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February 12, 2014

College the best fit for Andersen





I'm used to being a little late to the party on breaking news thanks to my second job. It's one of the perils of being a recent college graduate. After four years in school I have to make a living now, which means that I can't stay as up-to-date as my Twitter-addicted brain would prefer.

I'm fortunate that my other job hasn't gotten in the way of covering games and most practices, but it's frustrating to check your phone on a break and know instantly that you missed something. Breaking news doesn't usually wait around for me to finish my shift, unfortunately.

It happened again today. I turned my phone on during my break and saw statements from Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen and athletic director Barry Alvarez, in addition to about four or five Twitter mobile notifications saying that Andersen was in contact with the Cleveland Browns about their then-open head coaching job before ultimately taking a pass.

Like many others I was surprised at first to hear that Andersen interviewed with the Browns- after all, he had just finished up his first year at Wisconsin and doesn't seem like the type to make a habit of skipping town so soon. So no matter how you define an "interview," whether it's just a phone conversation or something a little more detailed, I don't blame fans for fearing that the Badgers might have to replace another head coach sooner than they imagined.

But the more I thought about it during the rest of my shift the initial surprise faded away. Andersen has been around football long enough to know that if the NFL calls you pick up the phone- even if it is the Browns on the other line. Is it really so surprising that a coach would be intrigued by the opportunity to reach his profession's highest level?

So while I'm not surprised that Andersen listened, I would be surprised if Andersen actually left for the NFL at all. Based on what little I know about him moving to the NFL doesn't seem like a great fit for his coaching personality.

I can't claim to have any "inside information" about his thought process or motivations- all too often media members trick themselves into thinking they know the coaches or athletes they cover better than they really do. I can only base my opinion on the things Andersen has said in public over the last year. But if we know one thing about Andersen it's that he cares very deeply for his players both on and off the field. A quote from his introductory press conference stood out to me as I was finishing my shift:

"It's important to me that young men very simply, he walks in here as a young man, and he turns himself into a man. That matters to me," Andersen said in mid-December 2012. "And you'll hear me refer to the kids as kids a lot. Sometimes I take some grief for that for calling football players kids, but they are my kids. Every single one of them are my kids. I look at them the same as I look at Chasen and Hagen and Keegan."

Andersen is far from the first coach to feel that way, but that attitude seems more at home in college football than in the NFL.

Maybe that's why he didn't pursue the job in Cleveland. From my perspective it seems like NFL head coaches focus more on building a winning organization than helping their players grow into more well-rounded individuals and promising their families that they'll take good care of them.

It could also be that Andersen didn't think it was the right time or the right situation to make another career move. Only Andersen can say why he made the decision he did, and I'm sure he'll be asked about it as his team gears up for spring football and he starts meeting with the media again on a regular basis.

I can understand why the NFL would be interested in an organized and straightforward coach like Andersen. But if we take him at his word that one of his biggest priorities is to mold young players into men I'd be surprised if Andersen actually takes an NFL job in the near future.

But then again, a little over a year ago I thought Bret Bielema wouldn't leave Wisconsin for another job as long as Alvarez was still sitting in the athletic director's chair. That bit of breaking news caught me off guard too.



John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.


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