MADISON, Wis. — Utah State coach Gary Andersen is set to become the next football coach at Wisconsin, according to multiple media outlets.
The Wisconsin State Journal was the first to report the news, citing a source close to the Badgers’ football program, which said Andersen was athletic director Barry Alvarez’s top choice to take over for Bret Bielema, who left for the head coaching job at Arkansas. The State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel both reported that Andersen had agreed to take the job, as did The Salt Lake Tribune late Tuesday night.
According to the Tribune, Andersen is expected to take most, if not all, of his coaching staff with him. Utah State offensive coordinator Matt Wells turned down a job at North Carolina State, and Aggies defensive coordinator Dave Aranda turned down a position at Texas Tech, presumably to join Andersen at Wisconsin.
Wisconsin can’t make an official hiring announcement until the end of business on Wednesday under the university’s hiring rules that require the position to be posted for at least two weeks. An announcement could be made as soon as Thursday.
Andersen led Utah State to an 11-2 season and a No. 18 ranking in the Associated Press poll. Utah State hammered Toledo, 41-15, in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday to win its first bowl game since 1994. The Aggies won the Western Athletic Conference title outright and will likely finish the season ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 1961.
Utah State nearly toppled Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium earlier this season before falling, 16-14, when Aggies kicker Josh Thompson missed a 37-yard field goal with six seconds remaining.
Andersen, 48, spent four seasons in charge at Utah State and helped turn around the Aggies’ program. Utah State finished 4-8 in each of his first two seasons before a 7-6 campaign in 2011 and the first of two straight appearances in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Andersen is 26-24 at Utah State, including 16-13 in WAC play. Utah State finished 9-38 in the previous four seasons before Andersen.
In addition to serving as a head coach at Utah State, Andersen was head coach for one season at Southern Utah, where he finished 4-7 in 2003.
Andersen possesses a defensive background, which likely appeals to Alvarez. Andersen served as defensive coordinator at Utah from 2004-08 before accepting the head coaching position at Utah State. Bielema, the hand-picked successor to Alvarez, spent two seasons as a defensive coordinator at Wisconsin under Alvarez before becoming the Badgers’ head coach. Alvarez also was a defensive coordinator at Notre Dame when he accepted the head coaching job at Wisconsin in 1990.
Utah State runs a spread offense, but because Andersen is a defensive-minded coach, he likely would bend to Alvarez’s preference to maintain a run-first pro-style offense at Wisconsin. The Badgers have consistently had one of the top rushing offenses in the country and rank No. 12 nationally in that category this season (237.8 yards per game).
In 2008, Andersen was named a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the top assistant coach in college football. He also coached for the Utes from 1997-2002, serving as a defensive line coach, special teams coordinator and later assistant head coach.
This season, Utah State ranks No. 15 nationally in total defense (322.1 yards per game) and eighth in scoring defense (15.4 points per game). Both numbers are significant achievements considering where the Aggies began under Andersen. Utah State ranked No. 113 in total defense in Andersen’s first season (455.1 yards per game) and No. 107 in scoring defense (34.0 points per game).
A considerable raise could be coming Andersen’s way as well. He is making $600,000 per year at Utah State. When Bielema left Wisconsin, his salary was $2.7 million annually.
Andersen had been a head coaching candidate at California and Colorado in the past few weeks but released a statement in late November that he would remain at Utah State. It seems the offer from Wisconsin — a program set to play in its third consecutive Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 — was too good to pass up.