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August Miller, Deseret News
Gary Andersen, current defensive coordinator at the University of Utah poses on the balcony of the Jim and Carol Laub practice facility after speaking at a news conference where he is named the new head football coach of Utah State University.

LOGAN — Gary Andersen was introduced to the crowded room of Utah State fans, boosters and media Thursday afternoon and wasted no time in winning over the crowd.

"When I woke up this morning," Andersen said about his first day as USU's football coach, "the first thing I learned ... is I think I look pretty dang good in blue."

Andersen, a long-time assistant coach and defensive coordinator for the University of Utah, joins the Aggies as they are coming off a 3-9 record the past season and a mark of just 9-38 over the past four years under Brent Guy.

"I love challenges," Andersen said. "But you have to know how to pick your challenges ... and this is a challenge that's very attainable."

Making rapid improvements in the Western Athletic Conference is an immediate priority for Andersen. The past season USU went 3-5 in the conference and narrowly lost two other games on late-game drives or last-second field goals.

Taking the Aggies to the top third of the conference is a goal Andersen said is more than reachable.

"My job is to take the (team) to the cream of the crop (in the WAC). What is that? It's Boise State," Andersen said. "Here we come."

Andersen said he and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham have not made a decision about whether the new Utah State coach will stay with the Utes through the upcoming bowl game. He may coach the team actively or he may simply attend the game and watch from the sidelines.

Whatever the case, Andersen said his focus has shifted.

"My number one priority is here," he said. "Period."

The hiring and official introduction of Andersen to Aggie fans, boosters and players wraps up a whirl-wind period of almost three weeks at Utah State since Guy was fired on Nov. 16.

Andersen quickly emerged as USU's top candidate from a field of applicants that included former Aggie players Kent Baer and Michael Canales, UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker and ex-USU coach John L. Smith.

"Gary Andersen won the interview," Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes said. "We found the right candidate in a pool of applicants that was significant."

Andersen will sign a 5-year contract worth an estimated $350,000 per year including perks and benefits. He leaves a Utah program that is playing well and is headed to its second BCS bowl in five season. He will take over a USU team that appears to be headed in the right direction, but one that has experienced precious little success on the field.

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"He made a great first impression," senior USU linebacker Jake Hutton, who was part of a group of players that met with Andersen on Tuesday as part of the final interview process. "He definitely seemed like the kind of guy I want to play for."

The Aggies open the 2009 season at Utah — a school Andersen was the head coach for in 2003.

With Andersen now in place in Logan, many Aggie fans — including several in attendance at his introductory press conference — might question his loyalties to Utah State after graduating and spending 11 years as a coach at Utah.

"I'm a Utah guy," Andersen said. "A Utah State guy."

E-mail: jeborn@desnews.com