their only losses - this year. Some other games could probably have been lost as well, but finishing 11-2 is an accomplishment worthy of the resulting accolades. However, considering the Aggies decades-long tradition of... considerable struggles, the accomplishment spearheaded by Andersen is even more impressive.

Second, the timing of this change puzzles me.

Andersen's success the past two seasons has naturally made him attractive to other schools that live higher up on the football food chain. This year, reports indicate he was seriously considered for head coaching positions Cal and Colorado (PAC-12) and Kentucky (SEC). I wouldn't be surprised if Andersen were actually offered one or more of those positions.

But he decided to stay in Logan. He had a Utah State tattoo. He has one son who currently plays for the team and two others who I think were planning to play for their Dad in Cache Valley. I think he has family in the area. He has a sizable number of skilled players returning next year. Etc.

There was an almost palpable tension in the air as Andersen's name surfaced in connection with the aforementioned schools. In fact, as soon as it became obvious 2012 would be a special year for the Aggies, fans had reason to worry. But when all was said and done, Andersen decided to stay in Logan.

And he seemed genuinely sincere. Putting an end to the speculation after signing a contract extension, Andersen stated:

I plan to remain the head football coach at Utah State University. The interest I have received is a compliment to the quality young men in this program.... I love Cache Valley, this university and these young men, and I am humbled and excited to continue to be the coach here.

Andersen truly seemed a good fit for Utah State and looked to be the kind of coach who would set down roots.

As the details are finalized and made public, I will be interested to see what it is that persuaded Andersen to make the move to Wisconsin after shunning other offers and reaffirming his commitment to the school in an uncharacteristically (for college football coaches) sincere-sounding statement to the press.

Will it turn out to money?

The freedom to bring his assistant coaches with him?

The caliber of Wisconsin's returning and incoming players?

I'm puzzled in this case.

Third, what impact will this have on Andersen's players at Utah State - and the future of the Aggie football program? 

From what I have heard, Andersen created a really neat environment in Logan and gave his players a good role model to look up to. Especially after the comments reaffirming his commitment to the program and its players, will the players view the sudden abandoning of the ship as an abandonment of them? A head coach is often father-figure for a certain number of players.

As for the program's future, there are a good number of returning players. But there are some problems. New recruits that represent a step (or two or three) up from the standard Aggie fare may choose to transfer absent the presence of the coach they intended to play for. Just two or three days ago, an article at KSL.com identified the Aggie's returning quarterback and Andersen as "the key to future Aggie success." With the coach (and perhaps coaches) gone, player commitment shaky, and the challenge of finding an Andersen-esque coach to replace Wisconsin's new head man, will Utah State rise to the occasion or stumble under the weight of its unexpected challenges?

Lastly, I'm so disappointed with what is happening to college football. '

What happened to the love of the game, to loyalty, to tradition, to hard-work, to integrity, to so many other things that seem to be an icon of days gone by? This is a topic I'll probably address in greater length down the road. I think the end-all, be-all nature of money in college athletics is disturbing and alarming in so many ways.

Unfortunately, I don't see a single sign that suggests things are going to get any better. And I think that is a bad thing. It hurts consumers, players, coaches, fans, students. Sure, pockets may be lined, exposure may increase, but football as we used to know it on the college level is close to a tipping point where recovery may not be possible.

Look for the following things to happen over the next 15 years:
  • The formation of four 16-team super conferences
  • Average head coach salaries to continue their (disturbingly) steep incline
  • Average head coach tenures to decline
  • Neglect of non-football collegiate athletics
  • Dramatic increase in corruption
  • 2+ schools receive the "death penalty" from the NCAA
  • Overall decrease in sportsmanship 
  • Etc.

I can't guarantee all of these predictions will come to pass, but I think there is a high likelihood they will. And if I took the time to do some research and think about it some more, I could come up with a list twice as long with effects that are twice as disturbing. 

I recognize I may be in the minority on this issue, but I believe if things continue as they are, we will see negative repercussions touch society in ways both quantifiable and not.

The BS of the BCS and the unhealthy obsession with profit in collegiate athletics is not good for the sport, its participants, or its fans.

**********
Postscript

A sports columnist and radio show host in Salt Lake, Gordon Monson, wrote an article earlier this year regarding a football game between BYU and Weber State (a lower division school) that I find relevant given my final point above.

I like Monson quite a bit and especially appreciate his "tell-it-like-it-is" approach.

In his article, "BYU wins its own practice, wastes everybody else's time," Monson makes many of the same points I raise here - and that I plan to address in the future.

However, the overall tone regarding the simple joy of watching a football game saddened me.

"What a waste of blue skies, light breezes, and temperatures in the 70s," wrote Monson. "Only desperate men with no other options but cleaning a grimy garage could have appreciated watching this mismatch. It was Sominex in helmets and pads."

"What we saw on on Saturday, then," continued Monson, "wasn't real competition. It wasn't real football. It wasn't fun or fair. It was a useful BYU practice. Otherwise, it was a waste of time."

Read Monson's article. I think you will come away agreeing with much of what he says.

But I think it also highlights one of the problems I see with the evolution of college football. Yes, teams aren't always balanced. Yes, many games are played to cash checks, to pay another team to waive their expectation of sportsmanship and give your own fans a good show. Yes, yes, yes. BYU v. Weber State in 2012 was not an ideal game.

But you know what? I enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it because I like college football. I like to take those "blue skies (and) light breezes" and top them off with the sounds of pads crushing into each other and fans cheering for great plays and touchdowns. 

I will continue to enjoy football for the sake of the very fact it is football. But with the direction college football is going, I fear this rare perspective may ultimately become extinct.

And when the essence of a sport finally dies, what reason is there to keep it around?

Oh yeah, I forgot.

TV deals.

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