Losing a coach doesn't mean a program is doomed or must suffer

Published: Saturday, Dec. 22 2012 8:43 p.m. MST

Matt Wells speaks at a press conference Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, in Logan, Utah, announcing that he will be the new football coach at Utah State. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)

Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Once word arrived that Gary Andersen was leaving Utah State for Wisconsin, Aggie fans began to feel the hurt. The hope of having a long-term football coach had vanished like Altie Taylor on a breakaway run.

What now for Aggie football, another half-century of obscurity? Another few decades of reliving the Taylor and Merlin Olsen eras?

Not necessarily.

Sometimes you find the missing keys in your pocket.

USU took only hours to decide who would lead its team after Andersen went all cheesehead. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells was introduced at a Thursday press conference. He was the obvious choice as the new head coach. He was close, available and had ties to Logan. He also played on the last pre-Andersen Aggie bowl team.

Plus, he loves the ice cream.

"Aggie Ice Cream," he said, when asked what he remembers from his playing days. "Aggie Blue Mint Ice Cream and the snow."

Does this guy know Logan, or what?

All he needs now is to mention the Bluebird Restaurant and he can run for mayor.

That's not saying Wells will never leave. If Andersen taught USU fans anything, it's that their school is still a stop-off. At the same time, Andersen never had natural ties to Logan, despite his fondness for it. He spent virtually all his coaching career at Utah before taking the USU job. Now Logan is just a quaint reminder of the days when he scraped by on a mid-six-figure income.

At Wisconsin, he'll earn enough money to buy Sheboygan.

As for Wells, this is his first head coaching job. He was hired as the team's quarterbacks coach in 2011, then moved to offensive coordinator. It worked out wonderfully. The Aggies finished the 2012 season ranked 23rd in the nation in total offense, 25th in rushing, 39th in passing and 33rd in scoring.

For a program that for many years couldn't score touchdowns, it was a fine sight.

Beyond that, Wells has a decent resume. He has been an assistant at New Mexico, Louisville, Tulsa and Navy. He's 39 years old — experienced enough to lead, yet young enough to relate.

"This university is a very different place than it was a few years ago," President Stan Albrecht reassured boosters. "We've gone through those cycles that so many of you lived through, where a coaching change meant starting over. We're not starting over."

In some ways, he's right. USU is upgrading to the Mountain West Conference next season. Its fundraising has drastically improved and a strength and conditioning center will be ready next year. Wells has had two years to acclimate.

It's a natural assumption that when great coaches leave, the program sinks into oblivion. Not always. All Aggie fans need to do is look down the road for reassurance. Kyle Whittingham succeeded Urban Meyer at Utah and took the Utes to seven straight bowl games, including a Sugar Bowl win. Who knew?

Although Whittingham has struggled in the Pac-12, he could hardly be called a failure. He might be considered a lifer.

Chris Petersen was offensive coordinator at Boise State when Dan Hawkins left for Colorado. All Petersen did was win a pair of Fiesta Bowls.

Bronco Mendenhall and LaVell Edwards were assistants at BYU before succeeding as head coaches.

Chip Kelly was Oregon's offensive coordinator before taking over the top spot in 2009. Gary Patterson was TCU's defensive coordinator before leading the team in 2000. Mike Gundy was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before becoming head coach. New Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was defensive coordinator before becoming head coach at Wisconsin.

There are also cases where assistant coach replacements didn't work out. But if Aggie fans are feeling a bit abandoned, they should remember that coaches come and go. With a few exceptions, they don't stay long at one place.

Big Blue fans would do well not to worry unduly. They just need to repeat a time-tested adage that often still applies: There's plenty more where that came from.

Email: rock@desnews.com Facebook: rockmonsterunplugged Twitter: therockmonster

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