SALT LAKE CITY — Gary Andersen is back home.
The one-time head football coach for the Aggies has returned to Cache Valley and is ready for a second opportunity to make Utah State an “elite” football program.
“What a great day to be a Utah State Aggie,” director of athletics John Hartwell said Tuesday as the university introduced Andersen back to the university. “This is really, really exciting.”
Andersen, who was first named the Aggies coach from 2009-12 when the team was part of the WAC, said he was happy to be back in Cache Valley and had every intention to be back in the valley in his retirement. Instead, the Salt Lake City native got another opportunity to lead the program where he first became a head coach.
“We never sold our house here when we left, and the boys were still in college. We will move back there now,” Andersen said. “That house is no longer a frat house, it’s my house again now.
“Cache Valley is where we wanted to be, and anybody that’s known us has known that for a long time,” he added. “I don’t have plans to go jump here and go coach there and go do this. I would love to stay somewhere for a long period of time and build a team that is a consistent winner.”
Andersen said he planned to return to the university as a defensive coordinator in the offseason. But when former coach Matt Wells accepted a head coaching position at Texas Tech, a chance to be the head guy at Utah State was too hard to pass up. This time, though, Andersen’s program will be part of the Mountain West Conference and will have an improved atmosphere at Maverik Stadium since he last walked the sidelines.
Andersen will officially start as the head coach on Jan. 7 and will give the current roster an opportunity to finish out the season with the coaches and system they’ve come to know in their upcoming New Mexico Bowl appearance against North Texas. He said he’ll address the team later Tuesday and will wish them luck, but will be absent from the bowl game to let the “2018 Aggies” have their moment.
In the interim, Andersen will prepare for the University of Utah’s bowl game against Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 31. Andersen said he has some “unfinished business” in Utah’s bowl game and will take over the Utah State program full-time after then. He will, however, get to work immediately hiring his offensive and defensive coordinators, noting that he wants to be patient with the hiring process to set Utah State up with the best coaches possible for the program and its athletes.
“The one thing that I’m going to do this time that I’ve done a little different is I will take my time,” he said. “I’d like to get those coordinators and know who they are; I’d like to get them solidified. But then I’d like those coordinators to feel comfortable and be involved in the process with those other assistants. That’s vital to this process, and I’ve learned that over time.”
Andersen said he’s already been in conversations with an individual who wants to be the defensive coordinator, noting that “there’s very few people, right now, that I would say I want you to do the defense.” He added that “that guy is there and is solidified, which would be awesome.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Andersen said he’ll begin this week to start the process to hire an offensive coordinator; however, he said the offensive system will be “very similar” to what Utah State has been running.
Although a second opportunity to run the same program, Andersen said he has changed and will do some things differently. But said his program will always be about the athletes and helping them succeed in life and on the football field.
He added that he intends to make Utah State an elite destination for a long time; that he wants to consistently have “great and elite” seasons, in which the Aggies consistently win eight or more games a season. Andersen views eight or more wins as a great season and double-digit wins in a season as elite.
“I would love to get Utah State to the point where consistently we’re seeing those types of efforts, where it’s great and elite,” he said. “It’s hard to do. It’s easy to sit up here and talk about those things. But a consistent winner would be something of an absolute dream of mine to bring that to Utah State.”
An opportunity to play Utah
With the hiring of Andersen to Utah State, a question was asked during the introductory press conference about whether the Aggies could start scheduling the University of Utah more in football due to Andersen’s ties to the program. Andersen deferred the question to Hartwell who said he had hopes of resuming the in-state rivalry.
Hartwell, though, said the status of the Utah State program has improved and that he would no longer accept Utah’s former offers of a two-and-one schedule — two games at Utah to one game at Utah State.
“We would love to have them back,” Hartwell said. “But as I’ve mentioned before in the media, it’s not about a guaranteed game down there. Our program is at a level where we shouldn’t be playing anybody — anybody like that should be a home-and-home. It should not be a two-for-one or anything like that.”