LOGAN — Gary Andersen probably could be settling into a new job right now at a more prominent Division I program, making bigger bucks with more highly touted recruits.
Instead, the coach of the 18th-ranked Utah State Aggies is gearing up to play Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl while continuing to enjoy the view from his balcony overlooking Cache Valley in rural northern Utah.
Right beside him are his prized Great Danes, appropriately named Aggie and Big Blue. And don't forget the Utah State flag flying outside his home and the Aggies logo tattooed on his right shoulder.
"I hear people say, 'You're nuts,' " Andersen said of his recent announcement that he had pulled his name out of the tempting coaching merry-go-round despite being a hot prospect. "There's a lot more to life than money."
A quick glance at Andersen's office in Logan shows where his priorities are — on his family and his kids, both his own and those who play for him at the school 90 minutes north of Salt Lake City, where Andersen was born.
His favorite item in the room is the military case containing the flag that was draped over his father's casket, front and center next to his computer.
It was his father who supported him as a walk-on at Ricks College when no one else wanted him. It was his father who helped him follow a crazy dream to coach even after he drove cross-country in 1988 for a $10,000-a-year job as an assistant at Southeastern Louisiana — only to see the program cut after six months.
"He was the driving force and he (still) helps me big-time when I make the decisions I've got to make," said Andersen, 48.
A close second are photos of twin sons Chasen and Hagen in Logan High School football uniforms, making plays during a 14-0 season that culminated with a 4A state championship.
Both are headed to Utah State in January and will be freshmen in 2013, joining older brother Keegan, a tight end who will be a junior next season.
Jars filled with candy sit atop Andersen's desk, and the cupboards are full of crackers, cookies and that college staple, Top Ramen.
"The kids filter through here all day long," Andersen said. "It's a family atmosphere and I want that for my assistant coaches, too."
It's why players know where Andersen lives, and are welcome at his home anytime.
Over Thanksgiving, he and wife Stacey had about four dozen players over for dinner, catering not cooking, but making sure there was even soul food for members of his culturally diverse team.
"You're going to have a hard time pulling her out of this place," Andersen said of his wife. "She always wanted to be around the kids and can do that here and feel like she's making a difference."
Most would say the same about Andersen, who was hired Dec. 4, 2008, to take over just as the Utah Utes were gearing up for the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Andersen was Utah's defensive coordinator under longtime friend Kyle Whittingham, and would go back and forth for a month between Logan and Salt Lake and eventually on to New Orleans as the BCS-busting Utes trampled Alabama to cap a perfect season.
Afterward, Andersen settled in at Utah State, intent on rebuilding the Aggies after they had gone a combined 9-38 the previous four seasons.
He did it his way, battling through a pair of 4-8 records until turning the corner with a come-from-behind win over Hawaii in 2011 and closing the season with five straight victories before a berth in the Potato Bowl.
Now the Aggies, who join the Mountain West next year, are headed back to Boise — with Andersen under contract through 2018.
He said it's not unrealistic that he could stay at Utah State forever.
He loves the type of player he gets to recruit, and living in a town known for its blue-collar work ethic.
"It's how I was raised and what I believe ... how you can develop a kid and push him to become a hard worker and tough-minded," Andersen said. "That's what the Cache Valley is, a small community where you're accountable for your actions daily. I get to coach the kind of kids I like to coach and for me the Cache Valley is what I grew up in. It is what Salt Lake City was when I was 8 to 18 years old. A part of me likes that."
He enjoys living the simple life, with Sunday night family dinners, and a new tradition started last year of a one-week vacation. After last season it was San Diego and the Wild Animal Park and Sea World.
He's not sure yet about this year.
"They want to go on a cruise, but I know I'll get seasick," Andersen said.
It's an honest answer from a coach the players trust.
Star defensive back Will Davis recalled the recruiting trip he took to Logan about two years ago.
He still planned to visit Hawaii, but Andersen convinced him to commit right then and there.7 comments on this story
"He said, 'I'll take you to Hawaii and we'll go down there, get the win and beat them up a little,'" Davis said of a game on the Aggies' 2011 schedule. "He just sold me. I put my trust in a man who's very trustworthy. Sure enough, we went to Hawaii and we beat them.
"He didn't guarantee me a championship," said Davis, a senior on a team that won the Western Athletic Conference title this year with a 10-2 record. "He just guaranteed me I'd be part of a change. He knew we were going to turn it around. His vision is beyond this year. I can't even fathom to think what he's thinking in that head. He has something huge in mind for Utah State. But if he does go on (eventually), I don't think anyone would be mad because we want the best for him."