New Oregon State coach Gary Andersen doesn’t expect everyone to fully understand why he left Wisconsin for Corvallis.
“This is just where I believe I was told to go,” he said. “A lot of people think that’s strange or weird, but that’s how I work.”
From a football standpoint, it will always be puzzling. He was just two years into a promising tenure at a place where the College Football Playoff would have been a realistic yearly aspiration. At Oregon State, that won’t be the case. Success will be measured differently, and it’s foolish to believe Andersen doesn’t realize that.
Reading the tea leaves to find reasoning that’s easier to understand than the explanation Andersen offered isn’t easy. Some have questioned whether the move was rooted in his desire to be closer to his native Utah, but it’s hard to imagine a shorter plane ride to Salt Lake City made that much of a difference.
Others have wondered if Wisconsin’s more stringent admissions restrictions could have been wearing thin. That could have been the case, but years of evidence shows Wisconsin has attracted more highly-regarded talent than Oregon State.
During his introductory press conference on Friday, Andersen kept going back to “fit.” He was careful not to say anything that reflected poorly on Wisconsin, where he went 19-7 over the past two seasons, but also wasn’t exactly specific in what made Oregon State the more desirable location.
“There’s fits in life and there’s opportunities that come your way and when you see a fit, and you look at it and you get that feeling,” he said. “At least what I believe, I believe I’m told where to go ... and I believe I got the feeling that’s telling me where I’m supposed to go and there’s no doubt this is where I’m supposed to be.”
He shot down speculation there was a rift with Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who will coach the Badgers in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, but also spoke to the importance of the people he’ll work with.
“To me, it’s the people that are behind the doors that matter the most,” Andersen said.
One of those people is Oregon State president Dr. Ed Ray, who was in a jovial mood Friday -- the norm for one of these events -- as he conveyed his excitement with the university's high-profile hire.
“To any doubters I want you know that when you come to play Oregon State anywhere and especially here in our house, you better bring your A-game or we’re going to kick your butts," Ray said.
While going through the interview process, Andersen sought Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s opinion of Oregon State.
“Kyle and I usually talk about once a week or so,” said Andersen, who served as Whittingham’s defensive coordinator at Utah for four years. “He’s a good friend of mine and I respect his opinion. I asked him what he thought and he thought it was a quality university.”
But can he win there? Well, that'll be an uphill climb.
Former coach Mike Riley sent a clear message with his decision to pick up and leave for Nebraska: Winning isn’t on the immediate horizon for the Beavers.
It’s hard to see it any other way.
And when faced with that reality at 61 years old, Riley’s decision to chase success after years of loyalty doesn’t need to be forgiven. If the Beavers were primed to make a run at the Pac-12 North, this move doesn’t happen, and it’s really that simple.
Those circumstances are also what make Oregon State’s ability to land Andersen so interesting.
Only time will tell if Andersen is, in fact, the right fit for Oregon State, but he's about as good a hire the Beavers could have hoped for and made a strong first impression speaking to a room of an estimated 350 people.
No new coach is going to stand behind a microphone and aspire for nine-win seasons, so Andersen made the obligatory declaration.
"If you're not fighting to win a championship," he said. "If you're not going tout to win the Civil War, then you're in the wrong business."
Andersen wasn't ready to announce any staff members, but gave a timeline for early next week when those official announcements will start to roll in.