MADISON, Wis. (AP) Several schools tried to lure Gary Andersen away from Utah State.
Wisconsin finally got him.
Andersen was officially hired as the Badgers' new coach Thursday, and will be formally introduced at a news conference Friday morning. He replaces Bret Bielema, who left the Badgers for Arkansas this month.
"I don't know if I can really have a word for how excited I am to be at Wisconsin and have this opportunity," Andersen said in a video on Wisconsin's website. "I know I'm humbled, I know I'm blessed."
The 48-year-old Andersen just completed his fourth and best season at Utah State. The 18th-ranked Aggies finished 11-2 with a bowl victory against Toledo and won the Western Athletic Conference. One of those losses was at Wisconsin, where the Aggies missed a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds to allow the Badgers to escape with a 16-14 win.
It's been a remarkable rise for a program that had been near the bottom of major college football for years, and stuck in distant third in its own state behind BYU and Utah. The Aggies won nine games in the previous four seasons before Andersen took over. The last football coach to finish his tenure in Logan, Utah, with a winning record was Phil Krueger who went 21-12 from 1973-75.
Andersen drew interest from California, Colorado and Kentucky last month, but decided to pass on those opportunities and received a contract extension from Utah State.
When Wisconsin called, however, Andersen couldn't resist.
"It all came together," he said in a video on Wisconsin's website. "By no means was I sitting out there going, `I've got to have a job, I've got to have a job.' But as soon as this one popped open, to me, this was a special, special place."
Before Andersen left Logan, Utah, however, he called his players - all 107 of them - so they would hear the news that he was leaving from him and not on TV or Twitter.
"I couldn't tell them yet that I had taken the job," Andersen told UWBadgers.com. "But I told them if I was offered the job I was going to take the job. There were a bunch of tears and hard conversations."
Andersen replaces Bielema, who left Wisconsin on Dec. 4, three days after the Badgers routed Nebraska to win the Big Ten title and a school-record third straight trip to the Rose Bowl. Athletic director Barry Alvarez has agreed to coach Wisconsin in the bowl at the request of the players.
Though the Badgers' 8-5 record going into the Rose Bowl is their worst since 2008, Andersen is inheriting a team loaded with talent through Wisconsin will lose Montee Ball, who set the major college record for career touchdowns this year and tied the single-season mark last year, along with linebacker Mike Taylor and standout defensive backs Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith.
The Badgers still have James White or Melvin Gordon, who rushed for a total of almost 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns. Jared Abbrederis has led the Badgers in receiving each of the last two seasons, and Joel Stave showed promise before the freshman broke his collarbone. Disruptive linebacker Chris Borland, who is second with 4 1/2 sacks and 95 tackles despite missing two games, also is expected back.
And while this will be Andersen's first job in the Midwest, one Big Ten opponent has no doubt he can succeed. When Alvarez was considering Andersen, he called Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who had Andersen on his staff at Utah in 2004, when the Utes went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl.
"(Meyer has) had some very good assistants," Alvarez said on UWBadgers.com. "Urban told me that Gary is in the top five of all of them; he's the real deal. I said, `Would he fit here? Would he fit in the Big Ten?' He said, `Absolutely."'