USU football: Gary Andersen's departure broke hearts in Cache Valley

By Jeff Potrykus

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Published: Tuesday, July 30 2013 5:00 p.m. MDT

Wisconsin head football coach Gary Andersen speaks duringa news conference at the Big Ten conference football media day Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

M. Spencer Green, AP

LOGAN — Gary Andersen's decision to leave Utah State for Wisconsin brought heartache to the Cache Valley.

"The sky was literally falling for our fans," Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes said.

The pain felt by Utah State's players and fans was short-lived because Andersen handled his departure with professionalism and class and because Barnes quickly promoted offensive coordinator Matt Wells to head coach.

"As soon as we hired Matt Wells it changed," Barnes said.

Wells, coincidentally, was introduced as Utah State's coach on the same day UW officials announced Andersen's hiring, Dec. 20.

From the time Andersen accepted the UW job Dec. 18 until Barnes hired Wells, strong emotions were palpable in the Utah State locker room and in the community.

"It was difficult because I love Gary to death," said senior linebacker Jake Doughty, one of the 100-plus players who received a phone call from Andersen, who wanted to explain his reasons for leaving for UW and the Big Ten. "I have all the respect in the world for him."

Yet when Doughty learned Andersen was leaving the Aggies his first thought was that his coach had gone back on his word.

Andersen, who needed only four seasons to lift a moribund program into the top 20 of both major polls, could have taken jobs at California or Colorado.

He turned down both offers and on Nov. 30 issued a release reaffirming his commitment to Utah State.

"He told everybody he was staying," Doughty said.

That was before Bret Bielema decided to leave UW for Arkansas, leaving athletic director Barry Alvarez looking for a new head coach.

The phone calls Andersen made one after another for hours the players were on break and scattered all over the country began to soothe the pain.

"He was very emotional," linebacker Zach Vigil said. "He was crying. I personally loved Coach A. I'm sure the players there love him, too, because that is the kind of guy he is."

Andersen explained last week at the Big Ten meetings that the emotions he felt during those calls matched the pain he felt speaking after his father's death.

Doughty listened closely to what Andersen had to say that night.

"And what really got to me was the sincerity in his voice," Doughty said. "He was in more pain than anybody in this room was by far. You could feel the emotional attachment he had to you when he called.

"And it takes a lot to call every single player. It wasn't just the big ones, the big names. He took his time to call everybody walk-ons and freshmen that haven't even done anything in the program yet. He called everybody.

"You could tell he was in pain. It was then when I could feel how sorry he was for putting us through this, that I realized he didn't go back on his word.

"He had an opportunity and he took it. I don't blame him for it. It is a bigger conference. I have no hard feelings at all."

Nor does Barnes, who hired Andersen away from Utah after the 2008 season. Barnes watched Andersen, a decorated defensive coordinator at Utah, build a program in four short seasons.

"It was extremely difficult because of the timing," Barnes said of Andersen's decision to leave. "We had just fended off two other BCS schools (California and Colorado) and he and I had sort of given each other a big hug and said we're done and let's get this thing going.

"Then Barry calls."

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