ESPN Madision

A New Era

Dec 21, 2012 -- 9:19pm

With Wisconsin introducing Gary Andersen as the new head football coach today, I thought it would be a good time to get to know the 48 year old, as well as take a look at his resume and find some pros and cons of his hire.

In 1984, Gary Andersen was a first team junior college center at Ricks College, which is now known as Brigham Young University- Idaho. He then transferred to the University of Utah and lettered for two years before graduating in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

He started his coaching career in 1988 as an associate head coach and offensive coordinator at Southeastern Louisiana. From there he bounced around coaching positions, including returning to his alma mater Ricks College as the offensive line coach, coaching the defensive line at Idaho State and coaching special teams and defensive line for Northern Arizona. In 1997, Andersen began his tenure at the University of Utah where he eventually became the assistant head coach, coached the defensive line and was the special team coordinator. He left in 2003 to become the head coach at Southern Utah before returning to Utah as the defensive coordinator for their undefeated 2004 season, in which Urban Meyer was the head coach. Andersen remained the defensive coordinator until 2009, when he accepted the head coaching position at Utah State and turned the program around after they won just six total games in the three years previous years. This year, Utah State went 11-2 and beat Toledo 41-15 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on December 15th. The Aggies almost toppled the Badgers on September 15th of this year when they missed a 37 yard field goal with only seconds remaining that would have given Utah State the win.

Now let’s look at some of the pros and cons of the new Wisconsin head coach.

Pros:

-          Andersen has the “mentality” that Barry Alvarez likes to talk about. Alvarez repeatedly stated that he would only hire someone that would match the culture at Wisconsin and after hearing that Andersen personally contacted every single one of the 106 players at Utah State to tell him he was leaving for Wisconsin; you have to believe he has the mentality and attitude that Wisconsin wants.

-          He is a relentless and spirited recruiter. Andersen was able to recruit NFL caliber talent to Utah State, which I’ve heard described as “the middle of nowhere in the middle of nowhere.” If Andersen can recruit to Utah State, it is reasonable to think that he will be even more successful in Madison.

-          He is an energetic and passionate motivator. Most of his former players discuss how he was able to get the most out of them just with his personality on the practice and game field. He will bring energy and passion to the program that will make it easier to forget Bret Bielema.

-          Andersen knows Urban Meyer. Ohio State and Urban Meyer will be the primary rival and competitor in the Leaders Division. Andersen coached under Urban Meyer at the University of Utah and although it was almost ten years ago, that familiarity should help Andersen and the Badgers when facing the Buckeyes.

Cons:

-          Andersen has never coached outside of the state of Utah. He is only familiar with his hometown state and I am sure he knows little, if any about Wisconsin and the Midwest.

-          He has no Big Ten ties and has no experience in a big time conference like the Big Ten. Although he has had success at Utah State, the WAC is not the Big Ten.

-          He has run the spread offense for most of his coaching career. Alvarez already stated, “We are going to run Wisconsin football.” So I don’t expect Anderson to come in and try to run the spread, but he has little experience in the pro-style offense that Wisconsin runs.

-          Since Andersen is not a big name coach, it may affect the incoming recruiting class. It should be expected that the Badgers will lose some of their current commitments because many of them are asking, “Gary who?”

Andersen seems to have the attitude and energy that will benefit his transition to Wisconsin. He has demonstrated that he does things the right way and that is the most important factor to Barry Alvarez. Only time will tell if his hiring was a good decision, but Alvarez has earned the trust of everyone in the state of Wisconsin and if he liked Andersen, then you should too.

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Turning It Around

Sep 22, 2012 -- 10:49pm

All a baseball team can ask for is to be playing meaningful games in September. Just a few weeks ago, that did not seem like a possibility for the Milwaukee Brewers.

On August 22nd, the Brewers were 10 games back from the final wild card spot and had little hope of being relevant down the stretch. By all indications, the organization was already looking forward to next season. Ace Zach Greinke had been traded to the Angels and a number of prospects were called up to get major league experience. The starting rotation featured three young arms that were unproven. Few expected that those young pitchers would help lead a run that would put the Crew squarely in the playoff race, but that is exactly what happened.

A month after being 10 games behind in the wild card race, the Brewers are now 2 ½ games out and have won 22 of 29. Strong starting pitching, an aggressive offense and an improved bullpen have helped fuel the run. Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez have anchored a lineup that has produced from top to bottom.

Manager Ron Roenicke has been a perfect example of being cool under pressure. The second year skipper helped steer the team through rough waters when the bullpen couldn’t finish out a game any better than I could. Roenicke is as even keeled as they come and he showed that throughout a season full of disappointing stretches. Roenicke never gets too high or too low. He has the perfect temperament for an MLB manager.

Whether or not the Brewers finish off their improbable run, the fact that they are in it at all is impressive and bodes well for the future. In trading Greinke to the Angels, Milwaukee got shortstop Jean Segura, who has impressed with his slick fielding and overall ability at the plate. Segura is batting .381 in the month of September and has not looked overwhelmed by being in the middle of a playoff race.

If the Brewers can keep it close while on this tough road trip, things will get very interesting the last week of the season. Milwaukee hosts Houston and San Diego for the last six games of the year, while the Cardinals travel to Washington D.C. and Cincinnati.

If Milwaukee doesn’t complete their improbable run, it at least gave fans a reason to watch in September, and that is more than anyone expected a month ago. It also has given the team a much brighter outlook for next year. Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Mark Rodgers have proved they can pitch in the big leagues. Now Doug Melvin can have flexibility in how he approaches free agency next year. Milwaukee can spend money elsewhere if they want and not have to spend it all on average, veteran pitching.

The next few weeks will be fun to watch play out, and Milwaukee has a chance to complete the comeback. Like I said, all you can ask for is to be playing meaningful games in September, and that’s exactly what Milwaukee is doing. We’ll see if they can finish the job.

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Keep Calm and Carry On

Sep 15, 2012 -- 3:01pm

 

In the postgame press conference following the Packers 23-10 win over the Bears on Thursday night, Aaron Rodgers was asked the question, “Did you sense any worry this week or any anxiety?” Rodgers answered with a quick, “No… We showed a clip in one of our meetings of the scene from Semi-Pro when Will Ferrell is fighting the bear and the bear gets out of the cage and he’s yelling, ‘Everybody panic!’”

Rodgers sarcastic grin, and the scene from Semi-Pro, exemplified just how ridiculous the overreaction was after one loss. Rodgers and his teammates realize how long an NFL season is and how much of a roller coaster it can be. No one in the Packers locker room was panicking. The national media was asking, “What’s wrong with the Packers?” Fans were asking, “What happened to the offense?” Deion Sanders asked Rodgers in his one on one interview for the NFL Network, “Have the veterans gotten together? No one has said anything, no meetings?” What? Did he really ask if they had a player’s only meeting after one loss?! The national media fueled some of the freak out. Many get paid to make outlandish statements and over the top predictions (Skip Bayless), but fans should know better than to overreact after one game. I saw and heard overreaction all over the radio and social media. I heard that the team’s window was closing or that Dom Capers should be fired. I realize that most fans aren’t so naïve to think that we can make judgments on a team after one game, but far too many do just that.

I sent out a tweet after the week one Packers loss that is was a tough loss, but not to freak out. The 49ers are good.  The NFL season is a roller coaster and patience is a virtue. Injuries, inconsistent play, and tough parts of the schedule will make an overreacting fan go into shock. I am a pessimistic fan. I find that it helps me to deal with the eventual let down of teams that I root for. The odds aren’t great that my team will win each year, but I also know that the past few Super Bowl winners didn’t all come out of the gates on fire. The Giants lost their first game last season to the Redskins (with Rex Groosman at QB). Two years ago, the Packers looked terrible as they lost back to back OT games to the Redskins and Dolphins early in the season. The 2007 Giants lost the first two games of the season. As we’ve witnessed in the past, the eventual Super Bowl Champion is rarely the team that looks the best out of the blocks, it’s the team who gets hot down the stretch and makes a run.

The Packers started as hot as they could last season and finished the year with only one loss, and that didn’t end so well. The NFL has seen more and more wild card teams make a run to the Super Bowl. Making it to the playoffs is the goal, not going undefeated. One loss will not cripple a season. One win will not make a season. I said don't overreact after the first loss, so I'll say don't overreact after the win over the Bears. There is a long way to go and every team has question marks at this point in the season. Green Bay drafted six defensive players with their first six picks in this year’s draft. Those players need time to develop. Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and the other rookies will only improve as the season goes on. Give them time. Be patient. Don’t overreact after every win and loss. Unless you enjoy the emotional highs and lows, then by all means, panic!

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2012 NFL Predictions

Sep 08, 2012 -- 10:25pm

In my opinion, this is the greatest time of the year in sports. It’s football season! With it being the first week of the NFL, it’s time to make some predictions. I realize how meaningless predictions are, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to try, right? With that being said, here are my predictions for the 2012 NFL season. Hopefully no one comes back and reads this in February.

AFC East Winner: Patriots 12-4. I know I am not going out on a limb here but New England has won this division eight out of the last nine years and they have Brady and Belichick. The Jets and Dolphins are a mess. The Bills are on the rise, but in a quarterback driven league, I’ll go with Tom Brady over Ryan Fitzpatrick all day.

AFC North Winner: Ravens 11-5. The AFC North is deeper than most. The Ravens, Steelers and Bengals all made the playoffs last year from this division. I picked Baltimore because I think Joe Flacco will take a big step forward this year. It doesn't hurt to have Ray Rice in his backfield and a solid defense to back him up. Pittsburgh isn’t getting any younger and Cincinnati is simply not as talented as Baltimore.

AFC South Winner: Houston Texans 13-3. The Texans won the division and made it to the AFC Divisional round with a 5th round rookie quarterback starting the final five games after Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart went down with injuries. Their defense should be one of the best in the league, even after the loss of Mario Williams to free agency. The Colts, Jaguars and Titans are all starting first or second year quarterbacks and are in the process of rebuilding. This might be the easiest pick of them all.

AFC West Winner: Denver Broncos 10-6. The Broncos brought in four-time MVP Peyton Manning in the off-season and if his neck has fully healed, he should be the difference in the division. I think it will be a muddled pack all year, but Denver made it to the playoffs last season with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Getting to and winning a playoff game with Tebow might have been John Fox’s most impressive coaching performance of his career. Denver’s defense should be solid and the offense should be miles ahead of last year’s team. (Get it? Mile High Stadium? Anyways…) I believe the Chiefs will be better, but I just don't completely trust Matt Cassel. Speaking of not trusting someone, the Chargers still have Norv Turner at the helm.

AFC Wild Card: Buffalo Bills 10-6. I will probably regret this pick a few months from now, but what fun are predictions if you go chalk the whole time?! The Bills upgraded their defense with Mario Williams and I think Ryan Fitzpatrick will bounce back from last season’s second half collapse. Playing the Jets and Dolphins for four games should help.

AFC Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs 10-6. Another pick that not everyone will agree with, but I think the addition of bruiser Peyton Hillis and the return of speedster Jamal Charles to the backfield should help the offense immensely. Kansas City’s defense has loads of talent and there is no reason why they can’t be a top flight defense.

NFC East Winner: New York Giants 10-6. The NFC East is always tough to predict, because a different team has won the division each of the past seven seasons. I am going with the Giants, even though they just lost at home to the Cowboys to kick off the season. The Cowboys looked impressive beating the Giants, but they have looked impressive in the past and then look terrible the next game. I’ll go with Eli Manning over Tony Romo, and I think their pass rush will be enough to mask their problems in the secondary. The Eagles are the mystery team here. They have the most talented roster in the division, but if/when Michael Vick gets hurt; they won’t be able to overcome it. The Redskins should be more exciting with RG3 under center, but not a threat to the division.

NFC North Winner: Green Bay Packers 12-4. The Packers went 15-1 last year with the worst statistical defense in the history of the NFL. I think that tells you how explosive Green Bay’s offense was. The defense will need to improve if they want to make it back to the Super Bowl. The Bears will be better after getting quarterback Jay Cutler back and adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall. If Brian Urlacher can’t recover from his knee injury, the defense might take a step back, but overall, Chicago will challenge the Packers this season. The Lions will be good (Megatron is a freak), but in this deep division, they will be aiming for a wild card spot.

NFC South Winner: Atlanta Falcons 11-5. The Saints and Falcons will battle it out for the division, but I am going with Atlanta. I think Matt Ryan will have a big year, and New Orleans has to be effected by all the off-season distractions, right? The Bucs and Panthers will both improve from last year, but it will be difficult to make the playoffs in an incredibly tough NFC.

NFC West Winner: San Francisco 49ers 13-3. Jim Harbaugh was the best coaching hire in the NFL last year. He brings toughness and discipline that the 49ers team played with last year. There is no reason why that shouldn’t be true again this year. The best defense in the league returned all their starters, and as long as Alex Smith plays mistake free football, San Francisco will repeat as NFC West winners. The Seahawks will be better than last year. I love Russell Wilson, but he is still a rookie quarterback. The Rams will be average at best, and the Cardinals will be terrible. John Skelton? Poor Larry Fitzgerald.

NFC Wild Card: New Orleans Saints 10-6. Although the Saints have a lot of distractions entering the season, they still have Drew Brees running the show. The offense should be as prolific as ever, but their defense won’t be able to stop anyone.

NFC Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks 10-6. I love Seattle’s defense this year, and the addition of Russell Wilson should revitalize the offense. Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and a good defense will make Wilson’s transition to the NFL easier than most. Wilson set the NCAA record for quarterback rating last year at Wisconsin, and that tremendous decision making will allow Wilson to be successful right away.

Super Bowl Pick: Packers over Ravens. I’ll take the Packers to beat the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. The Packers went 15-1 with the worst defense in the league. All they need is a middle of the road defense in 2012. I think they will get that and win their second Super Bowl in three years.

Enjoy the 2012 season and don’t come back to read this after the season. We all know it will be correct…

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