A Q&A with Gary Andersen

Meet UW's new football coach

UW football head coach Gary Andersen

UW football head coach Gary Andersen

PHOTO BY NOAH WILLMAN

What personality characteristic is most important in coaching?
You’ve got to have passion in everything that you do. You have to be able to be a passionate, passionate person. If you say you’re passionate about something, I think it leads to trust. I think it leads to consistency and it leads to commitment. I think to be a passionate person you have to have a set of core values in yourself to be passionate at what you do because you have to have a love for it.

What is your idea of happiness?
A healthy family and one that’s moving in a positive direction; from a personal standpoint that’s important. That’s kind of what you worry about every day. From a professional standpoint, kids in a football program that I believe is moving in the right direction socially, academically and athletically. That encompasses who I am and that’s everything that drives me. I don’t do anything else. The ideal night for me is sitting on my patio, watching a few guys golf and cooking on the barbecue. That’s what I do. I don’t have a hobby. My hobby is football.

What talent would you most like to have?
Outside of football, I love yard work. It’s crazy. I love it. So the ability to have the perfectly green lawn that I can cross-cut like a baseball field. I would love to be able to do that. Outside of football, that would be the talent.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Probably my patience. I think I could be a little bit more patient at times. I say that with my own kids and my coaches, my wife and the kids in the football program. I catch myself and make myself take a deep breath. I’m working on it, but I’ve been working on it for a long time. I’ve made improvement, but I’m not there yet. There’s a fine line there and that’s something I think I could be better at. 

What’s the best advice you ever received?
From a football standpoint, during my first year as a head coach a few years ago a coach told me ‘Never let one young man’s mistake or issue cause you to react in a negative way to the other hundred kids,’ or however many are in the program. I think about that all time. There are going to be bumps in the road or mistakes with kids, but if one kid has a problem or an issue and I let that carry over to other kids on the team, I’m not being a good leader.

From a personal standpoint, I learned so many things from my dad [Phil Andersen]. I don’t know if he ever said anything to me that really impacted me. Overall, him as a person influenced me for what he was: from his time served in the military and the way he was so solid and consistent and hard-working. He really was just an incredible guy.

What’s your most treasured possession?
My dad’s flag, without question. It’s got his dog tags on there from World War II. It’s the flag from his casket. That’s where it all started for me, was from him—my parents. He died twelve years ago. My father always was so supportive. I had a great relationship with him my whole life. Still do have a great relationship with my dad today.

What sort of impact did your father have in your life?
I don’t know if he always believed in the direction for me or my brothers. He worked at Mountain Bell, which is a phone company, and retired from there. My brothers both started working there when they graduated from college, and moved along in life, which was great for them. That’s what he wanted his baby boy to do, too, and I didn’t want to do that. He thought coaching football was crazy. How do you coach football and take care of a family? What does that mean? But he was so supportive.

What’s your favorite book and why?
Boy, I’m not a reader. I read coaching books, take my facts and write them down, and I’ve been influenced by coaches in that way. I’ve never had a book that ‘whoa,’ took me back. Now, my mom is a reading specialist, so she won’t like that.

Is there a movie that you enjoy or watch over and over?
My favorite movie is Dumb and Dumber. I just like to watch movies and have a good time. I like to kind of get away and laugh when I watch a movie. I don’t want to watch a movie and get uptight or get nervous. That’s the way I am with TV, too. My favorite TV show is Big Bang Theory, hands down.

If you weren’t working as a coach, what would you do?
I’d work as a fifth-grade teacher. I have to teach; that’s who I am. There is no way that I couldn’t be involved with kids. Fifth grade, kids will still listen and they’ll want to be involved. You can mold them in a positive way.

What’s your favorite place in Madison?
My deck is number one [at home at Hawk’s Landing]. There are a lot of great places to eat and places to see, but I’ve been to so few. If I had to go one place to eat it would be The Great Dane or Monk’s Bar & Grill right now. That’s kind of who I am. I really look forward to renting a boat and getting out to enjoy the water at some point in time. It’s incredibly important to discover Wisconsin and see what it’s all about.

What do you like most about Madison?
Madison is just like Salt Lake City when I grew up in Salt Lake City. The size of the city, the friendliness of the city, the amount of people walking up and down the street who want to talk. It’s not a small town but it has that deep-rooted feel of America. And that is so much like Salt Lake City was in the mid-1970s when I grew up there. That feel is something that’s important to me. 

What position group will have the biggest impact and require less work heading into preseason camp?
Tight ends. There are great players—four of them [Jacob Pedersen, Sam Arneson, Austin Maly and Brian Wozniak]. There are more than four on the team, but there are four who I think are good football players right now. They are very good players and fit the offense very well. They’re smart, athletic and come-to-work kids. I think they work well as a group. 

What position group requires the most work?
Defensive backs, the safeties and corners encompassed in one. That’s why we have two coaches there with [safeties coach] Bill Busch and [cornerbacks coach] Ben Strickland. I say that because three of the four kids playing back there are going to be brand new from last year. It’s a youthful crew and there’s some talent there. With a little bit of a switch of who we want to be on defense [to a 3-4 defense], there’s more to their game if they can handle what we’re going to ask them to do. They have to be able to cover, man coverage; they have to be able to understand zone coverages. They’ve been very good at doing that in the past. They have to be good tacklers and have to be able to blitz if we do everything we want to do. Now, if we can’t do it, we’ll take something off the plate, move on and build a defense around them.

How unique is it for you to face a quarterback contest with figuring out who will play this season?
We had the exact same thing a couple years ago [at Utah State]. The transition goes with the way the offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig handles it with and the way I handle it. There can’t just be one quarterback who emerges. If we get to a point where that guy is the starter and that’s it and the support is not there from the other kids at quarterback, that’s not a good thing. It’s got to be that there are chances that you need more than one quarterback during the year to do things. It can happen and may happen so we’ve got to have more than one kid prepared. I think they’ll handle it well. Being up front, being honest and truthful and let them understand where we sit is important. We don’t claim to have all the answers or be right in everything, but we have to evaluate, educate and move on. That’s the case with any position. We won’t treat the quarterback competition any different than we will the wide receiver or offensive linemen or linebackers. Kids understand.

Excited about possibility of playing a neutral-site game at Lambeau Field in the future?
It would be a great environment for the kids. A big-time environment and if we get to that spot, it would be a split stadium with our opponent. It would be important for every kid in our program. It would be a great moment to play in an NFL stadium. I would be excited for it and our players would be, too. Every coach and person associated with this program would be fired up.

How do you balance implementing your brand and style of football considering Barry Alvarez has a fairly successful blueprint for winning games at Wisconsin?
I think the blueprint for myself and what Coach Alvarez believes are very similar. Coach Alvarez, if you watch what he’s been through in his career, he’s changed, adapted and developed. Everything here from facilities to academic structure for the players—he changes with the times. And the football has changed over the years, too. It changes year by year as far as what they do, tweaks on offense and tweaks on defense, when he was the coach. But to be honest, he wants you to be successful at a high level, and taking care of the kids first and the football side of it is important. He wants Wisconsin to be a place where the kids are well taken care of and he understands that we’re going to put the best kids on the field and build a scheme around those young men.  

How would you describe your core values as a coach?
My core values as a coach are to take care of kids and put them in a position to succeed academically and socially. If we do that, they’ll succeed on the football field because football is something they do love or sure should love if they’re playing football at Wisconsin. I’m always going to put the kids first. Some people may believe I sometimes do that to a fault, but I sure don’t.

How will you define success for upcoming season?
I think the seniors have got to be able to walk out of here with their heads held high, their chests puffed out and they’re proud to be part of the Wisconsin football program. That will never change. Every single year that will be my mission. There will be a lot of success if young men can walk out of here with that feeling. I think it’s wrong to put a win tag or loss tag on top of that stuff. So many things can move a football season a different way, but not for the seniors. They need to walk out of here very proud of their university and team for the rest of their lives.

What development have you been most pleased with in your short time as Badgers coach?
I think the kids have done a nice job of adapting and I’m proud of the way the coaches have handled it. We talk a lot about trust and I believe right now we have a pretty good trust factor on this whole football family that we have. I think we’re building a family and we’re working to build trust, and we’ve made good strides in both those areas.

Gary Andersen was head coach at Utah State for four seasons prior to being hired as Wisconsin’s twenty-ninth football coach in December 2012. Wisconsin opens the regular season on August 31 against UMass at Camp Randall.

Find more First Person Q&As here.

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