Utah State hires former coach Gary Andersen because of course
Hartwell bets big on Andersen’s ability to elevate a program once more
Utah State turns keys to the program back over to the man who built the garage
They did it. They actually did it. Utah State has ended its search for a new coach, re-hiring former head coach and program savior Gary Andersen.
Things in Aggieland haven’t exactly been dire since his departure, what with the greatest Utah State offense of all time recently rattling off ten straight wins in a season full of record-breaking beatdowns. Still, watching the nationally ranked Aggies lose their two biggest games of the year by razor-thin margins and seeing their head coach depart for a higher-paying job in the P5 sucked, especially with a hard-earned bowl game still to play.
Good thing Gary is back.
In all seriousness, Utah State football’s future remains bright. The hiring process may have been a bit dysfunctional, and fans might continue taking unintentionally hypocritical shots at former coach Matt Wells whilst welcoming Andersen back with open arms, but the deal is done. Wells’ departure leaves Andersen with an awesome young quarterback, a whole host of intriguing weapons and a defense boasting a handful of future pros. It’s an enviable position to be in, though fraught with potential to disappoint fans who’ve come to see Andersen as a literal miracle-worker.
The idea that Gary Andersen brings some mystical program-salvaging juice to the table exposes a major blindspot in the eyes of the Aggie faithful. Fans so wholeheartedly backing Andersen’s second stint as Utah State’s head coach are right to love the guy for pulling USU from disorganized chaos and inserting the program into the Mountain West as an instant contender, but they also might be disappointed to find out how difficult it is to recapture that magic.
Andersen was the Aggies’ Tony Stark, emerging from a cave of scraps with an unexpectedly awesome 2012 squad that motored through opponents with reckless abandon. But that same formula requires ingredients USU no longer stocks in its cupboards — Arandas and Orlandos are hard to find and even harder to find early in their careers when Utah State can afford them. Top 15 defenses don’t come along often for any team, much less a mid-major. Next year’s schedule will be tougher. The expectations higher. The O-line younger.
…The public demand for a Mountain West title, louder.
And while every new coach would have to deal with this set of difficulties upon taking the USU job, Andersen’s return brings with it an ultra-magnified standard of success. We’ve seen what he did for Utah State once, and such will be the measuring stick for him once again as the Aggies continue to fall just short of a conference title and major bowl exposure.
Amidst rumors of a nationwide search that included the names Helfrich and Rodriguez and Canada, Utah State’s John Hartwell elected to bet the house on unprecedented programmatic success being Andersen’s norm — and ignore failures at Wisconsin and Oregon State as mere anomalies.
Andersen is also thought to be the intelligent choice for a program looking for stability. Years of near-constant coordinator churn and now the abrupt departure of coach Wells has Hartwell hoping for a more permanent fixture for the program.
Though guilty of leaving for Wisconsin before his U State tattoo had fully healed and dropping out of the Oregon State job mid-season, perhaps Andersen is now at a point in his career where Utah State fits into his long-term plans. Maybe he really is the first mid-major college football coach to ever be truly poach-proof and his history of ditching teams without notice is fully in the past. Maybe this BYU-esque legacy hire is exactly what the program needs.
Who knows? It’s tough to keep track of exactly how many chips Hartwell has on the table at this point.
The trouble with Andersen isn’t his ability, nor is it his likability. On the contrary, dozens of former players have already expressed support and excitement for Andersen’s new era in Logan.
The trouble with Andersen is the same as any sequel that fails to live up to the thrill of the original. It’s the expectation that Andersen will take charge and succeed in the same way and to the same degree that he once did, regardless of a new conference and new players and an entirely new staff and an altogether different college football landscape.
Now, inheriting a 10-2 team has its perks, and Andersen may very well be capable of guiding the Aggies’ current trajectory into an entirely new atmosphere of success should he find a way to capitalize on next season’s money game against LSU or against conference foes like Fresno, San Diego and Boise.
The team is in good shape to make another leap forward in Andersen’s second term — if he sticks around long enough to see it through.