Not long after Wisconsin humiliated Nebraska in last season’s Big Ten Championship Game, head coach Bret Bielema announced he was leaving the school for the same position at Arkansas, a shocking move when you consider how much success Bielema had with the Badgers. But our good buddy Bert was getting his scowl in a bunch over his inability to retain assistant coaches due to, as he tells it, Wisconsin’s tight purse strings. To be fair, his staff had just been raided by Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst, so maybe he had a point.
Then again, Nick Saban has won three national titles in the past four years. How many assistants from his 2009 staff were still on board in 2012? Three.
So shut up, you big baby.
Uncharacteristically, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez had the good sense (desperation?) to consult Urban Meyer and replaced the insufferable Bielema with probably way more sufferable Utah State head coach (and former Meyer assistant) Gary Andersen, hot off an 11-2 season that included a WAC championship and a 2-point loss at Camp Randall.
Andersen is undoubtedly Utah State’s best coach ever, leading the team to their first double-digit win season and amassing 26 wins in four years. That doesn’t sound like much to Buckeye fans, but the Aggies had won just 9 in the four seasons prior to Andersen’s arrival. In 2011 and 2012, the team finished above .500 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1980. They hadn’t even had a single winning season since 1996. In case you can’t fathom how long ago that was, this was the #1 song back then.
It’s tempting to think that Andersen might install some of Meyer’s read option concepts, but don’t bet on it. Alvarez has made it perfectly clear that Badgers coaches are expected to pattern their offensive philosophy after his own and so far, it’s been a successful formula. It’s also worth noting that Andersen is not really primarily from the “Meyer tree” as is generally implied. He spent six years on Utah’s staff under coach Ron McBride before moving on to the head job at Southern Utah when Meyer took over the Utes. Andersen returned to Utah for the magical 2004 season and remained on the staff under Kyle Whittingham after Meyer left for Florida. While he’s certainly not a stranger to the inner workings of Meyer’s offense, he’s not exactly a disciple either.
My biggest question with Andersen is whether he’s ready to lead a top program. While Ohio State and Michigan seemed poised to once again become the Big Two, there is still room at the top for a team like Wisconsin, especially if the rumored geographical division alignment separates the Badgers from both of those teams. (And there’s always the chance that Brady Hoke is as lousy of a coach as I think he is.) Andersen’s resume consists entirely of last season. Three of his five seasons ended with just four wins. Compared to the career trajectories of the most successful coaches in the BCS era, Andersen is severely lacking in the experience department. Even Meyer’s meteoric rise included pushing two programs (quickly) beyond their expectations.
Maybe that’s not what Wisconsin’s looking for. Maybe they don’t need their coach to be Urban Meyer (or Saban, Miles, Carroll, Brown, etc.). But wouldn’t they want that? Bielema–as clownish and douchey as he was–had the Badgers on the doorstep of greatness. And ultimately, it’s his fault that they will now take a step back. His blindside departure left Alvarez scrambling for a suitable replacement. I mean, he called the Ohio State head coach for help. This was not a coaching search that was going smoothly. Regardless of the official word, I would bet a million of these that Boise State’s Chris Petersen was offered this job.
But hey, maybe Andersen will pan out. If Wisconsin doesn’t immediately turn on him for not piling up wins right out of the gate, he could end up being a good fit for the Alvarez Mini-Me System.
Ridiculously Early And Entirely Baseless Prediction for 2013: 6-6 (Losses to Arizona State, Ohio State, Northwestern, BYU, Iowa, Penn State)