MADISON, WIS. (AP) - Gary Andersen doesn’t mind taking a back seat with his new team when it comes to the Rose Bowl.
Andersen was formally introduced Friday as the new head coach at Wisconsin and he made it clear right away that he will be more of a “fly on the wall” as the Badgers prepare for the Jan. 1 game against Stanford.
That’s because his boss, athletic director Barry Alvarez, is already handling the coaching duties at the request of the players following the departure of Bret Bielema for Arkansas. That allows Andersen, who left Utah State after four years, to evaluate players and prepare for next season.
“These kids need to go win a Rose Bowl,” Andersen said after walking past a bowing Bucky Badger mascot and pep band playing the Wisconsin fight song. “The last thing they need for me is to hang around coach Alvarez.”
Alvarez, who won three Rose Bowls during his Wisconsin coaching career, said he interviewed three candidates in person for the job but didn’t offer it to anyone but Andersen.
“Gary has impressed me as the right person who believes in the things we have done to be successful in this program,” Alvarez said. “It was such a great fit, it was like he was in my head.”
Andersen drew interest from California, Colorado and Kentucky last month, but decided to pass on those opportunities and received a contract extension from Utah State. Andersen said he accepted the Wisconsin job without asking any questions and pointed to a game earlier this season when his visiting Aggies missed a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds and the Badgers escaped with a 16-14 win.
“Coach Alvarez didn’t have to make any pitch to this guy,” Andersen said. “The pitch was made when I spent three hours out on that field a long time ago.”
At Utah State, Andersen took over a struggling program and led it to an 11-2 record this season, Western Athletic Conference title and a bowl victory over Toledo. At Wisconsin, he inherits a team fresh off winning the Big Ten and headed to the Rose Bowl for the third straight year. Wisconsin finished 8-5 this year, Bielema’s seventh as coach.
Andersen said he spent two days personally calling all 106 players on the Utah State team to let them know he was leaving. He said that was “probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my coaching career.”
Andersen met separately with some Wisconsin players and addressed the entire team at practice Friday. He told players that he would not be a distraction at the bowl game, junior running back James White said.
Center Travis Frederick said that’s unlikely to happen.
“Right now our focus is really on winning the Rose Bowl,” he said.
Players said they were glad the search for a new coach was over and that Andersen made a good first impression.
“He seemed like a great guy,” said junior linebacker Chris Borland. “He’s a straight shooter.”