Gary Andersen, the enigmatic football coach who was fired by Utah State midway through 2020 football season, very politely refused a formal interview. He says he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself; he wants to go away quietly, to be off the grid, to be a full-time grandfather.
He doesn’t think he’ll coach again, but he’ll probably do some camps and work with youth. He said several times that he has nothing but good wishes for Utah State and its football program, and meant it. And that was that.
“Actually taking Stacey (his wife) on a January vacation,” he texted earlier this month. “That’s something we have never done! :)”
Before he disappears from the public, there are some things that should be said. Here’s what he will not say publicly and that very few know about Andersen’s departure from Utah State. It deserves its own paragraph ...
He has refused to be paid the balance of his contract.
He told the school that wasn’t his style; don’t bother paying him what he is owed. He had three years left on his contract when he was fired in November 2020, at $900,000 per year.
TWO POINT SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS.
He’s walking away from it.
This came via two sources; Andersen did not want to comment on the matter publicly.
Andersen actually signed a separation agreement at the end of the year freeing USU of its obligation to continue paying his salary through the end of the contract.
This just isn’t how things are done in college football. Tom Herman, who was fired by Texas earlier this month, will collect the balance of his contract through 2023 — reportedly worth between $13 and $15 million. His staff will continue to receive another $10 million. Buyouts are the norm in big-time college sports.
In 2020, South Carolina fired head coach Will Muschamp, costing the school a $15.5 million buyout (Muschamp also received a $6 million buyout six years earlier when Florida fired him). Auburn fired head coach Gus Malzahn, leaving the school on the hook for a buyout of $21.5 million. Arizona fired head coach Kevin Sumlin and will pay a $7.3 million buyout. Just two years ago Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez with a buyout worth $6.3 million.
That’s the way things are done. They get paid not to coach.
That’s not how Andersen does things. If he doesn’t do the work, he doesn’t take the pay. In his mind, he didn’t earn it.
This is unheard of. Who does that?
Well, Andersen does. When he abruptly quit as Oregon State’s head coach in the middle of the 2017 season with four years left on his contract (counting a one-year extension), he walked away from a reported $12.6 million. According to a former OSU employee, Andersen quit because he no longer believed his staff was capable and that to succeed he would have to start over completely with an entirely new staff; that was not an appealing option.
Andersen and Scott Barnes, who was the athletic director at both USU and Oregon State when Andersen coached at those schools, both concluded that the coach was not going to succeed at Oregon State and agreed to a mutual parting of ways. That meant that Andersen could have collected the balance of his contract, but Andersen signed an agreement — as he would do at USU — that absolved OSU of paying that money.
“How could I wake up every day and look at myself in the mirror knowing I took money from the kids in that program?” he told a colleague, believing the money could be used for things that would benefit the players.
When Andersen left OSU he released this statement through the athletic department:
“Coaching is not about the mighty dollar. It is about teaching and putting young men in a position to succeed on and off the field. Success comes when all parties involved are moving in the same direction.”
Not about the mighty dollar? College football is all about the mighty dollar.
Except for Andersen.
Between the Oregon State and USU jobs, he’s left about $15 million on the table — enough to set up him and his family for life. That’s not even considering the money he could earn if he continued to coach; he could certainly land another high-paying job as a defensive coordinator (a position at which he excels), and possibly another head coaching position.
It would have been perfectly understandable if he had continued to take money for the balance of his USU contract. If schools are willing to offer such money and put it in writing, why not take it? Especially when you consider the short, abrupt treatment he got from the school’s imperious athletic director, John Hartwell.
That’s the way Andersen has always operated. He was a young defensive line coach at Idaho State when his defensive coordinator, Kyle Whittingham, got sideways with the head coach. The head coach came to Andersen and gave him a choice: either tell me I’m right or you’re fired. Andersen, whose wife had just given birth to twins, said he would quit. Instead, he took a $12-an-hour job as an in-school suspension monitor at Highland High.
So Andersen was his own man from start to finish of his sometimes strange coaching career. Almost nothing he did was orthodox.
In 2003, Andersen, the assistant head coach at Utah at the time, secured his first head coaching job at Southern Utah. A year later he was back at Utah as an assistant.
He left Utah State to become the head coach at Big Ten power Wisconsin; that much was understandable. What happened next was not. After his first season at Wisconsin in 2013, in which his team was 9-4, he was awarded a contract extension that would pay him $2.2 million annually, with a $100,000 raise each year. Following the 2014 season, in which Wisconsin was 10-3, he resigned suddenly and left for Oregon State, one of the worst programs in the country. It’s understatement to say that was a puzzling move.
“I was very surprised,” athletic director Barry Alvarez said at a press conference at the time. “I really had no idea that this was in the works.”
Andersen shocked everyone again when he suddenly quit the Oregon State job three years later and walked away from all that money.
Andersen’s overall head coaching record of 63-70 is misleading. He didn’t shy away from taking head coaching jobs at schools with losing traditions, where success, if it came at all, would require time and some losing seasons. Such programs are known as “coaching graveyards.”
He took over a USU program that had had only three winning seasons the previous 28 years. It took him two losing seasons to fix it, and then he compiled 7-6 and 11-2 seasons. He left a big-time program at Wisconsin — where he was almost guaranteed to succeed (and did) — to take the job at perennial loser Oregon State, which would be considered career suicide by most coaches. He won only seven games there in 2½ seasons.
At the end of the day, Andersen will be remembered as much for his unorthodox ways as for the success he produced as a head coach at USU and Wisconsin and as an assistant at Utah during the finest seasons in that school’s history. Either way, whether it was his choice of the schools he would coach or the decisions he made to leave, he never chose the easy way.