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December 19, 2012

Andersen is a logical hire for Wisconsin

MORE: A closer look at Gary Andersen

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Sunday afternoon, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told reporters and fans not to panic and that he would hire a good coach.

He delivered on his word late Tuesday night, hiring Gary Andersen from Utah State to replace Bret Bielema, who left two weeks ago to coach Arkansas.

According to Jon McNamara of BadgerBlitz.com, the hire was in line with the direction and history of the UW program.

"It seems like it a fit that makes sense for what Alvarez was looking for," McNamara said. "Barry started with defense, Bielema was defensive minded and Andersen is as well.

"It is building on the blocks that are already laid out at Wisconsin. It is a logical hire on paper."

Over the past four seasons, Andersen has been instrumental in one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football. He won 18 games in his last two years at Utah State -- the same number of games as two other coaches accumulated in Logan from 2002-08.

In 2010 Utah State nearly defeated Oklahoma -- losing 31-24 -- and beat BYU for the first time in 17 years. The next season, USU was an onside kick away from knocking off Auburn and then made its first bowl appearance in 14 years. This season, the Aggies went 11-2, won the WAC, defeated Utah and came within a missed field goal of defeating Wisconsin.

In late November, Andersen issued a statement designed to quiet rumors that linked his name to other jobs, saying, "I plan to remain the head football coach at Utah State University."

As the coaching carousel spun, those intentions changed once Wisconsin came around.

"He came very well recommended," McNamara said. "It is more than just the turnaround at Utah State that attracted Wisconsin to him."

Andersen has a history of strong defensive teams from his time at Utah in 2008 though this season when Utah State produced a top-15 unit.

The questions surrounding Andersen and his fit in Madison surround his offensive philosophy and ability to recruit the Midwest.

"I think Gary Andersen is a very good hire from a football standpoint although I am a bit concerned making a spread guy into a power run guy, but I think he's a good enough coach to make that transition," Rivals national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said.

"As a recruiter, he's a bit unproven because he's spent most of his career in Utah, but in talking to kids he's recruited in recent years, they rave about the way he works with kids and parents so I think he will fit in fine. At Wisconsin, it's more about finding kids and developing them than loading up on four- and five-stars, and he has proven he can do that."

Wisconsin has traditionally been a power running team and that figures to remain part of the formula -- Utah State has finished sixth and 25th in rushing the last two seasons -- but with a possible mixture of spread passing.

McNamara said that Alvarez left little room for gray area on the subject.

"From the start Barry has not hid the fact that he will want the new coach to stay similar offensively to what Wisconsin always runs," McNamara said. "I don't think that will be an issue for Andersen but maybe he will want to mix in more of the pass than usual.

"I think a lot of that comes back to how and what Wisconsin can recruit. Finding big, fairly athletic lineman in the state to run pro-style is a lot easier than finding the athletes to run a five-wide spread."

Josh Helmhodt, the Midwest regional recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said that the hire is a good one for the long term but may have short-term questions.

"From a recruiting standpoint there are very few, if any, players, parents, and coaches in this region who even know who Gary Andersen is," Helmholdt said. "I like the hire for Wisconsin and think he will be successful but he will need to get to work on keeping this class together."

The current recruiting class of Wisconsin has 17 commitments -- and has only lost one player, Tiquention Coleman of Milledgeville (Ga.) Georgia Military Academy since Bielema left.

The two most likely players to look around at other schools are Westerville (Ohio) South runningback Marcus Ball and Brookfield (Wisc.) East defensive end Alec James.

Both Ball and James are three-star prospects that remain committed to UW but each has expressed an interest to visit elsewhere.

Ball has been offered by Michigan and recently took a trip to Ann Arbor. James has seen his stock rise with Oregon, Michigan State, Florida State and Clemson expressing interest.

McNamara said that outside of those players the rest of the class should stay together.

"There are not many guys wavering," he said. "I think this class will stay intact, it is Wisconsin and kids want to come and play here. I don't think this should shake up the core of the class."

Moving forward, how Andersen assembles his staff could push the program forward or push players away.

"No matter who he has on staff, Andersen will not have a hard time recruiting Wisconsin," McNamara said. "That said, he doesn't really have any relationships with any of the current staff members and so he may come in and clean house and bring in all of his own people.

"The assistants he has right now have all been recruiting Utah, Arizona and California. Can that staff suddenly come in and recruit Illinois, Ohio, and Florida?"

The most compelling member of the current staff is running backs coach Thomas Hammock.

McNamara said that Hammock is well liked and is a solid recruiter and added that there may be a push to go and bring Charlie Partridge -- who left to join Bielema's staff at Arkansas -- back to Madison.

"The head coach isn't the guy out pounding the pavement in recruiting he is just the closer," McNamara said. "Some of these guys, namely Parker and Hammock, could really keep some ties to the Midwest for the program."

Helmholdt said that is where the staffing process can become a wait on judgment.

"People will have to familiarize themselves with him and his staff," Helmholdt said. "Coaches in the region will have to try to look into his schemes and until they are familiar with him it could slow things down.

"Obviously that is a short term standpoint but overall I think this will be a good hire."

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