Andersen is Utah State's new football coach
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Utah defensive coordinator Gary Andersen has accepted an offer to become Utah State's next football coach and will be introduced Thursday at a 1 p.m. news conference, according to multiple sources including school officials.

Andersen's hiring, first reported by The Tribune on its Web site Wednesday afternoon, brings to a close a 2-1/2-week search to replace Brent Guy, who was fired after four seasons by first-year athletic director Scott Barnes.

Andersen, who is in his 11th season in two stints with Utah's coaching staff, emerged from a pack of candidates as the prime contender for the Aggie job during the past week. He visited the Logan campus on Tuesday and Wednesday, meeting with select USU players and administrators. Andersen beat out a group of finalists that included South Florida passing game coordinator Michael "Chico" Canalaes, a former Aggie quarterback, and San Jose State assistant coach Kent Baer, a Cache Valley native. UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker and former Aggie coach John L. Smith were also in the mix.

USU officials would not comment on their hire Wednesday night, but Andersen's Utah players reacted to the move with mixed emotions as news of his departure leaked out. "He's a great coach and he deserves the opportunity to be a head coach," Ute defensive end Paul Kruger said. "I'm happy for him, but I'm going to miss him."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham didn't return messages Wednesday, but has repeatedly said that he knew schools were going to come after Andersen. On Monday, he acknowledged the job that Andersen has done, noting he was one of five finalists for the Broyles Award - which goes to the top assistant coach in the country. "He's very well deserving," Whittingham said.

Andersen is in the middle of a two-year contract that pays him $193,000 a season and is Utah's highest-paid assistant coach. Still, he figures to get a significant raise as the USU head coach, especially now that Barnes has made the football program a priority. Guy, 8-39 in his tenture, made a base salary of $250,000.

Guy had been fired with one game remaining in the season. He bowed out Saturday with Utah State's 47-2 victory over New Mexico State. A big factor for Andersen in taking the Utah State job, according to sources, is the fact that Whittingham appears to be staying at Utah after surfacing as a candidate for the coaching vacancy at the University of Washington. If Whittingham were to leave for Washington, Andersen would likely have been a candidate to replace him. One sticking point in Andersen's negotiations with USU, sources said, were salary levels for his assistant coaches in Logan. But that hurdle was cleared and other contract details were finalized Wednesday, clearing the path for Andersen to become Utah State's 26th football coach. Andersen appealed to Barnes because he would will bring the ability to recruit the state, something that Guy hasn't done consistently.

"I really think more Utah kids will get the chance to play college football because Gary's at Utah State," Bingham coach Dave Peck said.

At Utah, Andersen was the leader of one of the best defenses in the country. He's had one previous year of head coaching experience, at Southern Utah University. It was unknown late Wednesday if Andersen will remain with the Utes for their upcoming BCS bowl game or begin his new job immediately.

tjones@sltrib.com