Andersen takes over in positive position

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Taking over at Wisconsin was a unique opportunity for Gary Andersen.
Unlike many first-year head coaches, he will walk into a good situation at Wisconsin. The program is not on a downward trend -- the Badgers have played in the Rose Bowl each of the last three seasons, they have just updated their facilities, and the school has a good academic reputation. The team is not depleted of talent, and theoretically Andersen should be able to win with the current players as he shapes the team in his own mold.
Even as he prepares to recruit the next group of players to Madison, he barely had to spend time selling the current group on what the program needs to succeed.
Andersen said it was almost too good to be true.
"We have to adjust to the kids -- just like they have to adjust to us -- but even that has been smooth," he said. "What I think has been very impressive is that not one kid told me that they were a great team last year. They went to the Rose Bowl, but it was still a season that wasn't what any of them expected and they want to get better.
"That was what was most impressive so far was that everyone wants to get back to work and get better."
Andersen said he believes it was important to set aside time to meet with the current roster even as he started to reshape it through recruiting.
He took three days and blocked out time to meet with every player, allowing them to voice positives, negatives, excitement and concerns about the direction of the football team. He similarly called all of his former players at Utah State individually when he took the job at Wisconsin.
Andersen said he gets a better feel for each player in those brief sessions than in a group setting. Since he took over for Bret Bielema on Dec. 18, he has been working hard to know everyone.
Bielema left for Arkansas on Dec.4 after seven seasons and a 68-24 record. Andersen said he had to explain the process to some of his players.
"There are kids here who are on their third or fourth position coach," Andersen said. "That is hard. Now we are here asking them to trust us, but really our belief is that trust is earned and we will have to go about doing that.
"The whole process has been hectic and fast-paced, but we have had the support of the administration and Barry Alvarez's staff."
The juxtaposition of the recruiting approach of Andersen and the philosophy of Alvarez, the legendary Wisconsin coach and current athletic director, was one of the most commonly discussed topics surrounding the program.
Andersen ran a spread-style offense at Utah State. Alvarez has been a proponent of a power, pro-style offense.
The new head coach said the shadow cast by Alvarez will not block out what he wants to do but fit right into his fundamental beliefs.
"We ran spread at Utah State because that is the personnel we had," Andersen said. "A lot of people probably only saw us when we played Wisconsin anyways, so they really didn't take time to find out what we do."
In 2010, Utah State nearly defeated Oklahoma -- losing 31-24 -- and beat BYU for the first time in 17 years. The next season, USU was an onside kick away from knocking off Auburn and made its first bowl appearance in 14 years. Last season, the Aggies went 11-2, won the WAC, defeated Utah and came within a missed field goal of defeating Wisconsin.
"We ran spread against Wisconsin because it would have been foolish to try and pound them in the middle, but our offense has been very sound in the running game," Andersen said. "We want to be a threat in all aspects of the offense, and we want our rushing game to be 53 yards wide and 100 yards long."
In his last two seasons at Utah State, the program finished No. 6 and No. 25 nationally in rushing. His defense finished in the top 15 as well.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said keeping the program at Wisconsin going will be the next step.
"As a recruiter, he's a bit unproven because he's spent most of his career in Utah, but in talking to kids he's recruited in recent years, they rave about the way he works with kids and parents, so I think he will fit in fine," Farrell said. "At Wisconsin, it's more about finding kids and developing them than loading up on four- and five-stars, and he has proven he can do that."
When Andersen took over, the class had 17 commitments. It ended with 17, but it had a four-player turnover.
The class of 2014 already has four players committed. All four are in-state prospects who play in the trenches.
Defensive tackle Craig Evans of Sun Prairie (Wis.) High is the highest-ranked at No. 190 in the Rivals250; offensive lineman Jaden Gault of Monona Grove (Wis.) High is a four-star just outside of the Rivals250.
Mixing in in-state lineman with out-of-state talent figures to be the formula for Andersen in recruiting.
"We are going to wake up in the morning being physical," he said. "Wisconsin breeds big, powerful young men, and they take pride in coming to this university and playing in this front seven. Our in-state recruiting will continue to harness that.
"We are going to recruit skill guys in our state, as well, but we may have to go into a larger range to get them onto campus and we feel very good about our ability to do that."
Selling the program -- not just the promise of a product -- has been another blessing for Andersen. He thinks that will ensure the success of one of the nation's best.
"That big, red W opens doors at any school or any home in America," he said. "We can give a world-class education, we can recruit nationally, and we have great facilities.
"I walked into a situation that is already a very special place, and I understand that and plan to take advantage of that."
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