Andersen Notebook One: Building Trust

While admitting it's been hectic since leaving Utah State for the three time defending Big Ten championships in December, head coach Gary Andersen has built trust between the coaches and the players, embraced the expectations and pushed Wisconsin to recruit nationally.

CHICAGO – During a pause in his 15-minute media session at the Hilton Chicago, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen took a breath, looked around the room on day one of Big Ten Media Days and smiled.

"This is easy," said Andersen.

Settling in after what he called a "crazy" six-and-a-half months since he took the Wisconsin job, Andersen is a unique situation that many head coaches don't experience in their first year with a program.

Wisconsin returns 14 of its 22 regular starters from 2012 and 51 players who have earned letters during their careers, having a cupboard stacked full of players left by former head coach Bret Bielema.

He isn't walking into a rebuilding project either, not with Wisconsin going for a fourth straight Big Ten championship this season. And while Wisconsin is predicted to finish second in the Leaders Division behind Ohio State, he's not interested in comparing his program to his predecessors or put his own individual imprint on Wisconsin.

"There's going to be differences when you take over a program," said Andersen. "It's important to put your own stamp on it. So I've never asked the question of how things work. There's a lot of different ways to do it. And there was a lot of success."

The first stamp Andersen wanted to make with his program was building trust. There won't be sweeping changes to Wisconsin this season, but the Badgers will become the only Big Ten team to work out of a 3-4 base defense. Down the road, Wisconsin will incorporate a dual-threat offense based on the versatile of its quarterback.

And unlike last season, when some of the changes made went horribly array, Andersen believes everyone in his program is on the same page.

"Trust is a big thing with us," said Andersen. "We talked about it day one, and I think after six and a half months we've got trust within players to coaches and coaches to players … We expect the kids to succeed socially, academically and athletically. That's an easy statement to make, but there's a lot that goes into it."

Using that standard of a university that can offer a "world-class education" and can "compete at the highest level," Andersen made the bold statement that his Wisconsin coaching staff will recruit nationally.

He's already backed that statement up, securing 17 verbal commitments from nine different states since arriving in December, all while making in-state recruiting priority one.

"I think as a conference and I think as the University of Wisconsin we want to recruit nationally because we can," said Andersen. "The Big Ten, it's very, very powerful conference. It's very recognizable and people understand you're going to play at the highest level and on the biggest stages.

"I feel the same way about the University of Wisconsin, with what we have to offer from an academic standpoint, with what we have to offer for young men socially. I go back to it academically and the athletic world, it's a place where we should be able to recruit throughout the country."

A Three-Man Race

One of the many positions needing to be decided when Wisconsin opens fall camp on August 5 is at quarterback, which Andersen said will be a three-man race between sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, redshirt sophomore Joel Stave and junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy, who has three years of eligibility remaining.

"We sat down with all the young men when we were first there and gave them a very clear vision that when we sat down in April we would discuss exactly where they're at, what the situation is, and when we came out of it, Curt and Joel came out on top in spring," said Andersen. "It was a very unique situation, as it always is, at the quarterback spot when you have competition."

Throwing for 1,104 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, Stave started a season-high six games for Wisconsin after replacing Danny O'Brien at halftime of week three. He recorded a season-high pass efficiency rating of 208.8, going 9-of-11 for 127 yards and one touchdown against Michigan State, before breaking his left collarbone early in the second half. He was 5-1 in the games he started or finished (excluding the Michigan State game).

Phillips led UW to a 2-3 record in his first five career starts after Stave's injury, throwing for 540 yards, five touchdowns (two of which came in the final minute of regulation to force overtime) and two interceptions.

McEvoy passed for 1,943 yards and 25 touchdowns, while throwing just six interceptions, at Arizona Western College, and Andersen said McEvoy deserves the opportunity to compete.

"Anytime we recruit a junior college player, he's going to be given the opportunity to walk in fall camp and compete and get reps with the ones and twos at times, just as every freshman will if he deems himself mentally and physically prepared to be able to be in those situations that he has a chance to help our team," said Andersen.

Andersen said he had no timetable on naming a starting quarterback, saying Wisconsin, "may jog out there the first play of the game with two quarterbacks on the field and see what happens from there."

A True Leader

Joining fellow seniors Jared Abbrederis and James White at the Big Ten meetings, linebacker Chris Borland was the only Wisconsin player named to the Big Ten's preseason ‘Player to Watch' list.

Andersen called Borland "the heart and soul" of the Badgers' defense, one who is easy to follow as a leader and the best linebacker in the country.

"His consistency with his leadership is the key," said Andersen of Borland. "There's no ups and downs, no really good days or bad days. He's not overly flashy. He's not a rah rah guy, he's the king of backflips after practice. So I don't know how he does it, but that's kind of his deal.

"But he's so consistent with where he carries himself academically, the expectation level that he has for himself daily, it's easy to follow him. And that's where his leadership starts. He carries himself with the presence of he's approachable for the young players in our program."

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