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Brandon Judd, Deseret News
Utah associate head coach/defensive line coach Gary Andersen talks with the media following the Utes' first practice of spring camp in the Spence Eccles Field House on Monday, March 5, 2018 in Salt Lake City.
It feels good to be in red. —Gary Andersen

SALT LAKE CITY — The coaching odyssey of Gary Andersen, the newest University of Utah assistant football coach, is well-known.

There were stints in Louisiana, Idaho and Arizona. There were the 11 seasons he spent at the U., with a year-long tour-of-duty at Southern Utah smack dab in the middle.

His success at Utah, for which he was named a finalist for the 2008 Broyles Award, led to greater opportunities, like head coaching gigs at Utah State, Wisconsin and Oregon State.

During the course of his 20-plus year coaching career, Andersen did what a college football coach is "supposed" to do. He climbed the proverbial ladder and eventually coached on some of football's biggest stages.

He helmed a conference championship-winning program, was there when Camp Randall Stadium "jumped around," battled the likes of LSU and Ohio State, and unlike some recent Big Ten teams, left Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium victorious.

His tenure at Oregon State, while disappointing, gave him the chance to coach in the Rose Bowl (not the bowl game, but the stadium), the Coliseum (the one in Los Angeles) and play part in the Civil War (Oregon vs. Oregon State).

For most head coaches with that type of experience, a perceived step back to assistant status would be unwelcome.

That is, however, not the case for Andersen.

“It is awesome (to be back at Utah). It feels good to be in red. It has been a while, a few years,” said Andersen. “You go through what you go through in life and you get a real good idea of where you want to be. For me, that is this university.”

His reasoning is simple. As far as Andersen is concerned, Utah puts its student-athletes first, which is something he believes in wholeheartedly.

“From the top of the administration, from Chris Hill all the way down, athletics is still all about the student-athlete at the University of Utah,” Andersen said. “A lot of people preach that, a lot of people talk that, but it is in the actions at Utah.

"That is who I am and I refuse to change. I am about the students first and Kyle (Whittingham’s) program is always going to be run that way, the University of Utah is always going to be run that way, and it is a blessing to be a part of it.”

The "demotion" to assistant head coach and defensive line coach, with his emphasis being defensive tackles, is anything but that for Andersen.

Rather, it gives him the opportunity to do what he loves most — interact with the players.

“It has been a big breath of fresh air for me to be back in the room consistently with a group of kids and really, functionally, sit down (with them),” Andersen said. “I can focus on the defenses that I want to look at or the technique of the young men. If I want to watch film for five hours a day I can; there are a lot less distractions.

“It has been awesome,” he continued. “It is a special group to be around, a great group of kids. If you watch them practice you’ll see they’ve got their minds set on some pretty special things. They have been awesome and let me into their world and I appreciate it.”

Andersen attributes the relatively adjustment-free transition back to the U. to the players.

“The young men need to let you in and I think they have,” Andersen said. “We have been able to communicate and talk and I think that is a credit to the young men.”

His relationship with Whittingham only made the transition easier.

“Our bond is as strong as it was, maybe even stronger from all the things we have been through,” Andersen said. “I have a big smile on my face when I wake up because I know we are all pushing in the same direction.”

That direction is pointed straight toward the top of the Pac-12.

“Our goal is to help these kids play in some very, very meaningful games late in the season, to be in a position to play some big-time games,” he said. “That is what we are all working for.”