When Gary Andersen took over the Wisconsin Badgers program all he had to do was not screw it up for the first couple of years. He managed to do that for the most part, winning 20 games over the course of two seasons and making an appearance in the Big Ten championship game.
That’s acceptable to most in the Badger fan base, and Andersen was sitting in pretty decent territory with most of said fan base even after the 59-0 drubbing it took at the hands of Ohio State. It became even better looking considering it was the start of a three-game hot streak right to the national championship.
Still, Andersen upped and shocked everyone with a move to Oregon State just four days after the loss to Ohio State. It was a move many felt was eerily familiar to that of the man he replaced, Bret Bielema.
However, Bielema left the Badgers for mostly monetary reasons and a new challenge of coaching in the SEC. Andersen took off to a program that was nowhere near the level of the Badgers and appeared to do it out of thin air to those not around the program on a daily basis.
We all got a glimpse of the real reason why Andersen left, as Denis Dodd of CBSSports had a revealing interview with the former Badgers head coach.
Andersen’s reasoning for leaving UW was what had been long rumored — Wisconsin’s admissions standards.
“It’s been well [documented] there were some kids I couldn’t get in school,” the Badgers’ former coach said, via Dodd’s article. “That was highly frustrating to me. I lost some guys, and I told them I wasn’t going to lose them.
“I think they did what they were supposed to do [academically] and they still couldn’t get in. That was really hard to deal with.”
For those in the know around the Badgers athletic program it’s no secret that getting a football or basketball player in to the university isn’t as easy as it is at places like Ohio State, Michigan and well just about all Big Ten schools not named Northwestern.
While football players aren’t held to the same exact standards as regular students attempting to get in to UW, the university isn’t unwilling to admit students at or near the NCAA minimum qualifying standards from time to time either.
What is true is that getting in to the University of Wisconsin as an athlete is a bit of a unique experience for some who aren’t looking in to the academic side early on in their high school careers.
In fact, UW is unique among its peers in the Big Ten by requiring 17 core courses to qualify for admission to the university.
That’s more than any school in the conference and a three-course difference between themselves and fellow “new” contender Michigan State. It also just so happens to be part of the reason why one of the biggest names to not get in to Wisconsin was able to get in to Michigan State.
We’re talking about star defensive tackle Craig Evans, who saw playing time as a freshman this past season and was forced right in to the hands of a rival Big Ten school by the admissions standards at Wisconsin.
However, Gary Andersen comes across as a spoiled child who couldn’t deal with the first signs that he wasn’t going to get his way every time at Wisconsin. I mean, is he really bitching about the fact that Wisconsin would like it’s athletes to do more than the bare minimum to get in to school?
Seriously, that’s exactly how Andersen comes off in the article and having covered him and the team over his entire tenure with the Badgers it’s not all that surprising to hear. He spent most of his time at UW handing out clichés and coach speak to reports, while never really getting a true sense of who he was or what exactly he was about.
Coaches get paid to win football games and should be trusted to do it as they would like, but eschewing academic standards at a school and in a conference that prides itself on academic prowess should’ve been something Andersen knew coming in to the gig.
Instead, it appears Andersen came in hoping to take the blueprint he built at Utah State and apply it to the Badgers. While I’m sure a degree from Utah State is fine and dandy, Andersen had to know he was not only about to take a step up in the football world, he was also about to deal with a whole different world in the academic realm too.
Either Andersen didn’t do his homework on what it would take to get athletes in to Wisconsin or the Badgers flat-out lied to him. Based on Andersen’s own words and what UW athletic director Barry Alvarez had to say in the Dodd article, Andersen only has himself to blame for what became his main frustration with the Badgers head coaching job.
“Should I have known that going in?” Andersen asked. “Maybe I should have asked more questions. Was anything hidden from me? I’m not saying that at all. It was a learned scenario.”
That was followed up with the crux of the matter — Andersen’s love affair with JUCO players and the hard time any junior college student, let alone athlete, has getting in to the University of Wisconsin.
“I need to be able to have my coaches walk into homes very well-connected and committed and understanding of exactly what’s going to take place when they’re talking to those families.”
At Wisconsin, Andersen said (via Dodd’s article), “junior college kids basically became a non-[factor].”
Talk about someone not doing their homework. A quick search on the interwebs found that the Badgers had a grand total of 10 junior college players over the course of a quarter of a century (or your entire lives for you Millennial’s out there).
A simple question or two about the policies for JUCO transfers or the history of JUCO’s at Wisconsin would’ve revealed an honest answer from Alvarez, one much like what he told Dodd in fact.
“I thought we talked about that during the interview process,” Alvarez said. “You’re not going to bring truckloads of junior college kids or make a living with junior college kids here.”
So, because the admissions department at the University of Wisconsin wasn’t going to bend to the every whim of the football head coach, Andersen tucked his tail between his legs and went back to the West Coast.
At least that’s the impression given off…or, to put it another way — Andersen took his ball and went home because he didn’t like what was happening. Screw showing your players or coaching staff what true leadership is about, like adapting to adversity or change…it’s Andersen’s way or the highway.
That means academics really don’t matter as much as Andersen said they did. I know, shocking that a football coach would pay lip service to the value of an education, but his complaints about UW were just brazen in a “screw academics” feeling.
All of this coming from the guy who made famous the talk of “care factor” and “want to” when talking about academics or ability on the field. Where was the “want to” from the head coach when faced with a little adversity on the recruiting trail?
Where was the “care factor” of getting to know the admissions department and working with them in a positive way…instead of bitching about it.
“Leaders of men” was another theme put out there by Andersen during his time at UW. But, don’t real leaders find a way to work within what they are given as well as working to expand and change the culture within as well?
What message does Andersen send with this attitude? Real leaders don’t hightail it out after a little frustration, they attempt to find a way to work with what is given while also finding a way to put their own style on things.
It’s not as if winning wasn’t a tradition at Wisconsin before Andersen got to UW and it’s not as if the exact same standards were in place during both Alvarez and Bielema’s eras at Wisconsin too.
Sure, Andersen is free to choose the way he’d like to coach, recruit and play the game of football. However, he works within the framework of a university and that means working with admissions departments and requirements.
Instead of sticking it out and winning the “Wisconsin Way,” Andersen left and will now get a school that will go any which way he wants when it comes to players and recruiting.
Still, it’s troubling to see a coach flat-out bitch that academics and a bit tougher than minimum admissions standards are to blame for his willingness to move on.
Truthfully, the only thing to blame in this scenario is Andersen’s inability to either change with the institution he’s at or his inability to do his homework. Because, telling the world that having high standards is a bad thing is certainly not a message any “leader” should be sending to anyone.