Stereotypically, first year coaches are hired to bring upon a regime of change to underperforming programs. But, what happens when the program a coach is taking over has won three consecutive Big Ten titles and has appeared in the last three Rose Bowls?
That's the position Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen has found himself in this past year in his inaugural season at the helm for the Badgers. And to the relief of players and fans, it's more of the same at Wisconsin with Andersen.
Under the new head coach, Wisconsin has maintained its traditional ground-and-pound approach on offense behind the dynamic tailback duo of James White and Melvin Gordon, who have paced the Badgers' to the fifth best rushing total in the nation.
That's impressive, considering Andersen ran a spread offense at Utah State and regards himself as a "defensive" coach. Still, one could make the argument that for the first time in several years UW's defense is outshining its offense. Holding opponents to an average of 267.3 yards a game-also a top 5 mark in the country-the Badgers new 3-4 scheme has given a new aggression to a defense that rarely had a pass rush a season ago. Against Northwestern this past week, Wisconsin held their opponents to just six points, marking the first time the Wildcats had failed to score more than ten points since Oct. 28, 2006.
But what really sets Andersen apart in the eyes of others is his class. It's rare to see a coach so embraced by its fan base before he even coaches a single game, but Andersen developed an almost cult-like status among students before the team even practiced once. Maybe it was the story about how Andersen personally called every single one of his Utah State players to tell them he was taking the job, maybe it was how personable he seemed during the team's activities in the pre-season, but there's just some "it" factor surrounding Andersen.
And nowhere was that on stronger display than after Wisconsin's loss at Arizona State. In what has now been confirmed by multiple officials as a "botched call" that robbed the Badgers of a chance to win the road game, Andersen handled the press conference and questions afterwards with supreme dignity, never once venting in a situation that has led so many men in the same position to have memorable meltdowns or quotes.
It's that example that Andersen sets for his team that make him a fan and player favorite. Even though Wisconsin is looking on the outside-in for an opportunity to make a historic fourth-straight Rose Bowl appearance, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks that the new face of the Wisconsin program isn't doing a terrific job as coach.
You can vote Gary Andersen for Liberty Mutual's Coach of the Year here.
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- Wisconsin Hockey: Badgers battle back to earn sweep of Northern Michigan
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