Aug. 27, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
ear the end of Media Day on Aug. 2, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen found himself standing in the passageway that opposing teams take to enter and exit the field in the south end zone of Camp Randall Stadium. He paused to look around. Did he remember walking out of here last September?
"Yeah, I do," Andersen said softly.
He couldn't remember how noisy it was on the night of Sept. 16, 2012, when his underdog Utah State team ran on to the turf before the opening kickoff. He was too focused on the game plan to hear anything. But he does remember walking back to the locker room after a heartbreaking 16-14 loss.
"That was an extremely tough moment," he said.
Utah State outplayed Wisconsin in the first half and took a 14-3 halftime lead. But the Aggies surrendered the momentum in the third quarter on Kenzel Doe's electrifying 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. Montee Ball finally put the Badgers on top with a 17-yard scoring run later in the quarter.
Kept alive by a missed extra point, the Aggies weren't done yet. The defense held Wisconsin to only one first down in the fourth quarter, which ultimately opened the door for quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who drove Utah State into position to pull off a monumental upset on its final possession.
But it didn't happen. Josh Thompson missed a 37-yard field goal with six seconds left. Shortly after leaving his players, Andersen delivered his postgame remarks to the media. "We expected to win when we walked in here," he said. "We didn't get it done; they made one more play than we did."
While he stood in that passageway -- dressed in Wisconsin gear -- Andersen was reminded of the sequence of events in the final seconds of that nonconference fist fight last September, the long walk off the field and the emotion in the Utah State locker room afterward.
"I was worried about Josh, the kicker; I was really worried about him," Andersen said. "It was a tough game and we lost the game and there were a lot of emotion from some other kids on the team. But I was worried about how Josh was going to be able to handle that.
"He grew up in Logan, his family has been Utah State forever and he missed potentially one of the biggest kicks obviously in the history of the school. I was worried about him. But you know what? He was fine. He bounced back. I was also worried about how we would come back after losing like that."
But you know what? The Aggies bounced back. So did Gary Andersen with a little help from his support team: wife Stacey, chief lieutenant Bill Busch and wingman Zach Nyborg. "The people you directly surround yourself with, especially in a job like this," he said, "is very important."
The kids were all there for him, too, like he is for them: his three boys and the Utah State players. "You'll hear me refer to them as `kids' a lot," Andersen said at his introductory press conference in December. "Sometimes I take some grief for calling football players `kids.' But they are my kids; every single one of them. I look at them the same as I look at (sons) Chasen, Hagen and Keegan."
|“Sometimes I take some grief for calling football players ‘kids.’ But they are my kids; every single one of them.”
Since last spring, Andersen has been wearing a wrist band with the inscription, "Players make plays, players win games." He explained, "It's something I believe in. You put your money where your mouth is as a coach day-in and day-out and we believe in taking care of the players." The kids.
Last Friday the 49-year-old Andersen amplified on family and what it means to him. Although his father, Phil, has passed away, he said, "I still rely heavily on my dad; every single day." He communicates often with his mom and brothers and sisters, especially during the season and rarely on football.
"Family is important, always has been, always will be," he said. "I don't think it has to be your immediate family to be your family. It's who you allow to get close to you and who you want to be close you. It's never going to be a 1,000 people. But they are the people you trust."
Pointing to the UW players conducting interviews on the Camp Randall turf during Media Day, he said, "I want to be there for them and I want to keep growing that family out there. They're fun to be around and you want to get as close to each one of them as you can.
"Like always, you have different relationships. Some kids will let you in and let you be a big part (of their lives). Some kids will need you more than others. That's part of being a coach, part of being a parent. It's no different with my own three (kids).
"At certain times in their lives, they've needed me more than others. I look at them (the players) as my own kids and I hope when they walk out of here and they graduate, they will feel, at the very least, like I will always be there for them."
Like Stacey is there for him.
• • • •
tacey is the hammer, that's what Stacey is," Gary Andersen was saying. "She'll keep me focused, she'll keep me centered. I get so consumed by the moment, whether it's recruiting or whether it's a game week or whether it's when things aren't real good.
"She will look at me and basically say, `Knock it off and move forward.' She has been awesome at that especially since I've been a head coach. You have to have someone to lean on. But she'll look at me and, `Save it, let's move on."'
There are no secrets between Gary and Stacey Andersen. They met while both were attending a Salt Lake City high school and they started dating when they were 16. They have been married 29 years and they see players the same way. "I like to think of them as my kids, too," she said.
But does she see herself as the "hammer?"
"I try to be, yes; I try to be supportive," she said Tuesday. "If he throws some things at me, I always tell him, `Don't be quick to jump. Think it out before you act.' He's my right hand, too. I don't know if I would be able to function without him."
When UW athletic director Barry Alvarez called Andersen to offer him the job, Gary looked to Stacey for the type of support and reassurance that only a wife can provide a husband.
Sons Hagen, Chasen and Keegan and wife Stacey provide Andersen's support on the homefront.
"I told him if that's what he wants," Stacey Andersen said, "I would support him 100 percent in his decision. On other jobs (Andersen was offered), I was more standoffish.
"I was not so much in favor of the other ones (California and Colorado). But I had this feeling that this one was the one that was going to be it.
"And I wasn't going to be the one to say, `No, don't pursue it.' Instead I said, `You'd better pursue it and I'm not going to hold you back for that one."'
Gary Andersen will routinely get "more serious and focused" at this time of the year, she said. There may be even more urgency now because it's all so new, all so fresh. But when he comes home from the office -- Camp Randall Stadium -- there will not be much conversation about football.
"I'll ask him how practice went," she said, "and he'll say it was good or it was bad or it was decent but there will be no details. I figure he has done enough talking (about football) and he doesn't need to come home and have me drilling him, too (on the same questions he gets at practice)."
What's Stacey Andersen's role during the season? "To keep the home front functioning and take care of all the outside things, be supportive," she said. "I try not to let him get too distracted. I just try to keep it as a family environment ... we'll be there for each other."
Like Bill Busch is there for him.
• • • •
'm a pretty high-strung guy and he's very calming for me; Bill is going to take a step back," Gary Andersen was saying. "He knows who I am, he knows my personality, he knows he can come in (his office) and tell me what he thinks, and how he feels about things. He's a tremendous friend.
"In life, you don't have a whole bunch of close friends that you have the ultimate trust in. I hired Bill because he's a great coach; he's a great recruiter; those are two of the most important things. But I also hired him because he's the best fit for the University of Wisconsin and this staff, myself included."
|“There are certain people that you would do anything for,” Busch said. “When you’re working for someone like Coach Andersen, when you’ve been together that long, when things get tough, you dig in more.”
Busch, a former Alvarez graduate assistant (1994), has been with Andersen on four different coaching staffs. They first crossed paths at Northern Arizona. In fact, they were hired on the same day: Busch to coach the secondary and Andersen to coach the defensive line in Flagstaff, Ariz.
"Our offices were right next to each other and we both came in early every morning," said Busch, 48, who played collegiately at Nebraska Wesleyan. "So that's how we became friends. The twins (Chasen and Hagen) could barely talk yet, could barely speak, now they're freshmen in college."
Busch used to teach the oldest son, Keegan Andersen, how to spell. "Bill would always start out with the word of the week," Gary Andersen said, "and it was always `Spell fahrvergnugen' every single week. That carries over to today. Keegan is 22 years old and he'll see Bill and he'll say, "Spell it."'
Their first year together at Northern Arizona was not all fun and games, football games.
"I remember waking up at 4 in the morning and I was unbelievably sick," Busch said. "I didn't know what to do. I'm a first-year coach and I didn't know who I should call. So I called Coach Andersen and he had to physically carry me and put me into his Suburban and drive me to the hospital.
"The next day, they did surgery on me for a staph infection. It was a serious deal and that's who I went to (the Andersens) when there was no one else. Stacey was the one who stayed with me through the surgery. When I got dismissed from the hospital, she was the one who drove me to practice."
So what does Busch bring to Gary Andersen today? What does he offer that others may not?
"I understand how he operates and what he wants," Busch said. "I know what he's looking for as far as information. I'll see something and think, `This is something that he's going to want to know.' Or sometimes if it's trivial, I'll think, `That's not something that needs to go to the CEO.'
"There are certain people that you would do anything for. There are not 800 of them, but there are certain people. You have your family, you have your friends. So when you're working for someone like Coach Andersen, when you've been together that long, when things get tough, you dig in more."
You anticipate situations and resolve questions based on your frame of reference together.
"He's a full-blown head coach, there's no doubt about that," Busch said. "But we've been together for so long defensively, we'll start talking about something and it's like, `Remember that's what we did at Utah in 2001. Or that's what we did at Utah State in 2009.' We always have that carryover."
Like Zach Nyborg has with him.
• • • •
ach is my go-to guy when I have an issue or a scenario," Gary Andersen was saying. "He keeps me organized. I'm not a real good delegator. I allow too much to pile up. He knows me well enough to know when enough is enough and when to put on the brakes. And he's not afraid to say that."
Nyborg came to Madison to serve Andersen as his Director of Football Operations, a title that Andersen's older brother, Mark, held at Utah State. During the three seasons that Nyborg was on Andersen's staff in Logan, he was a graduate assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
|“Coach Andersen is loyal, he’s honest, he wears his emotions on his sleeve and he’ll tell you how he feels,” Nyborg said.
“He’ll hug you up when it’s good and he’ll kick you in the fanny when it’s needed to be done.”
The 26-year-old Nyborg, a BYU grad, wants to be a football coach, not an ops guy. "This is like a coaching internship for me," he said. "I get a lot of exposure to the head coaching side ... that not everyone gets. So it's a huge benefit for me. I'm keeping a big old notebook of things that I learn."
One of the first things that he learned was perseverance -- "As I started in this business I was a nobody," Nyborg said -- which Andersen can vouch for. "I didn't even know his name the first three weeks in the office (at Utah State)," he admitted. "But he never stopped banging down the door."
In the end, Nyborg's persistence made a favorable impression on not only Gary Andersen, but also Stacey Andersen. "He's very loyal, very honest," she said. "If I need some way to get a hold of Gary, Zach is always there. He's very smart, he's very motivated. He does a lot."
Nyborg doesn't stray too far from Andersen on the practice field. Timing is everything. "He and I work together," Nyborg said. "If we have a two-hour practice, we're going to try and get through that practice in an hour and 50 minutes. That way we can get the kids out of here.
"His whole goal is to get in and get out -- to get the work in that we need to get in and then get home. Whether that means they've got study hall and homework or they're just hanging out with roommates for a little bit more, it's important for them to have a life outside of football."
Among other things, Nyborg programs the music that is played during practice. At Utah State, he might use whatever was on his iPhone playlist or Andersen's. Or he might go with Pandora. At Wisconsin, he spends about 45 minutes a day sorting through the options and tying it all together.
If it's a labor of love for Nyborg, then Andersen has helped make him feel that way about it.
"Coach Andersen is loyal, he's honest, he wears his emotions on his sleeve and he'll tell you how he feels," Nyborg said. "With his players, or anyone else, he'll hug you up when it's good and he'll kick you in the fanny when it's needed to be done. The same goes for his kids."
Always one in the same.