Coach Gary Anderson: boom or bust at Utah State?

Gary Anderson
Gary Anderson returns to the roots of his success at Utah State. Will this time around be as successful as before?

Gary Anderson has had one of the more interesting histories among the 130 FBS head coaches.

He’s been from Southern Utah to Utah State to Wisconsin to Oregon State to Utah (assistant) and now back to Utah State.

His first stint at USU was impressive, but since then it’s been like that old song, “The Long and Winding Road”. 

With potholes.

So, will Gary Anderson be as successful at Utah State this time as he was last time?

He is widely popular in the state of Utah and his resume’ is generally one of success as he only needed four seasons to rebuild Utah State from a losing program into an 11-2 winner and a national ranking in 2012.  And those two losses?  They were by a combined  five points to two top-30 teams. 

It was enough for Wisconsin to come a-callin’. Anderson left Logan, Utah for Madison, Wisconsin and, just like before, he made his new program better. After finishing 9-4 in 2013, he led the Badgers to ten wins in 2014, a Big-10 divisional championship, and an invitation to play defending national champion Auburn in a bowl game.

But, between the end of that great season and the beginning of that prestgious bowl game,  Gary Anderson did the most-remarkable thing.

He quit.

Not only that, he announced that he was headed to perennial pansy Oregon State—and—he was doing it despite a $3-million invoice from Wisconsin for not fulfilling his contract.

With a roster depleted by poor recruiting before he arrived, Anderson managed to get two wins in his first season (2015) at Oregon State and four the next, suggesting once again that he had some kind of magic.

Then, he stunned us again.

He quit.

Again.

In the middle of the 2017 season.

This time with a $12.2-million dollar invoice.

It seems clear that Gary Anderson is a man with very strong convictions and, apparently, the bank account to afford them.

Strong convictions, but maybe not such strong honesty because back there in Wisconsin, he had told them he was leaving because he wanted that home-town feel that he was accustomed to.  Yet, after some pressure, he admitted that he left because recruiting at Wisconsin was too hard what with UW’s strict admission standards and all, something he perhaps should have considered more thoroughly before he took the job.

When he left Oregon State, he didn’t explain himself well either. He could have pointed to OSU’s defense yielding 45 points per game through the first half of 2017 or that his recruiting sucked because Corvallis, Oregon doesn’t have a commercial airport, something he perhaps should have considered more thoroughly before he took the job.

Then, in one of the oddest things I’ve seen in sports in decades, Anderson agreed that his texts to an Oregon sports columnist during those tumultuous days could be printed unredacted on OregonLive.com. In those texts, he essentially called unnamed assistants idiots while complaining that he had hired the wrong #@(*% guys.

We’ve all known the issues at Wisconsin for a long time— admission standards, heavy-handed Barry Alvarez— and I am certain Anderson also knew.  But, I think he is like a lot of us.  The prestige of Wisconsin was more than he could resist.  Problems be damned!  This was about money, resume’, and ego.

We’ve all known for a long time that Corvallis doesn’t have a commercial airport.  But, I think Anderson is like a lot of us—the grass in Corvallis is very, very green.  Its an incredible town and for someone looking for a breath of fresh air, Anderson couldn’t have chosen a better place.  Besides, if anyone could overcome the limitations in Corvallis, it was him.  He had done it every place he had ever been.

Maybe it was misguided.  Maybe it was knee-jerk.  Maybe it was reckless, but one thing you can say for Gary Anderson is that he doesn’t sit around and think about things for very long.

At Utah State, Anderson will have a lot to live up to because the Aggies won ten in a row last season and finished 11-2, 16th-ranked, and had a surprising blow-out win over a very good North Texas team in the New Mexico Bowl.

WIth new coaches, new schemes, and the need to get everything lined up his way, it is unlikely that  he or anyone who doesn’t carry the initials NS would win ten in a row in 2019.  

However, the Aggies have more returning production than almost any team in the entire nation (#2 on Savvy) and they also have a peripheral Heisman quarterback in Jordan Love, so  the cupboard isn’t bare by any means.

2019.Utah State.Jordan Love
Jordan Love of Utah State was one of the best in 2018 after 417 passing attempts and just six interceptions.

And, the schedule is conducive to success as well.  Some would say it is easier than last year because Wake Forest replaces Michigan State and Boise State, Fresno State, and San Diego State all need quarterbacks.

The opener against Wake Forest is likely to be Savvy-predicted as a solid Utah State win despite preseason pundits calling it a tossup.  Utah State is Savvy-ranked second in the nation for returning production. Wake Forest is 27th.  Utah State has the 13th-best quarterback situation while Wake Forest is currently unsettled and ranked 79th. Utah State is on a three-year upward trend on Savvy while Wake Forest is in a three-year downward trend, although that trend is not major.

Stony Brook is next and before you scoff, keep in mind that the last time Anderson faced a similar opponent, he only won by three points against a team that eventually posted a losing record in the FCS.

Then, it’s an “iffy” win over San Diego State followed by a seemingly certain win over Colorado State and USU should be 4-0 by the end of September.

The Aggies won’t have answers for the power of LSU in Baton Rouge on October 5th, but after a bye and two more wins (Nevada and Air Force), I expect to see USU at 6-1 at the end of October.

Things will be different in the five games of November.

BYU comes to town with a plethora of upward trends and a terrific quarterback in Zach Wilson. USU won 45-20 last year and that is why I’ll put this one in the USU win column—for now.

Zach Wilson
Zach Wilson talks to teammates after leading BYU to a 49-23 victory in his first start last season as a freshman.

 

After BYU, the Aggies have Fresno State, Boise State, and Wyoming and all three are problematic. FSU and BSU have both had double-digit winning seasons the past two years. Plus, Boise State beat Utah State in 2018 and Wyoming came within a razor’s edge of doing the same.  

Savvy is not predicting these games yet, but I see a 2-2 split among those first four games of November before an easy win against New Mexico. 

That means a 9-3 regular season and a bowl game.

Not bad. 

Not bad at all!

Anderson would be happy and so would Logan, Utah.

But, that’s only this season.  It takes more than 12 games to decide if a coach is successful and that raises this question:

What if Jordan Love un-happens? 

What if he bolts early for the NFL or, God forbid, he is injured?

Those are a critical questions because Jordan Love is the common denominator between last year’s success and that of 2019 and probably 2020—if he comes back.

Once Jordan leaves, we will get a clearer picture of the merits for Utah State hiring Gary Anderson. I’m anticipating he will do well because his roster is too strong to do otherwise and that will give him a year to get things in place and enough time to hire the right #@(*% guys.

If not, it should at least give him time to come up with a decent swan song because his last two have been sucky.  I do have an idea for that.  It’s from a song that goes something like this:

“Nothing you can say but you can learn to play the game.  it’s easy.”

In the long run, I think Gary Anderson will at least survive in a Love-less future. 

So, let’s just focus on this season and say to the Aggies, you don’t need coach Matt Wells to come back and you don’t really need Anderson to prove himself.  Fans of Logan, Utah, what it comes down to is this:

In 2019, “All you need is Love, love.  Love is all you need.”