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Gary Andersen is about to become average, which is extraordinary for Utah State's football program.
With a victory Saturday at No. 19 Louisiana Tech, the Aggie coach can claim a Western Athletic Conference championship and give himself a 24-24 record in the fourth season of his reclamation effort in Logan.
Breaking even would be a breakthrough for Andersen, and the best part is he wouldn't consider his work finished. The coach whose trademark expression is "Away we go" is here to stay although realistically, probably not to the degree of Stew Morrill. Andersen's career trajectory is different from Morrill's when USU's basketball coach arrived 15 years ago, and he's simply too good to remain at this level of college football forever.
But he's not leaving after this season, even if the Aggies finish 11-2. The contract extension he signed in October is meaningful to this degree: Andersen has too much integrity to depart only two months later.
Andersen already has accomplished things that once seemed inconceivable in Logan, judging by USU's football futility. The Aggies have competed favorably against BYU and Utah, after a long period when those in-state series were losing appeal. They've qualified for consecutive bowl appearances and are playing for a WAC title, which is significant even in the historic league's weakened state, and Andersen has positioned USU to move smoothly into the Mountain West next year.
The Aggies' resurgence stems from a convergence of a supportive administration, loyal boosters, facility improvements and just the right coach.
"Everybody loves him," said Bobby Wagner, a former USU linebacker who's thriving as a Seattle Seahawks rookie. "It makes it easy to play for someone you know cares about you."
Robert Turbin, Wagner's teammate in Logan and Seattle, described Andersen as "the ultimate players' coach," getting his guys to excel.
"He's real," Turbin said. "Coach Andersen's not going to tell you what you want to hear. He's going to be straightforward with you all the time, and because of that, players want to be great for him."
All of that comes both from Andersen's natural demeanor and his conscious effort. By giving up his former responsibilities with the Aggie defense, Andersen freed himself to spend more time interacting with his players with a "down-to-earth" style that linebackers coach Kevin Clune admires.
It's working, considering defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's group ranks 12th in the country in total defense while preparing to face Louisiana Tech's No. 1 offense. And the Aggies keep responding in every way for Andersen, whose players respect him and know he's with them.
"We don't have a ton of off-the-field problems," Clune said.
On the field, it hardly is a stretch to say USU could be unbeaten this season. The Aggies (8-2) already have more wins than any USU team since 1974, when Phil Krueger became the last Aggie coach to conclude his tenure with a winning record. "Everything we are doing is still a work in progress," Andersen said recently, but his reconstruction of Aggie football has the look and feel of permanence.
Andersen, 48, likes Logan, and a geographical factor works in favor of his sticking around. His Western orientation Andersen has not lived east of Park City for any significant amount of time would seem to limit his potential movement. So I'd say USU followers probably should be cheering for Utah to succeed in the years to come.
Regardless, the folks who worry about how long Andersen will stay should recognize that whenever he moves on, he'll leave the program in a better state than anyone would have imagined.
Utah State coaching records of the past 40 seasons
Coach • Years Record
Phil Krueger • 1973-75 21-12
Bruce Snyder • 1976-82 37-38-2
Chris Pella • 1983-85 9-24
Chuck Shelton • 1986-91 26-39-1
Charlie Weatherbie • 1992-94 15-19
John L. Smith • 1995-97 16-18
Dave Arslanian • 1998-99 7-15
Mick Dennehy • 2000-04 19-37
Brent Guy • 2005-08 9-38
Gary Andersen • 2009-12 23-24
Gary Andersen's year-by-year record
Season • Record
2009 • 4-8
2010 • 4-8
2011 • 7-6
2012 • 8-2
Total • 23-24
Gary Andersen's year-by-year record