The context for the P5 comment
Utah State recently held their own media day with players and coaches. Head coach Gary Andersen spoke extensively, along with senior DB Cameron Haney and junior QB Jordan Love. All participants talked about the state of the program and going into fall camp, but Gary Andersen made an interesting comment about USU, referring to it as a P5 program.
The Deseret News originally published an article on the event, incorporating part of the quote as the story lead.
However, the context of Andersen’s remarks become more clear when you watch the press conference. Andersen said near the 3:20 mark “Utah State has made tremendous strides. We don’t have Power Five next to our name… but this is a Power Five football program as far as the way student athletes are treated and that’s highly important to me.”
Take Andersen’s comment seriously, not literally
It’s no secret that USU has significantly upgraded the quality of their program in the last decade. Much of that is directly due to Andersen’s efforts. Considering he’s been the head coach of two P5 programs during that span, it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from.
When he was originally hired to take the helm in 2009, USU to that point had not been to a bowl game since 1997. There were some big struggles early, but the Aggies finally broke through with a 7-6 campaign in 2011 followed up by a WAC championship season in 2012.
Finishing the year ranked No. 16 and with an 11-2 record, the program looked markedly different than it did just a few short years earlier.
With newly found on-field success and donor excitement, infrastructure updates were necessary for USU. Just before Matt Wells took over the program in 2013, construction finished on the top-notch weight training facility and plans for renovations to then Romney Stadium had started.
By doing so, the athletics administration demonstrated their commitment to making the program competitive not just with its peer institutions in the Mountain West Conference, but with P5 institutions out west in general.
Surreal as it was to see Andersen come back to Logan, it was even stranger seeing him take over a program he originally built from nothing. His initial press conference was held in Maverk Stadium’s media and game operations area, a building that didn’t exist at all in 2009.
With far more resources and structures in place, it enables him and his coaching staff to accomplish more with players. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the assistant coaching salary pool is significantly larger than it was during Andersen’s first stint, either. When you’re able to hire better coaches with corresponding pay, it becomes easier to retain them.
A couple days before the press conference took place, Andersen provided additional insight into why he feels USU is like a P5 program. Wild Bill’s Aggie Legends podcast had an excellent interview where Andersen spoke of various stories and the new feeling in Logan, Utah surrounding game day.
Near the 18:20 second mark, Andersen notes how the players at USU are treated like those he coached at Wisconsin and Oregon State. Noting especially the training facility, nutrition needs, mentors, tutors, and professors, Andersen went further saying how he and his staff work every day to give the players a P5 experience despite not having P5 next to their school title.
Though it’s unlikely USU will ever get into a P5 conference, that doesn’t mean the program won’t continue to make strides and become a stronger brand. Andersen understands what it takes to build something special in a college program.
He also understands how to maintain success and breed confidence in his players. If the wins continue to come under Andersen like they did before, there’s no reason why USU can’t continue to assert itself as an attractive destination for recruits. Whether they have P5 offers or not, Andersen is committed to giving them a P5 equivalent experience.
Time will tell how correct his program perception is.