Coaching Big Board 9.0: Finding his Guy

Two weeks to the day Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas, it appears Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez has found his replacement, as multiple reports and Badger Nation sources indicate that Utah State coach Gary Andersen could be hired as the Badgers head man in the next 36 hours.

MADISON - It seems Wisconsin's coaching search is finally coming to an end.

First reported by Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal and confirmed by BadgerNation, Wisconsin is in contract talks with Utah State head coach Gary Andersen and a deal could be finalized by the end of the day Wednesday.

The Badgers can not officially name Andersen until Thursday due to state law that requires a two week window for the job to be posted. Andersen reportedly has been courted by California, Colorado and Kentucky, but declined those jobs by saying he was happy with the Aggies.

Anderson made $600,000 at Utah State, and a source said UW is expected to offer in the $2 million range.

In four years at Utah State, Andersen, 48, is 27-24, including this season's 11-2 mark. The Aggies nearly went unbeaten, losing only to Wisconsin and BYU, 6-3. On Sept. 15, the Aggies nearly upset the Badgers, but lost 16-14 when kicker Josh Thompson missed a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds.

Andersen guided Utah State – currently No.18 in the Associate Press poll – to a first-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference and a 41-15 triumph over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl for the school's first bowl win since 1993. Against the Rockets, Utah State racked up 582 yards of total offense, including 353 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.

"You play in bowls to win championships, and they did that today," said Andersen following the game. "They reached every single goal they set last January. That doesn't happen often in life or often in football. I'm very, very proud of them."

Prior to Utah State, Andersen was an assistant at Utah from 2004-08 (defensive coordinator from 2005-08), head coach at Southern Utah in 2003 and an assistant at Utah from 1997-2002. Andersen on current Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer's undefeated Utes team in 2004 that won the Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh. It was the Utes first perfect season since 1930.

Utah State runs a spread offense, but that should not be an issue with Andersen's defensive background - specifically, the defensive line - and could hire a different offensive coordinator, if needed.

The Aggies are a defensive-minded unit, ranking eighth nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 15.4 points per game. Utah State's defense steadily improved in Andersen's four years, going from 114 to 101 to 50 to 15th this season, surrendering 322.1 yards per game.

They rank No. 33 nationally in scoring offense, averaging 34.9 points per game, and No. 23 in total offense, averaging 469.1 yards per game.

Andersen took over the downtrodden Utah State program in December 2008; the Aggies went a combined 9-38 the previous four seasons. The Aggies' three-win turnaround from four wins in 2010 to seven wins in 2011 was among the top 15 in the Football Bowl Subdivision for the 2011 season.

If Anderson does accept, sources in Utah say he will bring his entire coaching staff with him, part of the reason why part of the reason Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda and Matt Wells turned down other offers elsewhere. Aranda just finished his first season on staff while Wells, a Utah State grad, finished his second, but first as offensive coordinator.

Andersen has also served as the head coach of Southern Utah in 2003, going 4-7, on the Utes staff from 1997-2002 and at Southeastern Louisiana (1988); Ricks College (1989-92); Idaho State (1992-94); Park City High (1994-95) and Northern Arizona (1995-96). Andersen is a native of Salt Lake City and played center at Utah from 1985-86 after beginning his career at Ricks College.

Current Coordinators

Chris Ash

Ash? What's he doing here? Didn't he accept a job at Arkansas? Yes, Ash has accepted a job with the Razorbacks and former head coach Bret Bielema, but sources say he hasn't signed a contract and has thrown his name into the hat.

"You never know if you are ready (to be a head coach) until you get the opportunity to do it," said Ash, who declined to go into more specifics about the Wisconsin coaching job. "All great coaches had to get an opportunity at some point. I would like an opportunity anywhere.

Ash's unit was the main reason Wisconsin is heading back to Pasadena for a third straight season. Although some late scores against the second-team defense skewed the average, Wisconsin's defense gave up more than 21 points in regulation only three times this past season (twice coming against Nebraska and the Huskers' conference-best rushing attack). Wisconsin held eight opponents to 14 points or fewer in four quarters, including six straight.

Last season in his first as co-defensive coordinator, the Badgers ranked 13th in the country in scoring defense (19.0 points per game) and 15th in the nation in total defense. It was the first time since 2006 that Wisconsin had allowed fewer than 20.0 points per game. Ten of the Badgers' 14 opponents failed to score more than 17 points.

UW allowed just 163.6 yards per game through the air in 2011 to rank fourth in the NCAA in pass defense. That was the second-best mark for Wisconsin's defense in the last 20 years. Oregon State, Michigan State (twice) and Oregon were the only teams to pass for more than 180 yards against the Badgers.

Five UW defenders earned All-Big Ten honors, including four first-team selections. Linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland finished 1-2 in the conference in total tackles, with both finishing in the top 10 in the country. Taylor's 150 tackles were the most by a Badger since 2001. Defensive backs Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus tied for second in the conference with four interceptions apiece as UW ranked second in the Big Ten with 16 INTs.

According to Tom Mulhern of the State Journal, Dan McCarney, who was Alvarez's first defensive coordinator with the Badgers from 1990 to 1994, is promoting Ash's cause as a possible head coaching candidate. McCarney, currently the head coach at North Texas, was the head coach at Iowa State for 12 years, from 1995 to 2006. Ash started out as a graduate assistant under McCarney in 2000 and 2001, then was the Cyclones' secondary coach from 2002 to 2006.

If Alvarez wants to hire a candidate who respects the Wisconsin tradition, has a great relationship with the players and is a dynamite recruiter, Ash should be the guy.

"I love it here," said Ash. "Wisconsin has been a great place for me for my three years. It's been a great place to come to work and we have great kids here. They take care of the business and allow you to coach."

Mel Tucker

His experience: After originally downplaying the job, multiple reports emerged Sunday that Tucker, a former Badgers defensive back under Barry Alvarez, became the second coach to interview for Wisconsin's vacant head coaching job on Friday. Alvarez said two days after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas that he would like to hire a coach with previous head coaching experience. Tucker, 40, is the only coach on our big board that has that, but it's not much. Tucker was named interim coach for the Jaguars' final five games last season, leading the team to a 2-3 record.

"Mel's got a lot of things that you're looking for in a head football coach," said Jaguars GM Gene Smith last year.

When Jacksonville hired Mike Mularkey before the 2012 season, Mularkey kept Tucker and promoted him to assistant head coach. Tucker was in charge of the defensive play calling last season and the Jaguars' defense finished as the fourth highest rated in the NFL.

Jacksonville is 22-40 the last four seasons with Tucker on staff, but hasn't always gotten tons to work with. In his first year with the Jaguars in 2009, Tucker saw 21 different players make starts including four rookies. The 2010 defense utilized eight different starting combinations in the first nine weeks. Just five players started all 16 games on defense, and nine different players made starts in the secondary over the course of the season.

The Jaguars improved defensively from 28th in 2010 to sixth in 2011, the second-largest improvement in the NFL, and improved in nearly every statistical category from the previous season. Ironically, it's the first year Tucker started calling plays.

In 2011 Tucker's defense allowed 313.0 yards per game, the fewest since 2006, and ranked ninth in rushing yards per game (104.2), eighth in passing (208.8), second in fewest completions of 20-plus yards (43), third in fewest plays of 20-plus yards (51), second in most three-and-out drives (57) and third in first downs allowed per game (16.8).

The unit ranked in the top 10 in 16 of the 17 weeks in 2011 despite using 14 different starting lineups in 16 games because of injuries. Only five players started all 16 games on defense and only eight players played in all 16 games. The unit lost two starting cornerbacks, a starting linebacker and starting defensive end in consecutive weeks to season-ending injuries.

Tucker does have college coaching experience on his resume. He coached defensive backs in the Big Ten at Ohio State under former coach Jim Tressel. He also was the Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator in 2004 and coached defensive backs at LSU, so he knows the BCS level and knows how to recruit. He's also been highly spoken of by players, is low key and preaches details and discipline; all foundations of UW's program.

The issue with Tucker is twofold. First he hasn't coached in college, or recruited high school kids, since 2004. That could be a concern. Second, Tucker is highly respected in the Jaguars' organization and could be the next head coach with the team, as beat reporters are expecting changes in the front office.

Tucker may be the right guy, but what are the chances he stays around for a long period of time, something Alvarez doesn't want.

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