First impressions are just that, but Gary Andersen sure made his first appearance as Wisconsin head coach a promising one.
Alongside Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez in the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion, Andersen discussed the "unbelievable" last three days that brought him from a true up-and-comer in Logan, Utah to Madison, Wisconsin as the Big Ten's newest coach. Between interviewing with Alvarez (as well as deputy athletic director Sean Frazier and senior associate athletic director Walter Dickey) in Minneapolis on Tuesday and being introduced in Madison on Friday, Andersen had to tell his Utah State players he was leaving. Saying he was on the phone from about 7:30 p.m. local time to 2:30 a.m. the next morning explaining his move to players -- after he issuing a statement on Dec. 15 that he would be staying at Utah State.
Nevertheless, Andersen made it to Madison -- despite a snowstorm that dumped 20-something inches of snow and postponed the introductory press conference by a day -- and made a rousing first appearance in front of Wisconsin media and fans.
Also, one bit of news: in addition to the assistants that were previously reported to be following Andersen, current secondary coach Ben Strickland will be retained. "He is Wisconsin, if you will, when it comes to recruiting," Andersen said."
Alvarez on Andersen's interview:
"As we left, Walter Dickey made the comment, 'If I would've had a blindfold on, I would've thought that was you that was answering the questions. That's how our philosophies and our beliefs have meshed."
"He believes in, first, supporting the kids, supporting the players, both on the field, academically and socially. The first questions he asked me were about academic support for the athletes."
Alvarez said he had former Wisconsin lineman Joe Panos ('94) reach out to former Utah State players now in the NFL. "To the guy, it was very consistent from what I had heard. He's demanding, he's fair, he's consistent, he cares about his players. He'll hug you, he'll get after you if you need it and we all love him."
Andersen on his interest in Wisconsin:
"When [Alvarez] offered me the job, I think I just said, 'Yes.' I think I shocked him a little bit, I didn't ask any questions. I just held my hand in the air and was ready to go."
Andersen on how he'll handle the Rose Bowl:
"What's the priority for me right now is, number one, the kids in the program. When I say that, it's important to me to let them know one thing really, now, and one thing only: here's my phone number, if you have questions, please call me. If I can help you in any way, shape or form, I will be there for you. I would love to talk to you when the time's appropriate.
"But these kids need to go win a Rose Bowl. The last thing they need from me is to hang around them. Coach Alvarez, the staff and the young men will go put themselves into position to win a Rose Bowl. So I'm going to be a fly on the wall, evaluate and get to practices and do what I can."
Andersen on his other two priorities:
"Number two is to reach out and secure our commits. That's so important for us to be able to -- there's been a lot of hard work, countless hours put in having these young men commit to the University of Wisconsin and to play football here. And so it's my job now to reach out to those young men, to those families and let them understand the direction that we're headed and that they're in great hands. That's obviously a high priority.
"Number three is to reach out and start recruiting. When I say that I want to recruit the state, I think the easiest way for me to tell you, show you that I want to recruit the state is that when I went to Utah State four years ago, there were 18 young men from the state of Utah on that team. Now there's 55."
Andersen on if he'll implement Utah's spread offense at Wisconsin:
The first question Andersen received from reporters asked what kind of offense he'll run at Wisconsin.
"How did I know that question was coming?" Andersen cracked with a smile. "I think if you looked at what we had done at Utah State, we wanted to be a physical running team. This is the University of Wisconsin. I've seen the young men walk around the hallways. I had an opportunity to sit down with a couple of the offensive linemen, I've seen the tight ends. I know the tradition of the running backs. The biggest thing I can tell you is I had to work, again, all summer long to try to find a way to hang in there against this offensive line and the running backs, let alone the tradition of running the football.
"So we will be a power running team. We will use tight ends. We will use multiple sets and multiple formations. Absolutely, I believe we'll be a football team that will be run first. Our goal and our mindset and our want-to will be to wear you down as the game goes on, and to out-tough you and out-physical you."
"When you talk about an offense in those ways, there are ways to use the best players on your football team. And we'll always do that, we'll always get the best 11 to 18 kids out there on the field, depending on the packages and sub-groups that we play with. I don't want to be to be predictable; I want to keep people on edge. I do want to have a touch of option within the game plan every week to force defenses to deal with it, but we're going to line up and let those big kids work."
Andersen on recruiting:
"We should be able to recruit to get into any recruiting battle in the country with the quality of running backs. The one thing I would like to say on top of that, and it might be a little bit of a recruiting pitch or whatever you want to say, but I've been around, it will be three NFL [running] backs the last two years at Utah State. That's because we run the football, and I expect to be able to do the exact same thing with some tremendous athletes on the offensive line, tight ends, fullbacks and wide receivers that'll block you."
Andersen on calling every one of his Utah State players:
"Why was it important to me? Because the kids deserve that. If they're frustrated, they deserve to be able to tell me they're frustrated, which not one of them was. I'm not going to tell you they were doing backflips, but they understood the situation. They understand the University of Wisconsin, they understand because a lot of them were here."
Andersen on Urban Meyer's influence on this process (Andersen was the defensive coordinator on the 2004 Utah team that went 12-0 under Meyer):
"His first thoughts were obviously it's a tremendous job and a great opportunity, coach Alvarez is there. That was all positive, and then the next text, he shot back, 'But you've got to come and play us.' And I said, 'Yeah, we do.' So away we go.
Andersen on the chances of playing for a national championship:
"I would not have entertained the thought in any way, shape, or form of taking a job at this point in my career if I didn't think we could come in and compete and play for championships. I'm not a prediction guy, I'm not going to reach out and say we're going to do this or we're going to do that. I'll just let the results speak for themselves when we get out there on the field. I think -- no, I don't think -- I know this program has everything it needs to compete at the highest level. In everybody's mind, I'm sure the national championship is at the highest level."
Andersen on the current makeup of his coaching staff ("3 or 4" of his Utah State coaches will be joining his Wisconsin staff):
"I'm just going be real brief on this, as I hope in the next couple of days we can get a lot more stability to where the coaching staff is. But I'm highly interested in retaining coaches on this staff. Why wouldn't I be? I'd be crazy not to be.
"Again, if you're going to secure the state and Wisconsin, you better have some young men that understand how to recruit and reach out to those high school coaches in the state of Wisconsin. I'll call everyone of those high school coaches in the state of Wisconsin within the next week or so, but I've got to retain some young men that understand how and why and who's important in the state of Wisconsin.
"Secondly, offensive coordinator is up in the air. The offensive coordinator at Utah State is now the head coach at Utah State, which is a tremendous opportunity for Matt Wells. I will look out, reach out to find a quality coach. I will say this about the offensive coordinator -- when you're at the University of Wisconsin, it's a great job. It's not a good job, it's a great job for an offensive coordinator. Offensive coordinators will understand that, and they'll line up a thousand deep if you want them to. The key is to find the right guy that can run this offense and build it the way that we want it to be built and carry over and use the kids the best way as far as their abilities."