College football: Badgers coach eases tension

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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M. Spencer Green | Associated Press
Unlike his predecessor, Bret Bielema, first-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has nothing but praise for Urban Meyer, who he worked under at Utah in 2004.

Nothing that new Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen said during two days of news conferences at Big Ten media days last month in Chicago caused an uproar among Ohio State fans.

In fact, Andersen didn’t say much of anything that merited attention.

Wisconsin fans on Twitter even wrote that Andersen’s answers to reporters’ questions were “boring” and “bland” compared with his predecessor, Bret Bielema.

“That’s good,” Andersen said. “This is not about me in any way, shape or form and it never will be. As long as the kids in our program know who I am and know that I love and care for them, it is about those kids. It’s not about the coaches.

“Players make plays. Players win games. As coaches, we are here to move them in the right direction. The last time I looked, I never saw 85,000 people walk into a stadium to watch 10 coaches run up and down the sidelines.”

Sorry, Ohio State fans, but the days appear to be over when a Wisconsin coach caused your blood to boil, the way it often did when Bielema went 68-24 in seven seasons with the Badgers. Bielema is now causing headlines in the Southeastern Conference as the coach at Arkansas, and his replacement from Utah State isn’t a mouth that roars. Not only is Andersen more tactful and reserved than Bielema, he also is friends with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Andersen was the defensive line coach at Utah in 2004 under Meyer, when the Utes went 12-0.

“Gary, I would put in one of the top two or three hires I’ve ever made,” Meyer said.

Both fondly recalled the interview when Meyer asked Andersen, who was then the coach of Southern Utah, about returning to Utah, where he had played and served as an assistant coach from 1997 to 2002.

“He blew me away,” Meyer said.

“I walked out of there knowing I wanted to work for him,” Andersen said.

The two coaches, both 49 years old, went to lunch together in Chicago and spoke so glowingly of each other to the media that it seemed a florist might arrive with a delivery.

“He’s a good person, a good family man, and somebody I have great respect for,” Andersen said of Meyer.

So much for February 2012, when Bielema accused Meyer of “illegal” recruiting tactics.

Intensity still will mark the rivalry between Ohio State and Wisconsin when they meet on Sept. 28 in Columbus. The Badgers are coming off three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, and Meyer led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record last year in his first season.

However, it’s doubtful Andersen will give OSU fans any reason to hang funny nicknames on him before then the way they did Bielema.

Bielema surprisingly left for Arkansas on Dec. 4, three days after Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten championship game. Athletic director Barry Alvarez coached the Badgers in their Ross Bowl loss to Stanford, although he had hired Andersen.

Andersen was 26-24 in four years at Utah State, including a 11-2 record last year that included a 16-14 loss at Wisconsin, when the Aggies missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt with six seconds left. They went on to their first bowl victory in 19 years, 41-15 over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

“He’s a genuine guy,” Meyer said. “He cares about his players.”

It showed when Andersen spent two days personally calling all 106 players on the Utah State team to let them know he was leaving for Wisconsin. His new players in Madison noted that.

“Coach Andersen has been great,” Wisconsin senior receiver Jared Abbrederis said. “He’s all about the players.”

He’s just not about stirring the pot.

tjones@dispatch.com

@Todd_Jones

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