May 23, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen's recent volunteer shift at Culver's not only benefited a worthwhile cause (Badger Honor Flight) and triggered a flashback to his high school years when he met his wife Stacey while flipping burgers at a Salt Lake City restaurant, but it spawned memories of another non-football related job that he held during a window in his life when he was in-between coaching gigs.
In 1994, Andersen was out of work on his own volition after making a contentious decision to follow his heart when his close friend Kyle Whittingham resigned as an assistant at Idaho State because of differences with the head coach. Andersen was also on that staff. "But when Kyle ended up resigning, I ended up resigning, too,'' he said, "just because I believed in Kyle Whittingham. That was my guy.''
Stacey Andersen, who was pregnant with twins, couldn't believe her husband's timing.
"She thought I was cracked,'' Gary Andersen said. "I knew I had to get a job doing something.''
That led him back to Salt Lake City, where he took over a youth-in-custody program at Highland High School. "I had to basically teach all the different curriculums and classes and it was a great learning experience for me as a person and teacher,'' he said. "It was a whole new world. You're structuring the life of kids and some of them didn't want to be there. They all had their issues. That's why they were in the program. But you're still trying to teach and develop kids, regardless of their scenarios.''
Sort of like coaching.
"Absolutely, that's what it is,'' Andersen said. "I never saw myself not being a teacher.''
In fact, if he wasn't coaching football today, he assumed that he would be teaching.
"Without a question,'' he said emphatically. "I'd probably teach elementary kids, fifth- and sixth-graders. That's a very intriguing age to me. You can influence them in a lot of possible ways.''
Andersen, then 30, was at Highland -- and out of football -- for less than six months before he accepted the head coaching position at Park City High School, some 30 miles east of Salt Lake City.
It was the next step on a winding path that would span nearly two decades and lead Andersen to Wisconsin and a Culver's restaurant on the east side of Madison as part of a "Day of Giving'' event. A percentage of Culver's sales have been earmarked for the Badger Honor Flight, a regional link to the national Honor Flight Network, which escorts World War II veterans to the national memorials in Washington, D.C.
All of this is near and dear to Andersen, whose father, Phil, was a WW II vet, a member of an infantry regiment that fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Andersen has the American flag that adorned his dad's casket in his Camp Randall Stadium office. It's a source of inspiration. "He just taught me to be who I am,'' he will tell anyone who asks. If you didn't already know, he's a goal-setter.
• • • •
What did Andersen tell his Wisconsin players at the end of the spring semester?
"First of all, I wanted them to leave here with a plan on what they're going to do -- I want them to have set their goals for that period of time,'' he said. "When they walk back in here on June 9 (for the start of summer conditioning) we hope they've made strides on those six-week goals in the three areas that we always talk to them about: the social world, the academic world and the athletic world.
"I do want them to get away and have fun and I want them to take a big deep breath. That's imperative during this break that they do get away from football and the college world and everything else. So I want them to follow the plan, look at their goals, and come back refreshed and in good shape.''
Andersen expects most, if not all, of his freshmen -- plus junior college quarterback Tanner McEvoy -- to be on campus by the middle of June and under the wing of strength coach Evan Simon.
"In a nutshell, in my opinion, we, as a group of coaches, hand over the keys to the car or the keys to the football team to the strength coaches in the summer,'' Andersen said. "Evan will hand the keys back over to us the first week of August. Evan knows and understands that and will do a tremendous job in building relationships and getting those new kids in the program ready.''
But this phase is not just about indoctrinating the newcomers, Andersen stressed.
"It's also about the kids who have been in the program and have a head start over the kids who haven't been here -- it's about the kids who have been here with us and gone through spring ball,'' he said. "They've got to understand the details of the offense, defense and special teams. It's one thing to know what they're doing but it has to become second nature for the most part. That's the challenge.
"It's a challenge to coach that and teach that in the summer because you can't spend time with them so the kids have to kind of coach themselves. I'm sure they'll come back and handle that well.''
To this end, Andersen has already identified some of the team leaders. On defense, he cited safety Dez Southward, linebackers Chris Borland, Ethan Armstrong and Brendan Kelly, and interior linemen Ethan Hemer, Beau Allen and Tyler Dippel. On offense, he singled out tackle Ryan Groy, quarterbacks Curt Phillips and Joel Stave, tailback James White, tight ends Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. "These are well-established players,'' Andersen said.
More to the point, he said of Phillips and Stave, "Curt can lead and, in his own way, Joel needs to lead.'' The quarterbacks are generally in charge of organizing their teammates in the summer for throwing sessions; a responsibility that also falls on Abbrederis. "Jared leads the wide receivers and it's an area where we have to make strides,'' Andersen said. "So his leadership is key at that spot.''
Repetition is the operative word in developing timing between the pitchers and catchers.
"They can't do it enough,'' Andersen said. "I don't want the quarterbacks' arms to fall off. But I definitely want them to be strained a little bit. I challenged the wide receivers since we don't have enough quarterbacks to throw the ball as much as we need to throw it and catch it. But we do have Jugs machines available. Hopefully we'll have to buy a couple of new ones because they're worn out.''
Andersen's assistants are in the process of completing spring recruiting. As a staff, they will take Monday and Tuesday off before returning to the office next week for evaluations. "I'm a believer in always having three, possibly four, people in the office during the summer,'' he said. "We do take a nice break. July is a time when the coaches need to get away similar to the kids getting away right now.''
June is a time for Badger Football Camps, and Andersen has a plan for the campers of all ages.
"I want them to walk out of here with a better understanding of the techniques and fundamentals of basic football,'' he said. "I think every young man -- and I don't care if he's a five-star recruit -- can come in here and learn some techniques and fundamentals.
"I also want them to understand our coaching staff: who we are and what are coaching style is -- especially if they're in a position to be recruited. It's an opportunity to be coached by our coaches. If you're going to commit to a school, it's important for those coaches to be around. You can learn a lot.
"Everybody gets a t-shirt at every summer camp. But when they put that t-shirt on here, I want them to have a smile on their face and I want them to say, `I'd like to go back there next year because I had such a good time at the University of Wisconsin.'''
Last week, the Big Ten released its 2014 conference schedule. Wisconsin was the only school to draw both expansion newcomers, Rutgers and Maryland, in its cross-divisional matchups.
"A lot has been made of who we play and who we don't play and whatever,'' Andersen said. "I've got a lot of respect for the Big Ten and it will be a challenging schedule like it always is. Breaking it down, it's got some rivalries in there which are important to us and I'm excited about it.''
On playing nine conference games beginning with the 2016 season, Andersen said, "I think it's a move in the right direction.'' Also, on a concerted attempt by Big Ten teams to upgrade non-league scheduling, he added, "As long as everybody does it, I'm good with it. It sounds like everyone is all in.''
As of Thursday, there are only 100 days until the 2013 kickoff. He didn't have to be reminded.