By now, most folks know that Andersen lead a previously moribund Utah State program to an 11 win season and a dominating victory over Toledo in the WORLD FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL. Since most of Andersen's career was deep in the land of jello salads and fry sauce (I'm talking about Utah), many of our midwestern friends may not know much more about the man who is likely going to be our biggest non-Michigan conference foil for the next few years.
Luckily, Land-Grant Holy Land has a SPECIAL MORMON CORRESPONDENT to cover important Buckeye stories along the Wasatch Front. I've been waiting for this moment for like, five years. Finally. I am useful.
Andersen's football career started as a All-American center at Ricks College, a JUCO in Idaho that has since transformed to 4-year Brigham Young University-Idaho. Probably after realizing they'd never find another linemen as good as Andersen, the school dropped their athletic program in the early 2000s. He transferred to the University of Utah to play football and finish his degree in Political Science, and then shortly started his actual coaching career.
Anderson bounced around the mountain west, serving as an offensive line coach at Ricks, then coaching defensive linemen at Idaho State, Northern Arizona, and even a brief sojourn as the headman at Park City high school. In 1997, he started his career in Big Time Football as the defensive line coach at Utah, under Ron McBride, who had managed to rebuild the program after a long period of irrelevance. Kyle Wittingham, the current head coach of Utah, was the school's defensive coordinator at the time.
The Utes were competitive during Andersen's initial tenure, winning the Mountain West in their inaugural season in 1999, a year where they also had two defensive linemen drafted. They went 8-4 in 2001 and won the Las Vegas Bowl in a defensive slugfest over USC, who was quarterbacked by some guy named Carson Palmer. Andersen's 5 years as defensive line coach at Utah ended with a more than respectable 39-29 record, with two bowl victories and four defensive linemen drafted or signed as free agents by NFL teams. He left after the 2002 season to serve as head coach for FCS Southern Utah.
Andersen's first year at an underfunded FCS Independent ended with a 4-7 record. He was saved from spending the next several years toiling in football purgatory by a some guy named Urban Meyer, who tapped him to return to his alma mater as defensive line coach. That 2004 Utah Ute squad has gone down in history as the original BCS Buster, holding teams to under 20 points per game, and steamrolled through their schedule, culminating in their 35-7 beatdown of Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. Defensive tackle Sione Pouha was taken in the 3rd round of the draft, and Urban split for greener pastures. Kyle Wittingham was made head coach, and Gary Andersen was promoted to defensive coordinator, where he would serve for three seasons.
Utah struggled a little in their first season without Urban, going 7-5 while beating Georgia Tech 38-10 in the Emerald Bowl. They went 8-5 the next year, beating Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, and sent another defensive tackle to the NFL (Paul Soliai, 4th round). They improved again in 2009, steamrolling #11 UCLA 44-6 in the regular season, finishing with a 9-4 record and a Poinsettia bowl victory over Navy.
Utah's crowning achievement was the 2008 season, when they went undefeated, clobbered Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and finished #2 in the final AP Poll. The Utes defeated top 25 Michigan, TCU and BYU squads that year, held every single team under 30 points and to an average of 17.2 points per game, and sent three defensive starters to the draft. Utah State came calling after the Ute's triumph, and Andersen took the call to lead the squad in Logan.
Utah State had been a bit of a wasteland before Andersen, and even though they finished only 4-8 in that first season, they already showed improvements, losing by single digits in half of their losses. They went 4-8 again in 2010, but beat archrival BYU, and sent cornerback Curtis Marshall to the Philadelphia Eagles.
After a few years to get his recruits acclimated to his system, the Aggies finally hit paydirt in 2011, making the Potato bowl and losing a heartbreaker to the Ohio Bobcats 24-23. Utah State finished 7-6, and nearly beat Auburn, Colorado State and BYU.
For the "TL;DR b/c Utah" crowd, here are the key takeaways: Andersen has never had the benefit of rich recruiting grounds. Even during the peak of the Utah BCS-buster era, the school had to fight tooth and nail with BYU, the Arizonas and a myriad of California schools over the few prospects in the area. He's had to develop guys who are farther down the Rivals and Scouts charts his entire career, and has found success, particularly on defense, throughout his career.
Getting back to the Rose Bowl immediately may be a tall order for Wisconsin, given the huge coaching turnover and a rising juggernaut in Columbus, but Andersen's background (despite his lack of connection to the midwest), familiarity with Urban Meyer's spread and willingness to troll his rival's fanbases should set himself up well in the future, and make Wisconsin a worthy adversary for Ohio State. If you can develop 1st day NFL draft talent in Salt Lake City, and build a winner in Logan, there won't be too much in the Big Ten that you'll be totally unprepared for.
Except the drinking. Take it from me coach, there is nothing in Salt Lake or Logan that is going to prepare you for ANYTHING you're going to see in Madtown. Badgers gonna booze.