The Blind Side: Wisconsin Edition

Two years ago after Wisconsin was blindsided by the decision of Bret Bielema to leave a comfortable situation for up-start Arkansas, Gary Andersen delivers a similar blow, choosing to go back to the West Coast and take the head coaching job at Oregon State.

MADISON - Knowing the nature of the business, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez always keeps a short list of potential head coaching candidates nearby, never knowing when he might need to reference it.

He referenced it once in 2012 when Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. He didn’t think he would have to use it so soon with Gary Andersen.

Four days following Wisconsin’s 59-0 blasting in the Big Ten championship game to Ohio State, Andersen informed Alvarez and the rest of the program that he was resigning immediately and would be accepting the head coaching job at Oregon State.

“I was really surprised,” said Alvarez. “I had no idea this was in the works.”

Alvarez said he found out Wednesday afternoon while flying back from an event in New York. Andersen said he wanted to speak with him in person but Alvarez, delayed on his flight and not knowing when he’d be back, cajoled the information out that Andersen had accepted the head coaching job at Oregon State.

That job opened after long time head coach Mike Riley accepted the Nebraska head coaching job on December 5.

“Gary said he felt like this was an opportunity for him and his family to get back to that part of the country,” said Alvarez. “He felt he had to follow through with that opportunity.”

Alvarez mentioned later on, and sources confirmed to BadgerNation, that Andersen had become increasingly frustrated over UW’s admission policies for recruits, which are some of the hardest in the Big Ten. The Badgers have had to turn away a handful of recruits the last few seasons (Sun Prairie four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans to name the big one) because they couldn’t quality at UW.

Following a face-to-face meeting after Alvarez’s return to Madison, Andersen broke the news to the team, including to his son, redshirt freshman linebacker Chasen Andersen. Alvarez said he then addressed the team and was later asked by the senior class if he would coach the team in the Outback Bowl against No.19 Auburn.

Alvarez had done the same thing two years early following Bielema’s departure in the 2013 Rose Bowl, a 20-14 loss to Stanford, but was noncommittal Wednesday evening, saying he would sleep on the decision.

“They were shocked,” said Alvarez. “I think a couple of the young players were a little more emotional. As I tried to stress to them and I told them the same thing I told them two years ago, everyone’s afraid of change. Let’s use it as a life lesson. Let’s embrace change because you can grow through change. I promise them that our program will not take a step backward. We will replace Coach Andersen with another excellent coach and staff.”

Andersen went 19-7 (13-3 Big Ten) with the Badgers, posting a 10-3 record this past season that include wins in all three trophy games and winning the Big Ten West Division title. The fun was short lived after Ohio State’s shutout win last Saturday. Ironically, Bielema left just days after the Badgers beat Nebraska in Indianapolis to win the Big Ten championship and advance to a third straight Rose Bowl.

“I thought the players really adapted to his style and took to him very well,” said Alvarez. “I think it was a very good two years. His main concern always in his decision making was in the best interest for the kids, and I appreciate that. That’s one of things I believe in.”

With a state job in Wisconsin needing to be posted and left open a mandatory two weeks, Alvarez hopes to move as quickly as possible through the system with a goal to have a coach in place before Wisconsin’s bowl game.

He plans to interview candidates with the help of senior associate athletic directors Walter Dickey and Brice Van De Velde, adding he would like someone with head coaching experience and that ties by the candidate to the University are not important.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook already,” said Alvarez. “Word’s just starting to leak out, and I’ll be very busy tonight answering phone calls from agents, coaches, go betweens, people trying to get in on this job.

“I’ve always said this – I think it’s important that there’s a fit. I thought Gary was a good fit…I feel very confident we’ll put a good coach in place, and I promised the kids that.”

Many of Wisconsin’s assistants are on the road recruiting and were caught off guard by the news, but Alvarez said he spoke to both offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda about formulating a game plan move forward toward the bowl game. Alvarez expects all the assistants to remain through January 1.

Losing his second head coach in three seasons to lesser-profile jobs, despite having been to five straight January 1 bowls, Alvarez is not concerned about the program turning into a stepping stone for other jobs.

“We’ve got one of the most consistent programs in the country,” said Alvarez. “We’ve got some of the best facilities in the country…We’ve got a great product to sell.”

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