Thursday, December 20, 2012

Just go to the Rose Bowl every year, hokay?

Wisconsin has a coach; that coach isn't Barry Alvarez. To the interwebz!
Utah State's Gary Andersen, who guided the Aggies to their first bowl victory in 19 years, will be named Wisconsin's new coach, sources told ESPN.

The earliest a state job in Wisconsin can be filled is two weeks after the job's posting, meaning Andersen can't be officially announced by the school until Thursday. Andersen interviewed with Wisconsin on Monday.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Tuesday that two sources close to the Badgers program said Andersen was athletic director Barry Alvarez's top choice to succeed Bret Bielema, who left to take the Arkansas job.
So that was unexpected. Andersen (a) withdrew from consideration for the Cal job like a week ago and (b) has no particular ties to the Midwest (or really anywhere other than the state of Utah), so the various lists of hypothetical candidates for the Wisconsin job definitely included a lot of dudes but a total of zero references to Gary Andersen.

BTW, it's worth mentioning that Andersen wasn't Alvarez's "top choice" in a literal sense: Mike Riley, Al Golden and Mel Tucker (the Jaguars' defensive coordinator and a former Wisconsin player) all were contacted but declined interest. Still, the reaction has been an amazingly positive one considering the guy has a 30-31 career record, probably in part because the Wisconsin fan base had accepted defeat (as in "who's left in the MAC?") before the Andersen news started leaking and in part because said 30-31 record isn't really a negative.

The reason for that: Holy hell Utah State was terrible when Andersen got there in '08. I mean terrible. Zero winning records since 1997, nothing better than 3-9 since 2002 (!), a 9-38 record under predecessor Brent Guy and an Idaho-esque .359 winning percentage since moving up to Division I about a decade ago. Terrible.

Andersen took the job after four years as Utah's D-coordinator -- he was promoted to take over for Kyle Whittingham after Whittingham was promoted to take over for Urban Meyer -- and went from 4-8 to 4-8 to 7-6 to 11-2, with this year's two losses by one to Wisconsin (oh hai) and three to BYU.

An amazing quote from a Utah State beat writer (those apparently exist):
"It's a program that was literally a dumpster fire for years until Gary Andersen got there and was able to turn it around," Graham said. "To take a program that went 19 years without a bowl win and in his fourth year there (finish) 11-2 and five points away from being in the BCS in Logan, Utah, which is really in the middle of nowhere — to be able to pull that off is something else."
Indeed. And the reason for that improvement was a comparable improvement on defense, hence Andersen, a former D-coordinator, being of interest to the Cals and Wisconsins of the world. Utah State's numbers in Andersen's four years were as follows: 113th in yardage and 107th in scoring in 2009, 100th and 101st in 2010, 50th and 68th in 2011 and 15th and eighth (!) this year, with only two teams on the schedule (San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, two teams that finished a combined 19-5) scoring more than 20 points. FWIW, Utah State also held Wisconsin to 16 points and 234 total yards, Wiscy's second-lowest output of the season (although that was in the dark days before Matt Canada and the O-line seemingly had any idea what was going on).

And going back a little further, Utah's defenses under Andersen finished like so: 47th in yards and 59th in scoring in 2005, 43rd and 37th in '06, 18th and fifth in '07 and 12th and 11th in '08. So yeah: Andersen knows how to develop a defense. Not disputable.

What makes him something other than the "home run hire" a lot of people are claiming him to be is the other stuff (or lack thereof). The meaingful portion of Andersen's coaching career has consisted entirely of four years at Utah State (he also had a year at Southern Utah), which is really not comparable in any way to Wisconsin. I mean, logic dictates that anybody who can succeed at Blah Program X can obviously succeed at Way Better Program Y, but it doesn't always work out that way in reality.

There are really two questions. The first: What's gonna happen with the offense? Utah State was running something resembling a spread, albeit a run-biased one, whereas Barry Alvarez said at his post-Bielema-WTF presser something along the lines of "haha spread no." So Wisconsin probably won't be doing what Utah State was doing, and with Utah State O-coordinator Matt Wells getting the head coaching job there and Canada going to NC State, Andersen will have to piece together a staff (probably based on Alvarez's recommendation) to run an offense somewhat unlike the ones he's overseen thus far in his career.

That said, Andersen is philosophically not unlike Alvarez/Bielema; he likee the run (just spreading to run instead of MANBALLING to run). Here's a useful chart that pretty well demonstrates the Wisconsin-ness of the Utah State offense:

The uncertainty lies in the implementation of that philosophy and the amalgamation of a staff. Rumor has is that Andersen is retaining his O-line coach from Utah State; whether that works with whatever the yet-unnamed O-coordinator wants to do remains to be seen. I'm somewhat skeptical that the Wisconsin running game will still be the Wisconsin running game (as it's recognized right now) a few years from now, if only because there isn't really any evidence that Andersen is totally committed to that type of power run game built around an O-line made up entirely of bear-sized humans. That doesn't necessarily mean it won't be good (Utah State's running game averaged a final ranking of 23rd nationally); it just means there'll be some systemic transition of some degree that may or may not go awesomely.

The second: Was Andersen's success over the last two years more a result of him being an amazeballs coach or more the result of him being a good D-coordinator in a craptacularly awful conference? Really, there's not a lot in the way of data to differentiate Andersen from the various hires of late who rebuilt their various MAC/WAC programs from crappy to decent to (relatively) very good. And it's one thing for Colorado to give a couple million bucks to the guy who built San Jose State into something respectable since doing the same at Colorado would represent improvement at this point; it's another thing for Wisconsin to do it since the standard at Wisconsin is, like, a lot higher these days. As I mentioned a few grafs ago, there's obviously a difference between turning a bad program into a pretty decent one and maintaining a borderline-elite program, especially one that might have already plateaued. I mean, even if Andersen is an amazeballs coach, three straight Rose Bowls might never, ever happen again for Wisconsin, so being the guy to follow the guy who literally just did seems suboptimal. And that's a real "if" given the small sample size of data (one excellent year of debatable relevance to Wisconsin) for that hypothesis.

There's probably something to be written here about Arkansas getting the guy with all the Rose Bowls and Wisconsin celebrating about getting the guy with the 30-31 career record. That something: You win, SEC. You always win. The money always wins.

As for Wisconsin, if nothing else, a defense that's been good to very good for most of my adult life should continue being good to very good (or better), and that alone should allow for some leeway in terms of figuring out an identity on offense and developing some recruiting connections outside the state of Utah and whatnot. So that'll help; it's just doubtful that it'll help enough to keep Wisconsin at a double-digit-wins-almost-every-year level since even the guy who had been doing that didn't particularly like his chances of continuing to do it at Wisconsin. Really, just doing something resembling that going forward would be pretty impressive considering the recruiting vacuums that are the Ohio State and Michigan staffs.

On the plus side, there's this, which probably doesn't really mean anything except that Andersen is a better person than most persons who do what he does:
On Tuesday, Andersen began calling his Utah State players, one by one. ... ince Utah State was on holiday break, most of the players didn't return to the Logan campus after the bowl game. So there was no opportunity for Andersen to address his status at a team meeting.

His biggest concern was "they're going to learn about it through ESPN.''

Although it was out of his control at that point, he didn't want them to hear it that way.

"So I reached out to them -- 107 times,'' he said of his individual calls to each player on the roster.
Upshot: Gary Andersen is 107 times more likable than Bret Bielema, so in the somewhat-unlikely event that he's able to continue doing what Wisconsin's been doing of late (or in the much more likely event that Wisconsin stays good but not quite that good), it will be slightly more palatable for me. And that's really the most important thing.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.