CHICAGO – Gary Andersen carried himself in much the same demeanor as he did a year ago when he was one of the two new guys on the block in the Big Ten coaching fraternity, eager to make the step from the defunct Western Atlantic Conference.
Now a year later, Andersen is no longer the newbie on the block (that belongs to Penn State coach James Franklin, not to mention Maryland’s Randy Edsall and Rutgers’ Kyle Flood), but he still had the same steady approach on the outside during the two days of Big Ten preseason meetings.
Inside, however, is where Andersen sees the big change, especially when it comes from knowing how to motivate his players.
“They’ll be pushed harder; I will to and so will the assistant coaches” said Andersen. “I don’t think the expectations of the programs, wins and losses, is different, but because you have a knowledge base of each other and you understand each other.”
There were many positives to take away from Wisconsin’s first season under Andersen. The Badgers finished with at least nine wins for the sixth time in the past eight seasons, finished the year ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 and did so in a year where the defensive scheme was overhauled.
Still the four losses Wisconsin suffered – including the last two of the season – stuck with Andersen, his staff and his returning players during the offseason.
With a year under their belt together, Andersen has not been shy about vocalizing his displeasure if he sees a player not practicing up to the level that player has set for himself. That’s what happened in the spring when he saw sophomore cornerback Sojourn Shelton struggling through a practice, making sure to send Shelton a text message telling him he expected more from him.
Those are relationships that Andersen admitted took time to build in the beginning, but now have become second nature.
“That’s the challenge of taking over (a program) sometimes,” said Andersen. “Now we’re not in that spot, at least I hope a kid would come to me if he had an issue.”
While some of the relationship built over time, senior Warren Herring was sold after the first meeting.
“They were very straight forward, great guys, great speakers,” said Herring. “When Coach A came into the program, it felt like he had been here for awhile. Guys attached to him really well. You can’t help but love a guy like that.”
According to Herring, Andersen and his staff laid out the framework of what their tenure was going to be about and focused on that fact that it was going to be a grind, it wasn’t going to be easy but guys were going to benefit if they put in the work.
From last season to this season, the big change has been the push in the conditioning and lifting.
“We stretched our bodies a lot more,” said Herring. “They took us to different levels, different workouts that worked on certain parts of the body that we usually don’t get, recovery was a big changeup and we did a lot more than we usually do after those tough workouts. We stressed guys getting into the playbook and watch film a lot more. We want to make sure all the young guys know everything before camp.”
That extra effort will be put to the test during next week’s start of fall camp. Limited on the amount of two-a-day practices it can conduct during fall camp, Wisconsin has come up with a creative way to maximize their time on the practice field while giving the 77 freshmen and sophomores on its roster more repetitions.
For the first four days of camp, which opens August 4, Wisconsin will split the roster into two groups with unit going in the morning and one going in the evening.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is reps, reps, reps for the young kids,” said Andersen. “You basically double your practices…If you are the four on the depth chart, you’ll have substantial reps in the practice because there are two practices. We need that. We need to evaluate it hard. We need to work our tails off as coaches for those four days to give the kids the best opportunity.”
Now that the Badgers are through the transition year, the relationships Andersen feels he’s forged will help makes Wisconsin an even closer unit in the group’s preparation for the season opener against LSU August 30.
“You know what their expectations truly are of themselves, you know what their limitations are and they know the same of us,” said Andersen. “That is a huge comfort zone for me. Instead of trying to figure everything out and get through every day, it’s much cleaner and smoother.”