It was early last season, and Gary Andersen wasn't taking the loss easily, even though it was to the defending national champions. Utah State had built a 10-point lead over Auburn with 3:38 remaining, yet lost. Afterward, the USU coach grimly recounted to reporters the missed opportunities.
"The biggest thing we are going to take away from this game is we are done talking moral victories," the USU head coach said afterward. "There is none of that. We expected to come in here and play very well."
Translation: Save the gold stars for kindergarten.
Close only counts in horseshoes and mug shots.
Which is exactly why the Aggies signed him to a contract extension that could keep him in Logan until 2018, or Hades freezes over, whichever comes first. Friday could have been the latter. Last time USU beat both Utah and BYU in the same year was 1974.
"We didn't wait for any more wins, or signs of success," USU athletics director Scott Barnes said before Friday's 6-3 loss to BYU. "We want to keep him here until he retires."
This much was obvious in Friday's low-scoring contest: This isn't your father's Aggies — unless maybe you're over 30.
It's been that long since the BYU-Utah State series was all that interesting. It took two 11-yard bursts by Jamal Williams to run out the clock on Utah State. Otherwise, the Aggies would still be trying. So in the last three rivalry games, Utah State won big, lost in the closing seconds and came within three points.
"We're just lucky and glad that we won," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.
You have to figure it was the Auburn game last season when Barnes began thinking seriously about Andersen's second contract extension. He brought it up after the Idaho Potato Bowl last December and told Andersen if the Aggies got in the Mountain West Conference, a new deal would be forthcoming. When the MWC announcement came in the spring, Barnes told Andersen, "I said I'd be talking to you, so I'll be seeing you."
Thursday USU announced it was a done deal.
It's hard not to appreciate a coach who hates, really hates, being kinda good and sorta close.
"He conditions players to expect to win," Barnes said. "Whether it's Wisconsin or BYU."
Ah, yes, BYU, the team that nearly made the Old Wagon Wheel obsolete. That's the prize for winning the USU-BYU game, but hadn't been dusted off since the Bronze Age.
Andersen frames every interview to show he dislikes patronizing remarks about moral victories and fighting the good fight. What he does like is real, quantifiable results. Consequently, Friday's loss was never meant to go down as a moral victory. Nor did last year's, a game that had the Aggies leading with 11 seconds remaining.
Many Utah fans said after the Aggies beat the Utes this year that they didn't want their team to lose, but they were "happy" for the Aggies. That must have made Andersen grind his teeth. Just this week he let his displeasure show at playing BYU on consecutive years in Provo.
"Hopefully this is the last time we have to go back there two times in a row," he said. (Oops. Someone slip him a note: They are reportedly playing in Provo in 2014 and 2015. )
His memory may have blanked but the message was clear: He doesn't like playing two-for-ones against BYU and doesn't like being little brother, either. All of which helps explain why on Thursday Utah State announced it had extended Andersen's contract through 2018 and increased the salaries of his assistants. Incentives included, it could pay him up to $765,000 annually, incentives included. That's well below Bronco Mendenhall's estimated $900,000 salary or Kyle Whittingham's $2 million deal. But in Logan, that's a king's ransom.
There we go again, getting patronizing.
Either way, it was a far-sighted move for the Aggies. Andersen wants to win enough games that Utah and BYU not only respect him, but hate his guts. That day might soon come.
Friday in Provo, Andersen and USU didn't take back seat to anyone. His team led 3-0 until three seconds remained in the half and trailed by just three at the end of three quarters. An interception with 10:21 put USU in decent position.
Andersen certainly had BYU's attention.
In any case, the Aggies have what they wanted in a coach: Someone who will only accept the rivalries on equal terms. Anything else is for kids.