I made my fandom for Gary Andersen known over a year ago. I'd like to think I was responsible for a burgeoning Andersen appreciation forming in the Texas fan base, but unfortunately Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez developed a similar appreciation after seeing his Badgers nearly lose to Andersen's Utah State club in Camp Randall in 2012.
Among coaches, Andersen hasn't been a secret since his innovative defenses were dominating at Utah (and helped lead them to two undefeated seasons), but he's still a relative fan and media unknown next to the "big names." Most prospective Texas head coach search lists make no mention of him. This purports to be Steve Patterson's Big Board. They list 24 coaches. Andersen isn't anywhere to be found.
There's a case to be made for Andersen in his wins, but it's some of his losses that tell me the most.
September 19th, 2009
Betting Line: Texas A&M -20
Texas A&M- 38, Utah State- 30
Utah State was in College Station, Texas to collect a paycheck. That's what awful, struggling, resource-poor teams do to keep scholarships funded and training tables stocked. Performing this early season ritual of slaughter for cash is part and parcel of operating a football program that seats 25,000 in its stadium, averages half of that in attendance, and has a weight room that would make many Texas 5A high schools snicker.
The Utah version of the Aggies were limping in from a six year run where they'd gone 15-55. An abysmal record that held no hidden promise, no secret upward trajectory - in the last three years the Aggies were 6-30. Two wins per season.
They were led by a new coach named Gary Andersen, an exciting hire given his reputation as an elite defensive coordinator at Utah, but many were puzzled as to why Andersen would risk a sterling coordinator reputation to take a dead end job, lose most of his games, be fired, and suffer torment in rural Logan, Utah.
Andersen's reasoning was simple: he was ready to be a head coach. After he'd transformed arguably the worst team in America, big jobs would have to take notice of him. Jim Harbaugh had operated on a similar notion at San Diego.
Utah State was one of the worst three college jobs in America. And it seemed it had ever been so. The recruiting, resource, geographical, and cultural barriers to success were insurmountable. The previous year, before Andersen's arrival, Utah State had played Oregon, Utah, and Boise State and lost those three games 66-24, 58-10, and 49-14, respectively.
Let the slaughter commence.
Equipped with a moribund roster, on the road, and fielding a defense without a starter that could make A&M's three deep, the game was tied 14-14 after the first quarter.
Utah State's power spread offense was gouging the A&M defense for large gains and playing with surprising confidence and energy. A&M rallied to a 24-14 halftime lead, eventually extending that lead to 38-17 in the early 4th quarter against a slow Utah State defense.
Time for the blowout.
Not quite. The 4th quarter belonged to Utah State. First, a 58 yard drive that ended on downs, then a 10 play, 96 yard touchdown drive, and then another 12 play, 76 yard touchdown drive. Utah State ended the game with the ball at midfield, a touchdown and a two point conversion away from forcing overtime.
A&M fans left the game reeling. What had they just seen? Utah State was awful. What could this mean?
Andersen's team went on to an injury-riddled 4-8 season. Nothing to see here. Same old Utah State. Or was it? The Mountain Aggies finished a surprising 8-4 against the spread, losing three other games by a total of 11 points. They'd found their heart and brain. They just had no talent.
September 4th, 2010
Betting Line: Oklahoma -33
Oklahoma- 31, Utah State- 24
Another home season opener for Oklahoma, where Bob Stoops was 77-2 as head coach. Three years before, prior to Gary Andersen, the Aggies had come to Oklahoma and lost 54-3 for a $500,000 payment.
It was 21-0 OU by the early 2nd quarter, feeding off of early Utah State miscues. 54-3 seemed optimistic. But Utah State plugged on resolutely, rallied to win the 2nd quarter 10-0, and, amazingly, scored on their opening drive in the 3rd quarter. It was now 21-17. Sooner Nation, watching a 33 point underdog compete on equal terms despite markedly inferior athletes, was not amused.
The Sooners outgained the Aggies by one yard - 422-421- for the game. Landry Jones threw two interceptions against Utah State's shifting coverages. DeMarco Murray (35 carries for 200+ yards) and the Sooner OL dominated a tiny, depthless Aggie front and while the Aggies played maniacally, they couldn't overcome 4 turnovers and vastly superior Sooner talent.
This was not a subpar Sooner team. The next week, they blew out Florida State 47-17. Oklahoma went on to a 12 win season, were 5-1 against ranked teams, and won a BCS bowl.
Utah State had another 4-8 season. Andersen had brought back pride and effort and they'd matched the win total of the previous four years in his first two, but who really cares?
September 3, 2011
Betting Line: Auburn -23
Auburn- 42, Utah State- 38
In Year 3 of Andersen's tenure, Utah State started a true freshman QB from Houston named Chuckie Keeton (a two stars on Rivals, Andersen had wooed him from a commitment to the Air Force Academy) to play the defending national champions who, though without Cam Newton, were still a Top 25 team with a roster loaded with SEC athletes.
Utah State went toe-to-toe with Auburn the entire game, outgained them 448-364, and lost when Auburn scored two late touchdowns, including one off of an onside kick recovery, to erase a 10 point lead with 4:00 left. Auburn went on to win a respectable 9 games that year.
This Utah State team, though young and lacking depth, looked different. The Aggies had gone all-in on a youth movement of Andersen recruits (all two stars, but his two stars), had gotten noticeably faster, and were fundamentally superior to everyone they played.
Utah State went on to a 7-6 record - their first winning season since 1996 - despite losing their young QB Keeton against Hawaii in the 8th game of the season. They also played in a bowl game - something they'd done exactly 6 other times since the inception of their program.
With respect to their six losses, the margins were 10, 7, 4, 3, 3, 1, 1. They were 30 points away from an undefeated season. Even when facing more talented, much more experienced teams, the Aggies were proving impossible to separate from.
September 15, 2012
Betting Line: Wisconsin -14
Wisconsin- 16, Utah State- 14
Las Vegas wised up from the previous three years (Utah State's ability to punch above its weight class was now acknowledged) and only made Utah State two touchdown dogs in Madison.
Andersen's three hour job interview for his future employer featured the Aggies outgaining Wisconsin 308-234 with his characteristic attacking defense that he had built up from scratch from spare parts and the dregs of the recruiting lists (and would go on to be one of the best units in the country at 15.2 ppg allowed, despite playing in the offensively ridiculous 2012 WAC).
Utah State missed a 37 yard field goal that would have won the game with only seconds left on the clock.
They still went on to have a brilliant year. The greatest in school history. They dominated their competition for a 11-2 record (their other loss was by 3 points to BYU), had a blowout bowl win (the 2nd bowl win in all of Utah State history), and beat three different nine win teams.
They finished the year ranked #15 in the country. They had last been ranked in 1972.
Amazingly, they also finished the year 11-1-1 ATS. Even as bettors and Vegas came to understand that the Aggies were good and would always over-perform expectation, they still couldn't account for the difference properly.
That's four years of Gary Andersen. And four losses.
I hope the takeaway is obvious.
Who would want Gary Andersen? Look at all of the close games he's lost.