LOGAN — One by one, each player answered a phone call that they appreciated but didn't want to take.
The call was from their football coach, Gary Andersen, explaining why just three weeks after he publicly — and emphatically — said Utah State was the place he wanted to be, he was taking a job in Wisconsin.
"I talked to him last night," said Utah State junior tight end Brad Theurer. "He let me know that he cared about me, and that he was trying to do what was best."
Like most, the Logan native was surprised when he first heard reports that Andersen was leaving the Aggies after just four years and their best season in decades. The players were still flying high after their win over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last Saturday, when their worst fears as a team were realized and a big-time school with millions of dollars stole their beloved head coach.
"I was surprised at first because we all knew he'd turned down offers," said Theurer, who walked on to the team in Brent Guy's last season (2007), and then left for two years to serve an LDS Church mission."But now I'm not surprised. And the players I've talked to, we're all positive and upbeat."
When the Logan High graduate returned to Utah State in 2010, he said the biggest difference was the caliber of young men Andersen and his staff had recruited.
"The biggest difference is the players and the caliber of people in the program," said Theurer. "I definitely believe Coach Andersen had a big impact, but it was because of the players he recruited."
And those players are now rallying around each other. They understand, for the most part, why the lure of coaching the Wisconsin Badgers was just too difficult to resist.
But they will miss the man who earned their love and respect by pushing them harder than anyone had.
"The way he coached was hard," said Theurer. "Tough love. He wanted us to do our best. He knew what we could do and he expected us to do it. He had high expectations for us."
He instilled that toughness in his players, and that's something that Theurer believes will remain a part of the Aggie program even after Andersen, and possibly many of his assistants, leave.
"I believe we can carry this on," said Theurer. "The players are in the system, and we bought into the mindset. I like the players and the leaders we have coming back. There are a lot of them Last night, it was all about the players. We're just going to accept whoever coaches; it's a player-driven team."
Andersen, who was an assistant at the University of Utah from 2004-2008, led Utah State to its first bowl victory in 19 years and its first conference title since 1936 this season. He took a program that languished at the bottom, quite literally, of all Division I football programs and led it to a No. 18 ranking.
The Aggies went from a program some argued should move to Div. II, or eliminate the sport altogether, to the state's best football program in 2012.
Utah State didn't just win football games, the program developed some impressive NFL talent, most recently running back Robert Turbin and linebacker Bobby Wagner, both of whom play for the Seattle Seahawks this season.
The players he recruited, while disappointed to lose their leader this week, are taking to heart one of Andersen's most important lessons — it is the players who matter most.
Andersen reminded his players every time they stepped onto the field that while he could teach them, push them and care for them — he couldn't win a single game for them.
"He always say, 'Players make plays and players win games,'" said Theurer. "He said it before games. He said the coaches could not show up and it wouldn't matter because we were the ones playing the game. They were just a little part."
Theurer said most of the players feel a debt of gratitude to Andersen, including himself.
"Coach did a lot for me, and it meant a lot to me personally," he said. "Being a local person, I was excited to have him here, to play here. He put me on scholarship (2011) and that was a really neat thing."
While many of the players declined to speak publicly about Andersen and how they feel about his departure, they echo Theurer's sentiment about what fans should be prepared for next season.
"The fans should know the players are optimistic and excited for another season," he said, noting that the upperclassmen were rallying the team even before Andersen has formally been announced as Wisconsin's next head coach. "We're excited for next year. We want to do it better than we did this year. It's going to be a good year."
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