|Excited for the Transition|
Chris Borland (Fleming/12)
Wisconsin's players are focused on the Rose Bowl 10 days from now, but those who have spoken to new head coach Gary Andersen are excited to work under his vision.
MADISON - Standing next to center and captain Travis Frederick outside the office where new head coach Gary Andersen was holding meetings, junior left guard Ryan Groy didn't know what to expect.
Like many of his teammates who were left in limbo for two weeks, Groy trusted who Athletic Director Barry Alvarez was going to select as the program's next head coach, but didn't know many of the names being thrown around and had a hard time keeping track of all the names swirling in the rumor mill.
After talking to him for a couple minutes, Groy's anxiety turned to relief.
"He's obviously a player's coach," said Groy. "He respects what we've done here at Wisconsin. We didn't like the process, but I know you can't hire somebody off a whim. We've heard a lot of nice things from his players, saying he's a great guy and that he built the program from nothing to where they are today."
Andersen – who was formally introduced Friday – has labeled himself as a disciplinary who emphasizes academics and support for his athletes. He also says he takes heat for calling his players' ‘kids,' viewing his football family on the same playing field as his three boys.
"Every single one of them are my kids," said Andersen.
That was the main reason why when Andersen quickly took the Wisconsin job, he recognized the need to personally tell his players, who would likely be stunned considering he told them he be leaving for the three previous jobs he was linked to.
With his kids on holiday break following their 41-15 win in the Famous Idaho Potato bowl January 15, Andersen and director of football operations Zach Nyborg, who has followed Andersen to Wisconsin, started calling every kid on the roster starting from the East Coast to the kids on the West Coast.
Andersen estimated he did that for over seven hours until roughly 3 a.m. Tuesday night, only to wake up at 6:30 and start calling kids again.
"It was important for me to not shoot a text message," said Andersen, saying it was the most difficult thing he had to do in his coaching career. "The kids deserve that. If they're frustrated, they deserve to tell me they're frustrated, which not one of them was. I'm not going to tell you they were doing back flips, but they understood the situation. They understand the University of Wisconsin.
"It was emotional 106 times. It would be easier to let them be in a team meeting and get emotional one time."
Considering that the team meeting route was the way Bret Bielema announced to Wisconsin's players that he was leaving, junior linebacker Chris Borland can appreciate Andersen's gesture.
"I think that speaks volumes," said Borland, who met with Andersen with linebackers Ethan Armstrong and Mike Taylor. "That's a real classy move. There are a lot of guys on the football team, so he is really dedicated to his guys."
Borland acknowledged that a coaching change could be a fresh start for a lot of players being evaluated for next season. Andersen was on the sidelines watching practice Friday before holding optional team meetings upstairs.
On the same account, Borland – one of 20 scholarship seniors-to-be next season – said that it will be to up to his class to continue to keep Wisconsin on the right path.
"We've got our heads down to the grindstone," said Borland. "Coach Andersen has shown what he can do and he isn't coming into a program that isn't well established. I think he'll be able to hit the ground running with us."
Borland added that despite all of the outside turmoil with the coaching search and assistants leaving, the players haven't been distracted in preparing for Jan.1 Rose Bowl against No.8 Stanford.
"We've got a lot of stability at the top of our program having a former coach be an athletic director," said Borland. "(Alvarez) stepped right in, calmed everybody nerves and presented a plan that we are following to help us win."
Hearing bits and pieces of Andersen's news conference, Groy acknowledged it meant a lot to hear his new coach say his top priority are the kids currently in the program. Admitting he was uncertain of what direction Wisconsin's program was going to go schematically under Andersen's leadership, Groy was not the least bit nervous about the transition when asked.
"I think he is a Wisconsin kind of guy," said Groy, who hails from Middleton. "(Coach Andersen)'s the right fit. He's exactly the right guy for this program. I am sure he is going to bring us to good places."