A WAC championship and back-to-back bowl appearances at Utah State earned coach Gary Andersen a one-way ticket to a job in the Pac-12.
But something happened on the way to California or Colorado. Andersen decided he wanted to stay in Logan, Utah.
Opportunities are wonderful. It was very humbling the last three or four weeks to go through that process and be involved in jobs. You learn a lot, but you also learn a lot about yourself and where you want to be, Andersen said this week.
And you sit back and take a deep breath and know who you want to be able to be around. I love the kids I get to coach here. The kids I have in the program, it just was not time. I look them in the eye and I need to be where Im at.
Andersen and his Aggies are making their second consecutive appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. They take on Toledo on Saturday at Bronco Stadium.
Under Andersens direction, the Aggies have won 15 of their past 18 games. The three losses were by a combined six points, including a 24-23 loss in last years bowl game to Ohio.
The 48-year-old Andersen grew up in Utah and marveled at the way Ron McBride (Utah) and LaVell Edwards (BYU) built their programs with Utah kids and Polynesian players.
He played at Ricks College in Rexburg and Utah and spent 11 years as an assistant with the Utes. Andersen served as defensive line coach in 2004, then defensive coordinator at Utah from 2005 to 2008, including a Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama, before taking over in Logan for the 2009 season.
Once an Aggie, always an Aggie. And Ive learned that. I walked in here and I wasnt an Aggie. To everyone, I was a Ute, Andersen said. For me, once an Aggie, always an Aggie is something I take a lot of pride in.
Few doubt his credentials now.
Andersens Great Danes are named Aggie and Big Blue. His son Keegan is a sophomore tight end, and twin sons Chasen and Hagen have committed to play for Utah State next season. He got the Aggies logo tattooed on his right shoulder last year when Utah State reached a bowl game. It might have made for some awkward moments in Boulder or Berkeley.
Unlike other coaches, who have slipped away from their programs without telling a soul, Andersen held a closed door meeting with his team to explain his situation. He asked that no one post the details on Twitter or Facebook.
No one did.
When you care about a coach, you want them to make the best decision for them. He has a family that he supports. In the end, the decision is whats best for your family. As much as we care about Coach A, he made the decision thats best for him, senior running back Kerwynn Williams said.
Hes the most important cog in the works for this program. Hes done an amazing thing here where hes turned the team around. He set standards for us. He didnt change at all. He made us work to get to the point we are right now. I definitely think it was tough. I know it was hard on him. Im excited that he stayed for the young guys.
The program Andersen inherited had gone 9-38 in the previous four seasons. It was mired near the bottom of the WAC, hardly belonged on the same field as in-state rivals Utah and BYU and had reached just two bowl games since 1961.
Andersen is 25-24 in four seasons, including 17-8 the past two years. The Aggies beat BYU in 2010 and Utah this year. Utah State, with improved facilities that started before Andersen was hired, is headed to the Mountain West next year. He has gone with the formula he believes can work Utah kids (55 are on the roster) and defense (No. 15 in the FBS).
Hes done a tremendous job there. Theres no question about his ability, said former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who will be ESPNs analyst for Saturdays game. What hes done at Utah State is nothing short of amazing.
Other schools have taken notice and Andersons name is sure to be atop most lists for jobs in the future despite a new contract that runs through 2018. At least 26 FBS schools will have a new coach in 2013, nearly one-quarter of all the teams in major college football.
He consulted with Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who has spurned bigger schools to remain in Boise, before deciding to remain at Utah State.
I understand why hes stayed and its very familiar territory in the way my mind works, which to be frank with you, it blow peoples minds. Theres a lot of people out there who think hes crazy for staying at times. Ive never felt that, Andersen said. A lot of people have told me Im crazy, but I dont feel that.
Like many non-AQ schools, Utah State wants to model itself after Boise State, hoping to duplicate the Broncos consistent success. Having a successful coach willing to forego bigger dollars is a good start.
Hes been talking about building a program, sophomore linebacker Zach Virgil said. And he can do something at Utah State that a lot of coaches dream of doing start something special.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph