With the shocking announcement coming just before 5 Pm CT that Gary Andersen would be leaving his head coaching job at Wisconsin and taking the head coach position at Oregon State, Madison, Wis. was sent into a frenzy of questions, rumors and general hysteria.
Amidst all this chaos is the odd realization that Wisconsin Football finds itself at a crossroads. The next decisions made within the program will affect it for years to come.
This is a fact that athletic director, Barry Alvarez, is far too well aware of.
â€śOur program will not take a step backwardâ€ť said Alvarez at an impromptu press conference held on Wednesday. â€śWeâ€™ve got a great product to sell; great community, and a world-class university”.
While it may not be a step backward, it is certainly not a step forward and that is where Wisconsin footballâ€™s focus needs to be â€”the future.
Gary Andersen is gone and with him are his hopes and dreams of seeing the Wisconsin Badgers play a spread offense in the Big Ten. The Badgers, under Andersen, were working their way closer and closer to that full spread offense and are essentially stuck between power â€śtraditionalâ€ť Wisconsin Football and a west-coast style offense.
The two-quarterback system that Wisconsin played with all year, resulting in a 10-3 season and a New Yearâ€™s Day Bowl is a perfect microcosm that represents where Wisconsin football is.
There is Joel Stave, the classic Wisconsin QB who isnâ€™t the most mobile but has a decent arm and loves to hand it off to a big time running back coming out of the I-formation. Tanner McEvoy makes a case for the west coast spread, taking all his snaps from the shotgun and being a threat to keep the ball and run at any time.
Take a gander further down the roster at quarterback and you see the writing on the wall, at least with Gary Andersen leading the Badgers program. He wanted a true dual-threat quarterback and was recruiting for that, bringing in D.J. Gillins and recruiting one of the best quarterbacks in the country this year in Austin Kafentzis.
It means a roster that is clearly in transition, one that is going down a more spread look than the Badgers ever had before. Yet, the current roster still has elements of the old-school Wisconsin way to it.
The next football coach is going to have to push Wisconsin in one of these directions and stick to it if it hopes to be successful in the Big Ten.
One just needs to look east to Ann Arbor, Mich. to see what can happen to a program that was going down the spread rabbit hole, pulled out before the transition was complete and reversed course back to the traditional offense it has always run.
It has cost the Wolverines everything, including two head coaches and its prestige on the national and Big Ten scales. No one fears Michigan football right now, and it all has to do with a lack of commitment to a way of playing the game.
Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with wanting to bring a head coach with his own style to the table, but when the styles are diametrically opposed and are in mid-transition that has to be a factor in hiring the new head coach.
Another major factor for Wisconsin to become a Big Ten powerhouse is that they need a head coach who treats the university as a destination job. Something that Barry Alvarez realizes has been an issue.
“Last two people proved that it isnâ€™t,â€ť said Alvarez when asked if Wisconsin is a destination job for head coaches, â€śI donâ€™t know why not, we have a great product to sell”.
Wisconsin cannot continue to cycle through coaches. The way coaches get recruits and better players is by building a reputation and tradition. This is something that simply will not happen after only spending two years with the team.
Losing recruits, losing legitimacy and constantly changing systems are all things that can cause the demise of powerhouse football programs.
There is a lot at stake here for the Badgers in the next days, weeks, and months. Fans and coaches have to remember that this is a job that should be desired.
The incoming coach will inherit a 10-3 Big Ten West division championship team that competed for a Big Ten title and will be playing on New Yearâ€™s Day bowl game.
It is a situation that a lot of coaches would do anything to be a part of, and Alvarez needs to recognize the power Wisconsin holds in deciding itâ€™s own fate.
Give the job to someone who will treat it as the top of the mountain and who will bolster Wisconsin into the perennial Big Ten powerhouse it has been built to be. But also, make sure youâ€™re not fitting a coach to your idea of football to spite what is happening on the roster today.
Wisconsin ultimately needs to pick a lane, stick to it and find a coach that wants to be in Madison for awhile. Itâ€™s really not too much to ask in this hire, especially for a program set up to have all the success it wants going forward.