What if Saban falls through; then what? We should all lose hope forever, right? Wrong.
Hopefully the brain trust in charge of this impending huge decision do their homework on all worthy candidates, not just the household names. As has been mentioned here and elsewhere for quite some time, Texas needs a football coach. Nick Saban is a football coach, and his process of being such is what made him a winner. Being a football coach comes before winning, not the other way around.
Like Nick Saban, Gary Andersen is a football coach. Unlike Saban, Andersen has yet to demonstrate the ability to win big, but that has more to do with exposure to opportunity rather than ability. That’s an opinion, but one I’m extremely confident in.
At what precise moment does a coach become great? Whenever that time is, I can guarantee you it’s before a coach wins a championship, though unfortunately all too often that’s when the public recognizes a coach as such.
What was Eddie DeBartolo thinking when he hired Bill Walsh? Bill Walsh was not a great coach. Until he was. Bob Kraft was crazy, didn’t he know Bill Belichick flamed out in Cleveland like the Cuyahoga? Funny, coaches, like men and women in any profession continue to evolve and improve. Pete Carroll is not the Pete Carroll that failed in New England. These men were always good football coaches who eventually became great coaches.
Therein lies the rub. If Texas misses on a great coach, it will at least get a good one. If that’s the case, Texas needs to hire the candidate who has demonstrated the most likely ability to become great. I think that man just might be Gary Andersen.
The evolution of an all-around coach
Most coaches have a much stronger understanding of one side of the ball over the other; so much that they’re either known as an ‘offensive minded’ or ‘defensive minded’ coach. Coaches known for being geniuses on a given side are often successful because of the overall team mindset they instill. Nick Saban and Bill Walsh are but two perfect yet opposite examples of that.
Andersen certainly instills his own identity within his team, but he’s unique in that he’s been both an offensive and defensive coordinator. In fact, he played the cerebral position of center, but has spent most of his coaching career on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not a stretch if you understand the role of the center, but it is rare. It’s also helped that he’s apprenticed under two men who have won coach of the year honors, Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham. Both coaches won with both strong offense and strong defense.
Utah State was all offense, right? The Fighting Chuckie Keeton’s most assume. In 2008, the year before Andersen arrived in Logan, Utah, the Aggies scored 24 points a game and surrendered 34.7. By the time Andersen left in 2012 the numbers were 34.9 and 15.4 respectively. Both numbers improved dramatically, but surprisingly, defense more so.
Demonstrating the ability to be great
Utah State made a smash hire when it pilfered the former Utah defensive coordinator in 2009. He took an Aggie team that won a combined six games in the previous three years to records of 4-8, 4-8, 7-6, and finally 11-2.
If you deem that not Texas worthy, context is your friend. He took a morbid team and put it on an impressive trajectory. At Utah State. His star really took off in 2012 when his team’s only losses were on the road to Wisconsin by three points and on the road to BYU by two. Understand the talent deficit his team had in each game. Account for the home field advantage both Wisconsin and BYU held. Remind yourself of the program’s shortcomings; ability to afford a top shelf staff, facilities, etc. That’s context.
In 2012, Utah State also upset a ranked Louisiana Tech team (the same team that almost beat A&M) on the road and beat its arch rival, Utah, at home.
It’s not often that the biggest game in one’s career is a loss, but that Wisconsin loss equated to a three hour interview for Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. Judging by what Andersen has done in his first ten games in Madison, it won’t be his biggest game for long.
But he’s doing it with Bret Bielema’s players
If by ‘doing it’ you mean significantly improving output on both sides of the ball just one year removed from Bielema’s departure to Arkansas, then yes.
Already with the same amount of wins as last year (8), the Badgers are bludgeoning teams on both sides of the ball. The offense is running the ball for over 300 yards a game (236 per game in 2012) while passing for nearly 200 (157 per game in 2012). Sure, it’s the Big 10, but Andersen can’t control the schedule. If Bielema is good enough for Arkansas – debatable – then Andersen is surely a star on the rise.
Last year Wisconsin scored 29 points a game and allowed 19.1. Not bad. This year is much improved; 38.5 and 14(!) respectively. Because of graduations this isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but you get the general idea. Would you take this type of swing in year one?
No identity crisis in Madison
Andersen’s teams know who they are. His offenses run the ball whether incorporating the quarterback or not, but they can also pass efficiently, and in the case of Chuckie Keeton, even proficiently. Wisconsin isn’t known for athletic quarterbacks, but it is known as somewhat of a running back factory. If you think Texas has the premier stable of running backs in the nation, you’d be wrong, and that has nothing to do with Johnathan Gray being lost for the season. Melvin Gordon is as good as anybody Alabama has produced under Nick Saban. To date he’s run for 1306 yards on 156 carries for an 8.4 average. Say what? Imagine his numbers if he wasn’t getting LESS touches than stable-mate James White. White, the lesser talent of the two, has 1156 yards on 170 carries for a 6.8 average. He’s also added 257 yards on 31 receptions. Both men have 12 rushing touchdowns. But wait, there’s more. Bringing up the rear is true freshman, and very brief Texas target, Corey Clement. Clement, despite only 66 carries, has 515 yards.
The run game is complemented by the very efficient Joel Stave. The big sophomore pocket passer may emerge as a true game winner, but for now he’s feeding off of run focused defenses to the tune of 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He’s averaging an acceptable 8 yards per attempt. Essentially, the Badger offense, though run heavy, isn’t one dimensional.
With Keeton at Utah State, the inverse could be said for Andersen’s offense. Keeton was a prolific passer, but the offense was also very good on the ground.
The takeaway; he’s not reliant on running or passing to set up the other and his offensive lines perform exceedingly well in both aspects.
Defensively, he plays risk averse and sound assignment football from base 4-3. Obviously he hasn’t seen many prolific passing offenses in the Big 10, but that’s all he saw in the WAC and we’ve already discussed how well he’s done there, both as head coach at Utah State and as defensive coordinator at Utah.
Schematically, he’s a very, very interesting candidate. I’d say on par with David Shaw; the Stanford coach with whom he shares many similarities.
Opportunity; when Luck meets preparation
Or maybe when Patterson meets Andersen.
As the Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State menage of games demonstrated, the transitive property does not apply. But it is a bit telling that BYU’s Vanilla Cam Newton, Taysom Hill, against Wisconsin passed for only 203 yards for a 46% completion rate while running for 206 yards less than he did versus UT.
Well coached teams don’t get blown out. They may lose, but they’re in the game until the end. In the last two years Andersen has four losses on the ledger by a combined 14 points. What did Texas’ second greatest coach of all time just lose to Oklahoma State by?
Well coached teams maximize talent. To even begin a turnaround at a program, as Andersen clearly did with the Aggies, you must maximize the talent on hand while you accumulate better players. Many will agree that Texas doesn’t need better talent so much as it needs to make the most of what it has. Texas won’t require a program overhaul talent wise, it requires a program overhaul from a culture standpoint. Speaking of which…
Well coached teams have an identity. You should understand by now, Andersen’s teams know exactly who they are. It starts at the top and it reverberates throughout the program manifesting in a full blown culture.
The Big 12 is a passing league
That statement is overblown and largely inaccurate, but I’ll entertain it by saying Jerrod Heard, like Chuckie Keeton, is a passing and running quarterback. Andersen had success with Keeton from day one when Keeton played very well as a true freshman. I’m certainly not saying he’d do the same with Heard, or that he’d even have to, but he’s already shown the ability to cultivate a young and intelligent dual threat quarterback.
Some may have concerns over Andersen’s ability to find offensive linemen and tight ends for his desired style of play, but I don’t. If Wisconsin can find linemen who routinely go to the NFL, Texas can as well. Besides, this is more of a culture and strength and conditioning question than anything else. Baylor runs with power for crying out loud. It’s time to retire the ‘we can’t find lineman’ argument.
Of course, there are questions remaining to be answered. Recruiting isn’t one of them. That’s an overblown concern. You hire a coach at Texas based on your belief that he’ll win. Winning at Texas is a much better recruiting pitch than even Mack Brown’s finest sell.
I have concerns over Andersen’s network of potential assistants. I don’t question his judgment in the hiring process but after spending so much time out west and now in the upper mid-west, I wonder who he knows. I’m sure there would be no shortage of people angling to climb their way up the career ladder and join a brand new Longhorn staff, but I have no idea who they would be. This would be a major focus in the interview process were I involved in the hire.
Would he say yes after only one year in Madison? This is the biggest question of all. By accounts I’ve heard, Andersen is a fiercely loyal person and after the ugly fashion in which Bielema exited, Andersen has done well to galvanize the Badger fan base. This is relationship building stuff between coach and school. Bielema is now an afterthought, if not outright laughing stock amongst Wisconsin fans. Amazing considering Andersen has been there for all of ten games.
I’m a bit optimistic that he would certainly entertain a Texas offer. When factoring school prestige, pay scale and the vast talent at his disposal, he’d be crazy not to, but to assume he’d leave for Austin because of these factors is naïve.
When accounting for all the parts that total Andersen’s sum, he’s a very intriguing candidate and one I would certainly get behind. I’ll watch Wisconsin’s game this weekend versus a surprising Minnesota team with anticipation.
I’ll be looking to see if he takes yet another sure step from good coach to great one.
For the latest on Saban to Texas, see The Jesus Chronicles: http://insidetexas.com/news/story.php?article=4668