CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Gary Andersen paused, and an embarrassed, unsure smile crept across his lips.
“What’d I say?” he asked the 300-plus Oregon State supporters crowded into the Valley Football Center, many of whom had gasped audibly seconds earlier. Then, it dawned on him.
Yeah, in this area the word “Ducks” is not a welcome one, even if Andersen was using it in a common way, as in “Get all my ducks in a row.”
He laughed, then corrected his error. “Go Beavs!” A quick learner.
Andersen on Friday was introduced as Oregon State’s football coach, eight days after veteran Mike Riley shocked the college football world by announcing he was leaving for traditional power Nebraska. Chatter around the country was that nothing would be more surprising than Riley leaving … and then the Beavers topped it themselves, announcing that Andersen was coming to Corvallis after two years in Wisconsin. On the surface, it seems crazy to leave a top three Big Ten job for a bottom three Pac-12 job. But maybe Corvallis has more to sell than everyone -- including me -- gives it credit for.
On Friday, Andersen talked a lot about Oregon State being “right:” Right place, right time, right fit. It’s a good atmosphere for him and his family, he said, a description inevitably always associated with Oregon State. Yes, many programs preach being “family-friendly” but they live it in Corvallis, where coaches’ kids attend the same daycare, football coaches are regulars at women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics events, and football coaches’ children are as likely to be hanging out in the offices as players. It was a standard set by Riley, followed by every other program. OSU needed someone to fit in that world, but they also needed a jolt.
Before he dug into the coaching search, Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis met informally with Pat Casey (baseball), Wayne Tinkle (men’s basketball) and Scott Rueck (women’s basketball) and asked for their thoughts on the “DNA” it takes to win at Oregon State. They talked about being down to earth and friendly. “Hang-ability,” was important, Rueck said, because in a small town, you have to be able to hang out with everyone. Ego was off limits, because it doesn’t work in a city this size, where there’s nowhere to hide. But they were also adamant that they wanted someone who wanted to be here.
“People can be as positive as they want or as negative as they want,” says Casey, who led the Beavers to back-to-back NCAA baseball titles in 2006 and ’07. “Yeah, we’re not a great metropolis. But by the time we get done thinking about that, the season’s over and we’ve gotten knocked on the head. We have to create our own environment about who we think we are. If we think we’re less than … then that’s who we’re going to be.
“Yeah, we don’t have an abundance [of money]. You have to be a guy who likes challenges. But we’ve had success here.”
It’s true that Oregon State isn’t rolling in cash. But two days before Andersen’s presser, De Carolis and president Ed Ray announced a $42 million renovation to the Valley Football Center, a step forward in the recruiting war. They have already secured $25 million in donations but just to be clear, those were sewn up this past summer, when Riley was still coach. The donations did not come after Riley left, as some have speculated. They brought Andersen to campus for $2.45 million, a decent chunk more than they were paying Riley. The administration is digging its heels in, and serving notice they intend to be a player in a loaded conference.
Andersen accepted the job sight unseen, convinced Oregon State has “everything you need to be successful.” He had been here once before, in 2007 when he was the defensive coordinator at Utah. He lost.
In the game of “winning the press conference,” Andersen thoroughly dominated. He used the word “aggressive” so many times I lost count, talking about being “aggressive in how we take the field, how we play defense, how we work in the classroom, how we attack our social life.” I’m not sure what that last one means, but it seemed to resonate with fans, who watched a sometimes-lifeless team limp around Reser Stadium this season.
“Being good is not good enough,” Ray said, as fans nodded emphatically. When he met Andersen, Ray had a five-minute pitch about why Oregon State was a good job. It included the family-first attitude, new, improved and rising facilities, the beautiful Willamette Valley and a college town where almost everyone loves, cares and wants to know what’s going on with the Beavers. Ray didn’t even get through half of his pitch before Andersen said he was in.
De Carolis and Ray didn’t believe hiring a sitting head coach was necessary. Ray pointed out “that Chip Kelly guy” turned out to be pretty good, and no one had heard of him when he showed up in Eugene. The fact that Andersen comes with a winning pedigree is a bonus. Before Wisconsin, he resurrected Utah State from obscurity, taking a program that had won six games in the three seasons prior to his arrival and delivering a conference championship in 2012, his fourth year. The Aggies finished the season ranked No. 16 in the final Associated Press poll. On Friday, Andersen likened Logan, Utah -- the home of Utah State -- to Corvallis. Without being cocky, he basically said he knows how to win in a small town.
The Beavers graduated arguably the best quarterback in program history, and lost nine defensive starters. But the roster is built for anything to be installed offensively, from pro style to zone read. Andersen believes his quarterback must win with “his arm, his leg and his mind” adding that a quarterback who can make plays with his legs, or at least extend plays when the pocket breaks down, is critical for college offenses in today’s era. This is welcome news to a fan base that had grown weary of the old school traditional pro-style.
There will continue to be speculation and questions about why Andersen left Madison after just two years. We likely won’t ever get the full story. Andersen called Barry Alvarez “a Hall of Fame coach and a Hall of Fame athletic director.” Interpret what you will about him not including “Hall of Fame boss” into that answer. It doesn’t matter that outsiders say this is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12. Andersen doesn’t see it that way.
That’s exactly what Oregon State needed.