Gary Andersen's hectic life as new Oregon State coach
CORVALLIS -- So little time, so much to do. The opportunity to sit back and take a deep breath hasn't yet arrived for Gary Andersen in the week since he was hired as Oregon State's football coach.
"That will come Saturday," Andersen said Thursday during a 20-minute interview in the players' lounge at Valley Football Center. "It's been hectic, but a very good hectic.
"We've made tremendous strides in a short period of time. It's been a great week of work. There are so many things to do, but we'll continue to move forward and take care of them one at a time."
During the press conference announcing Mike Riley's successor, Andersen laid out a three-pronged priority plan that included 1) communicating with the current Oregon State players, 2) hiring a coaching staff and 3) recruiting.
Andersen says "probably more than 30" players have connected with him, either visiting him in his office or through text message.
"Most of them were gone for Christmas break by the time we got here, but I'm proud of the kids who reached out, the ones who felt like they needed to," Andersen said. "That's an impressive start."
With the ones who remain on campus, "I've taken walks to the weight room a couple of times a day to shake hands and say hello, to allow the kids to come up and say hi. It's been great to have some casual conversation with them and to listen to their thoughts."
Only one of Andersen's nine full-time paid assistant coaches has been named -- Brent Brennan, who will stay on to coach receivers. He'll be the only Riley aide retained.
"I want to make sure this is the right staff for a long time, so I'm being patient -- and I'm not a patient person by nature," Andersen said with a smile. "A couple of assistants are going to be here for sure, but I want to hire my coordinators before I make any other firm decisions."
The two "for sures" are T.J. Woods (offensive line) and Chad Kauha'ha'a (defensive line), both assistants on Andersen's staffs at Utah State and Wisconsin. There's a good chance that Southern Methodist secondary coach Derrick Odum -- who worked with Andersen when they were both assistants at Utah -- will also come aboard. But Andersen wants to have his coordinators nailed down before filling out the staff.
"It's important coordinators have a say on their side of the ball," he said. "I have a few coaches I want to bring in, but I want the coordinators to feel comfortable with guys I'm thinking about. I also want to give (coordinators) an opportunity to bring some people to the table, because it's their system.
"I'm not a guy who looks over everybody's shoulder every minute. I want to give the offensive, defensive and special teams guys what they need to be successful. That's the job of the head coach."
Andersen said he has four prime candidates in mind for the coordinator jobs, two on each side of the ball.
"I feel like I'm swinging for the fences with the four people who are in it," he said. "Oregon State deserves the opportunity to swing for the fence."
On the defensive side, the decision could be between the current D-coordinators at Utah (Kalani Sitake) and Utah State (Todd Orlando), which both play bowl games Saturday. Sitake served on Andersen's defensive staff at Utah, and Orlando came to Utah State the year after Andersen left for Wisconsin.
Andersen said he isn't sure if he'll have a dedicated special teams coach or divide the duties between a couple of assistants who will also coach a position. At both Utah State and Wisconsin, he did the former.
As for completing the staff, "I would expect a week from now, it will be done," he said.
Andersen said he will retain most of Riley's graduate assistants and student interns, a group that includes former Beaver players Kevin Cummings, Keaton Kristick, Tavita Thompson, Mitch Singler and Dorian Smith. Yvenson Bernard has accepted a fundraising position in Our Beaver Nation.
"They've been awesome," Andersen says. "I told them no matter what, they'll be taken care of (financially) through spring semester. We'll keep all of them who want to be here.
"They'll all be in a good spot. We'll go through winter quarter and see where it sits, but my bet is, we're going to like all of those kids and they're going to do a good job."
Another GA or student intern: Keegan Andersen, the oldest of three sons to Gary and his wife, Stacey. Their twin boys, Chasen and Hagen, will attend Utah State beginning winter term. Chasen, a linebacker who played as a walk-on freshman at Wisconsin last season, has been giving a scholarship by the Aggies.
Gary Andersen was mostly a defensive coach during his time as an assistant, including four years as Kyle Whittingham's D-coordinator at Utah. But Andersen took a well-balanced approach during his time as a head coach at Utah State and Wisconsin, and he intends to continue that in Corvallis.
"My first year at Utah State, I just tried to be a head coach, did the things that were necessary, and let our coaches coach," he said. "The second year, I was very involved with special teams. The third year, because of a change in our staff, I actually served as defensive coordinator. The fourth year, I went strictly with the offense, and that was a great year for me, a great learning time. I didn't coach a position -- I was a fly on the wall, seeing how they do things.
"The first year at Wisconsin was kind of the same as when I was at Utah State. Last year, I coached outside linebackers. Moving forward, I'll just try to be in the best position to help where we need help and not mess things up."
A month-long recruiting dead period began Sunday, meaning coaches can contact recruits only once a week via phone. For a few days, Andersen had no assistant coaches to help with the process of communicating with the 20 high school and junior-college players from which Oregon State had verbal commitments.
"It's hard to recruit when you have one guy who can call and talk to kids," Andersen said. "The first order of business was to communicate with them and educate ourselves on where they are academically. I've talked to every one of those kids."
Four of the players who had given verbal commitments to the Beavers have announced that they are de-committing. Three say they are headed for Washington State -- tight end Hunter Mattox and a pair of JC players, cornerback Treshon Broughton and safety Shalom Luani. Linebacker Tyrin Ferguson said he will join Riley at Nebraska.
Andersen said he won't give up on the players who flipped commitments.
"We need to get into those homes," he said. "We need to see them eye to eye and face to face. They need to hear from the coordinator. We need to get them with the position coach.
"I can't blame a kid for having some doubts. I wouldn't expect a kid to trust the first thing they hear. I would hope they don't. Fortunately, many of the kids are still very solid with us."
So there's an extra challenge for Andersen and his staff when the recruiting process opens up again on Jan. 14.
"It's hard when the first time you're doing a home visit, they know a whole lot more about Oregon State than they know about us," Andersen said. "They'll believe in what we've done (at Wisconsin), which helps, but those relationships are so important. A lot of the things we say in recruiting about the family atmosphere and taking care of the young men, maybe they're thinking it's hard to believe all that is going to take place. But we'll show them. We'll be honest with them."
The FBS limit is 25 players in each signing class.
"We're going to be in the 20's, for sure," Andersen said. "We'll create a need list, based on the players we have back."
Andersen has divided the group of Wisconsin verbals into two classes -- those who committed because of the school and those who did so because of the coaches.
"If I felt like it was truly a relationship-based scenario, I'd pursue it," Andersen said. "I'm not going to pressure them, of course. And if a young man opens up his recruiting to another school, we'll check that out, too.
"I think we're in a good spot. We'll put together a very solid class."
Andersen ran a spread offense at Utah State and a pro-style attack at Wisconsin, the latter with mostly players left from the Bret Bielema regime. Andersen isn't yet sure what he'll use at Oregon State. He wants to check into his quarterbacks -- Luke Del Rio, Brent VanderVeen, Kyle Kempt, Marcus McMaryion and Nick Mitchell -- though little game video of any of them is available.
"We'll go back and watch their high school tapes," Andersen said. "We'll reach out to coaches and find out what they thought about them. And we'll be able to evaluate them through the spring."
Andersen isn't sure labeling an offense is important, anyway.
"Minnesota was not a spread team this year, but (the Gophers) were a quarterback-run team, and they were very good at it," he said. "They had a talented tailback and threw the ball very little and won a lot of games.
"To say you're a 'spread team' is kind of a quick statement. We want to be an aggressive offense that plays with pace and gets our best guys on the field. The quarterback-run game doesn't always have to be a speed-option attack."
When asked his view on the Beavers' returning roster, Andersen gave a short answer.
"Some good stuff there at running back," he said. "Those receivers, there's a flashiness that comes out in them. Great group. We have a lot of rebuilding to do on the defensive side."
After the press conference introducing Andersen as coach, I wrote that he and his wife -- both Salt Lake City natives -- are Mormon. Untrue.
"My parents were LDS (Church of Latter-day Saints), but I'm not LDS, I'm just straight Christian," he said. "My boys went to Catholic high schools. I thought it was great for them to be in that environment. I don't go to church much. I have my own set of beliefs. I do what I do."
During the press conference, Andersen had twice mentioned he was "told" to come to Oregon State. By God? Through prayer?
"I'm a little guarded when I go down those lines, but I believe that -- yes, I do," he said. "I coach because I want to influence kids' lives. I hope to be a father figure for the ones who need that. I I want to affect them in a positive way, and I'm going to work my tail off to do it.
"It's my job and Stacey's job to deal with the youth of America. It's the unbelievable opportunity football gives us. I have a relationship (with God). I believe in following what I'm told to do in that area. I have a great relationship with my dad. He's not with us anymore, but I continue to listen to him, too."
But Andersen also listened to his heart, which was telling him Corvallis was the place to go.
"There's a reason why when we left Logan, Utah, we didn't sell our house," he said. "This place reminds me very much of Logan. There are a lot of similarities. The small college-town atmosphere suits us. The landscape in this part of the country is fantastic."
And already, he is appreciating the break from the Midwest winter weather.
"I haven't worn a coat yet," he said. "Stacey walked back from the press conference barefooted. Way different than 20 degrees and snowing."
For now, though, the Hilton Garden Inn and the OSU campus are pretty much all he knows in Corvallis. Soon enough, that will change. An era is beginning. A coach's life is going to stay hectic for a while.