For the second time in fewer than two years, Utah State needs a new football coach after “parting ways” with Gary Andersen, first reported by USA Today’s Dan Wolken on Saturday morning.
Twenty-three months after Matt Wells officially departed Logan for Texas Tech, the Aggies are searching for a new head coach, becoming the second FBS program to hop aboard the coaching carousel this year (Jay Hopson resigned at Southern Miss in September). Gone is Andersen, who went 7-6 last year, his first after returning to a job he held from 2009-12, and coached three blowout losses this year.
With Andersen out, who might Utah State target for a mid-level Group of Five job with a presumably high six- or low -seven-figure salary?
It’ll be the second football hire for athletics director John Hartwell, who arrived in 2015 and hired Andersen three years later. For what it’s worth, Hartwell was previously AD at Troy, where he hired Neal Brown, and worked in the Ole Miss administration for nearly a decade.
Before hiring Andersen, Hartwell considered three former Power Five coaches: Rich Rodriguez, Matt Canada, and Mark Helfrich, according to SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey. At the time, Rodriguez and Canada weren’t coaching, while Helfrich was finishing his first season as the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator. Now, only Canada is an active coach (Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterbacks coach). It’s unclear if Hartwell and Utah State will add any of those three to their short list (and if they care about the lawsuit filed against Rodriguez in 2019) but if Hartwell considered them only 23 months ago, common sense says he might consider them again.
There are several potential geographical fits, most notably USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who’s recruited the mountain region and west coast in stops at Washington State and USC and has quickly become one of the most in-demand coaches in college football. Harrell doesn’t need Utah State to land a good Power Five job (or great Group of Five job), nor does he need a pay bump because his USC salary is already higher than any Utah State head coach ever. However, if Clay Helton is dismissed and the Aggies find some cash, might Harrell consider an early offer instead of waiting for something during a winter that could have few openings?
Others geographical fits: Longtime Washington (and former longtime Boise State) defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatowski, former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre, Michigan State (and former Wyoming) defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton, Montana State head coach Jeff Choate, and Sacramento State head coach Troy Taylor. Taylor, who worked alongside Andersen on Utah’s staff in 2018, is a 52-year-old former Cal assistant who coached high school football in California for 15 years before returning to college football four years ago. He led an incredible one-year turnaround in Sacramento last year.
Elsewhere, Utah State could give Texas State head coach Jake Spavital a slight pay bump and, arguably, quicker path to a Power Five job. The same goes for Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton, and Old Dominion head coach and Colorado native Ricky Rahne, though betting on a coach to leave a program without coaching a game is never wise. Still, Rahne is a highly respected disciple of Bill Snyder and James Franklin and could be attractive to the Aggies.
Other names to consider: BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea, and Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.