Bye-Bye Bielema, Hello Bromance

Last year's battle between the Buckeyes and Badgers featured two head coaches who doubled as rivals. This year's has a different tune, thanks to Urban Meyer and Gary Andersen's decade-long friendship.

Asked if he misses Bret Bielema, Urban Meyer could hardly contain his laughter. Staring at his podium with a wide grin while he searched for a politically correct answer that wouldn't make headlines regarding his perceived rivalry with the former Wisconsin coach, Meyer decided to deflect praise toward Badgers' first-year head coach Gary Andersen.

"No," the Ohio State head coach said with a smile. "I'm good with Gary."

While the answer was a tongue-in-cheek response to a somewhat sarcastic question, Meyer's affection for Andersen extends past the coincidence that he's the successor to a head coach who once publicly accused Meyer of committing recruiting violations. After all, it was Meyer's undefeated season at Utah in 2004 that established him as one of college football's top head coaches, and according to the now second-year OSU head coach, it wouldn't have been possible without the addition of Andersen to the Utes' staff.

Despite accumulating a 10-3 record and Mountain West Conference championship in his first season in Salt Lake City, Meyer found himself with vacancies on his coaching staff. Defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo left Utah for a job at Arizona, while secondary coach accepted a position at Nebraska. The departure of the two assistants interrupted the consistency in a staff that Meyer so often preaches as a key to success, but their replacements proved to be more than capable of filling their voids.

"We won a championship in '03," Meyer said of his first Utah team. "And we had some stuff we had to deal with. And I hired Gary Andersen and a guy named Chuck Heater that year, and both those guys came in and I saw it overnight. I saw it because they had the same belief system, were leaders, and it was incredible. I give Gary a lot of credit for that season."

While Andersen coached the Utes defensive line, Heater filled in as the team's cornerbacks coach. They may have been fresh faces on a second-year coaching staff, but they helped create a chemistry that Meyer has learned is rare in college football.

"There's maybe been five or six times when I've said that staff is completely, exactly in order of what's expected. Everybody handles their unit -- power of the unit," Meyer said. "It's powerful when it happens."

It happened in 2004, and as result Meyer continued his climb up the coaching ranks. After joining Florida in 2005 where he won two national championships in six seasons, Meyer took a year off from football in 2011 before leading Ohio State to an undefeated campaign in 2012.

Andersen, meanwhile, remained in Utah where he was promoted to defensive coordinator, a position he held from 2005-08 before receiving his first head coaching job at Utah State in 2009. The Aggies' 11-2 run in 2012 put him in a position to take over for Bielema after he left Madison for Arkansas following last season's Big Ten Championship Game, placing Andersen in the unique situation of being a first-year head coach of a three-time defending conference champion.

Despite now being a rival of his former boss, Andersen said that he's maintained a relationship with Meyer, who he says helped set him up on a successful path of his own.

"Coach (Meyer) has been very good to me. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he carries himself. We had a great run," Andersen said at Big Ten media day in July. "We were 12-0 and won a BCS bowl, so there wasn't a lot of confrontational times in that situation for us. But a very good friend. Somebody I reach out to when I have questions about things. I think there's very much a mutual respect there."

According to Meyer, there most certainly is.

"He's a friend. Take all the football and coaching out of it, I love his family, we're very close," Meyer said of Andersen. "Just a genuine guy who cares about players. He doesn't give up on players."

With a primetime matchup in Columbus looming this weekend, the warm and fuzzy relationship between Meyer and Andersen will have to be temporarily put on hold. For now, however, it remains a stark contrast to last year's buildup to the Big Ten battle between the Buckeyes and Badgers, which is no longer just about the head coaches.

"We won't talk this week," Andersen said of his communication with Meyer. "I can guarantee you this much: It's about the kids, and it always will be."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories