Madison -- Replacing the man who won three-straight Big Ten Championships won't be easy. However for new Head Coach Gary Andersen, who was introduced today by Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, gave the Badgers and their fans plenty reason for optimism.
Andersen was introduced as Wisconsin's Head Coach Friday
Stepping in for Bret Bielema who left for Arkansas after seven seasons at Wisconsin, Andersen made the Badger faithful quickly forget about Bielema and the six other assistant coaches who also plan to leave Madison following the end of this season.
With just one press conference, Andersen turned the image of a program that appeared to be destined for tougher roads ahead, into one currently on the way to greener pastures than his predecessor led Wisconsin to.
Despite the current turmoil that faced the Badgers leading up to the Rose Bowl, Andersen reminded us again that Wisconsin is a force to be reckoned with.
"If you were asked and take every head coach and every position coach in America and every level of college football and ask them to draw up the top 20 best college football programs in the country, I guarantee Wisconsin is on
99.9 percent of those ballots that you gather," Andersen said Friday. "That makes it a special place from a football standpoint.
"What's special to me is I have a very genuine interest in being able to reach out and coach the kids, the young men that I have something in common with. And I know, now that I've been here, I get to coach those type of young men, that, again, high character, care about academics, their want to is unbelievable to succeed in life.
"But then you walk in here, and you see all of this. If I go up on the third level of the stadium and everybody leaves, I'm going to be there for a minute because I can't get outside. I don't know where I'm going. The facilities, everything that's there, the setup is unbelievable. Again, it is the people in the buildings. At the end of the day, it's not the buildings.
"It's the people in the buildings that makes this special. I believe that when I walk
in here, and I have a tremendous, much better understanding of why I believe this place is special."
Wisconsin will play in their third-straight BCS game January 1 against Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Although Andersen admitted it would be hard to duplicate the success Bielema had in Madison, he left little doubt that he expects the Badgers to be competing for National Championships.
Andersen expects to have a staff in place over the next few days.
"Would not have entertained the thought in any way, shape, or form of taking a job at this point in my career if I didn't think we could come in and compete and play for championships," he said. "I'm not a prediction guy. I'm not going to reach out there and say we're going to do this or we're going to do that.
"I'm just let the results speak for themselves when we get out on the field. I think this football program -- I know this football program has everything it needs to compete at the highest level. In everybody's mind, I'm sure the National Championship is at the highest level.
"Again, that's all talk. The table's been set for these young men to have everything they need, academically, socially, and athletically, at a high level. How high that level is, only time will tell."
The first tough decisions Andersen will have to make is figuring out which assistant coaches he'll take from Utah State, which Wisconsin assistants will remain with the Badgers, and who he'll pursue as outside hires.
Andersen expects to wrap things up in the next few days, but won some points Friday by announcing that former Badger and Secondary Coach Ben Strickland, isn't going anywhere.
"I hope in the next couple of days we can get a lot more stability to where the coaching staff is," Andersen explained. "I'm highly interested in retaining coaches on this staff. Why wouldn't I be? I'd be crazy not to be.
"Again, if you're going to secure the state and Wisconsin, you'd better have young men who understand how to recruit and reach out to high school coaches in the state of Wisconsin, which I'll call every one of those high school coaches in the state of Wisconsin in the next week or so, but I've got to retain some young men who understand how and why and who's important in the state of Wisconsin.
"Ben Strickland--he's going to stay. I want him here in the worst way, and it's important for me to have him on the staff. Ben has shown me how important he is, and he is Wisconsin, if you will. I understand that because that's where I started my coaching career is where I grew up and where I played. There's
something special to be a coach. So he'll be involved in that process.
Alvarez (left) spoke highly of Andersen (right).
"Secondly, offensive coordinator is up in the air. The offensive coordinator at Utah State is now the head coach at Utah State, which is a tremendous opportunity for Matt Wells, and I will look out, reach out to find a quality coach. I will say this about the offensive coordinator. When you're at the University of Wisconsin, it's a great job. It's not a good job, it's a great job for an offensive coordinator, and offensive coordinators will understand that. They'll line up a
thousand deep if you want them to.
"The key is to find the right guy that can run this offense and build it the way that we want it to be built and carry over and use the best kids -- use the kids the best way as far as their abilities. So that will be a little bit of a work in progress as we move forward. My coaches that I had with me at Utah State, I will bring three or four of them, and then I will reach out to a couple other coaches that are currently in other programs.
"So it will be a great mix. There's some coaches with tremendous opportunities that were here at Wisconsin that will make some decisions and see what they want to do in the future."
During his seven years in Madison, Bielema was constantly compared to his predecessor, Barry Alvarez, who not only won three Rose Bowls during his time as the head man, but established Wisconsin as a national power.
One could argue Bielema elevated Wisconsin football farther than what Alvarez did during his 16-year tenure as head coach, and you can guarantee Andersen's resume will be closely compared to that of Bielema's seven years as well.
"I think the biggest thing is, as you look the at a program rich in tradition, rich in winning, three Rose Bowls in a row, where are you going to take it next,?" said Andersen. "To be a consistent winner, again, they've been a consistent winner, but I think the thing is to have kids that are going to be able to compete at a national level and hold consistency to be a college football powerhouse year in and year out.
"What's my stamp going to be on it? I sure hope my stamp at the end of the day is to be on a football field that's physical, tough minded, plays aggressive, plays the game the right way, is respected by their opponents, solid in all three phases, has one of the best graduation rates in the country.
"That's what I expect. And socially young men that turn themselves from young men into men as they go through the program. Again, will never be perfect. I'll never say that. But sure will try to be every single day and fight to get that position."