Gary Andersen's departure from Wisconsin was stunning for a few powerful reasons. There were zero rumblings Andersen was considering leaving, that Wisconsin wanted him gone or that he was even happy. That initial confusion quickly turned toward a sense of, "Oh, here we go again," just like it did when Bret Bielema spurned the Badgers for Arkansas in 2012.
Then the speculation started. Why did Gary Andersen leave? Big Ten championship game debacle aside, why he would leave Wisconsin -- for Oregon State? Is Barry Alvarez a bad boss to work for, always stepping on toes and flexing his legendary reputation in Madison? Was a scandal brewing, and Andersen was just getting out in time?
As the dust settled, one factor surfaced that was surprising to most: Andersen seemed at odds with Wisconsin's admissions standards for student-athletes.
Fans seemed mostly happy with Wisconsin's recruiting efforts -- new pipelines were being forged along the West Coast (and even beyond) and to places like Texas and Georgia. His offense was a departure from what Badger fans were used to, but the most pervasive feeling about that was the common Well, if we could just get a quarterback...
But as many remember, Andersen and his coaches lost out on a few recruits they thought they had because of UW admission standards that were either tougher than expected, or different than expected. Names like Sun Prairie, Wis., defensive tackle Craig Evans comes to mind; he was a verbal commitment to Wisconsin before academic issues halted his joining the 2014 class. He then landed at Michigan State. There was also Baltimore, Md., receiver Chris Jones, who ended up at Toledo after he couldn't gain admission into Wisconsin.
An article published Wednesday by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com cites these two recruits, and there were surely others, especially from the JUCO ranks, where Andersen really seemed interested in changing Wisconsin's patterns. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy came from the JUCO ranks, as did cornerback T.J. Reynard. Another player, defensive back Serge Trezy, is just now joining UW after admissions kept him at Eastern Arizona College one more year than expected. Trezy was initially recruited with and expected to join the 2014 class.
Dodd's article is the first time Andersen has went on the record about Wisconsin's admissions standards. He dodged all questions about it in his introductory press conference at Oregon State, which had more of a pep rally feel than anything. When he left Wisconsin, it felt like grasping at straws trying to make the argument that Andersen left because of academics. In his initial press conference after Andersen's departure became official, Alvarez said he left for family reasons. Speculation also turned toward another familiar refrain: Wisconsin doesn't pay assistant coaches enough. That was a major -- perhaps the major reason -- why Bielema left.
Eventually, though, it all seemed to circle back to academics with Andersen. He finally confirmed as much to Dodd, whose article begins:
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Before Gary Andersen goes on, he wants to make one thing clear.
A part of his surprising departure from Wisconsin had to do with admission standards.
"It's been well [documented] there were some kids I couldn't get in school," the Badgers' former coach said. "That was highly frustrating to me. I lost some guys, and I told them I wasn't going to lose them.
"I think they did what they were supposed to do [academically] and they still couldn't get in. That was really hard to deal with."
Sure, that was frustrating. You don't need to read recruiting message boards to figure that out.
Let's run through the rest of Dodd's article and pick through what Andersen said, and compare it to what we may know or not know about circumstances at Wisconsin.
Andersen doesn't blame Wisconsin
"That's not Wisconsin's fault," Andersen added. "That's Wisconsin's deal ... I want to surround myself with those kids I can get in school."
Well at least he knew what he was getting into, right? Kind of. Dodd's article begins with Andersen's takes before getting to Alvarez's, which we'll cover in a little bit.
This rhetoric is familiar with Andersen, and it's what largely endeared him to Wisconsin fans when he replaced Bielema: he seemed to really care about the players he was inheriting and the ones he would be recruiting. "Care factor" was the term Andersen had coined, and boy, did he push it hard over his two seasons in Madison.
So higher admissions standards were "Wisconsin's deal." Andersen's admitting that he knew that from the start, right? Dodd's article references a familiar Fox Sports Wisconsin report that states Wisconsin requires 17 high school units for admission, higher than Ohio State, Nebraska (16), Oregon State (15) and Michigan State (14).
Yet, Andersen says...
"Should I have known that going in?" Andersen asked. "Maybe I should have asked more questions. Was anything hidden from me? I'm not saying that at all. It was a learned scenario."
JUCO transfers were a point of contention
Andersen seems to have "learned" this in particular: Alvarez wasn't interested in bringing in junior-college players. As Dodd was told, Wisconsin "took a total" of 10 JUCO players in the 25 years prior to Andersen's arrival.
"I thought we talked about that during the interview process," Alvarez said. "You're not going to bring truckloads of junior college kids or make a living with junior college kids here."
Seven JUCO transfers are currently listed on Oregon State's 2014 roster; again, only two (McEvoy and Reynard) are on Wisconsin's. By all accounts, Andersen was interested in increasing that number. After that "learned scenario" quote, he said:
"I need to be able to have my coaches walk into homes very well connected and committed and understanding of exactly what's going to take place when they're talking to those families."
At Wisconsin, Andersen said, "junior college kids basically became a non-[factor]."
Assuming Andersen and his staff did their due diligence in terms of understanding UW's admissions standards -- and there is no reason to doubt that -- this comment suggests there was a departure from the supposed common ground his coaches were operating at while recruiting.
Here's where we get to Alvarez, and in typical fashion, he has a few quotes that read just like they were made for t-shirts.
"We haven't changed," Alvarez added. "You're not going to change our admissions policy here. You're not going to change our academics here. ... All you have to do is check our track record."
Alvarez was referring to Wisconsin having the league's second-best record (.701) since 1993. Its total of 27 players on NFL rosters (going into Week 1) was second in the Big Ten to Ohio State and 12th-best nationally.
Wisconsin is 11th in the Big Ten in the latest NCAA graduation success rate in football. It is second to Northwestern in the conference in football Academic Progress rate. A recent CNN report found that between 2007-2012 only 2 percent of the school's football enrollees did not achieve the accepted threshold for college literacy.
Alvarez also mentioned here, according to Dodd, that these are the same standards Bo Ryan has operated under at UW for 15 years and Bielema worked under for nine.
Herein comes the boom:
"We've had a lot of success myself and Bret and Gary," Alvarez said. "Gary [did it] with Bret's kids."
You could bold, circle, underline and print t-shirts with that last quote. Especially if Paul Chryst fares as expected, you're going to hear that refrain quite a bit as Andersen's tenure with the Badgers gets pushed further and further into the rearview mirror.
Alvarez had another comment he shared directly after, and this should foster some discussion:
"Our [admissions] people will work with you, but you're not going to wholesale them. ... It's like going to Stanford and trying to do that, or Northwestern. It's not going to work. Not here."
It seems reasonable to expect Alvarez to position Wisconsin as on par academically with schools like Stanford or Northwestern, but that seems like a stretch. It'd be interesting to see what Alvarez meant and/or was implying by "you're not going to wholesale them" comment.
Andersen, Alvarez 'had a good working relationship'
It doesn't seem like Andersen's personality to come out swinging with personal shots, particularly through the media. Indeed, while he was frank about these admissions issue, he expressed zero inclinations of a beef with Barry.
Andersen stressed that his departure had nothing to do with Alvarez. The two had a good working relationship.
"He never one time stepped on anybody's toes in the football office," the coach said. "Please don't make Wisconsin sound bad in any way, shape or form. I love those kids. I truly love them."
So there we have it: some on-the-record explanation from Andersen, a few "Barry being Barry" quotes and more conversation to be had. Does Wisconsin need to change its academic standards? Does it need to outline them more clearly not only to recruits, but to its coaching staff? Is this whole scenario unique to Andersen's tenure, or did Bielema feel the same?
Dodd's article is enlightening in that it puts UW's academic standards at the forefront of why Andersen left. But this is also remains largely a "he said, he said" situation between Andersen and Alvarez. Chryst was hired in large part -- "large" might not even be a strong enough word -- because he "knows" Wisconsin. If he steps in and Wisconsin is just as, if not more, successful, what will that say about Andersen? On the flip side, if there's a drop-off in Chryst's first few years, where will that leave Wisconsin, especially after the two sudden coaching changes?