OGDEN — Depending on the time of year, there are certain ways Utah State football coach Gary Andersen likes his potatoes.
“During the season, I like it baked with sour cream and chives,” he said. “In the offseason, lose the extra carnage — just baked with ketchup.
“Other than that, I’ll have it with chives.”
Considering how popular as the fourth-year Aggie coach and his team have been in recent days, one might just chalk up Andersen’s culinary option as another significant announcement for the USU program. On any account — due to other recent announcements — Andersen might indeed just be eating the latter soon enough.
USU learned Sunday that Toledo of the Mid-American Conference would be the Aggies’ bowl opponent on Dec. 15 in Boise, Idaho. Also last weekend, Andersen said he would remain as USU’s head coach next season.
Sources told the Standard-Examiner Monday that Andersen has indicated he will remain in Logan beyond 2013 as well.
Then on Monday — just before the official Famous Idaho Potato Bowl press conference disclosing its two participants — the Western Athletic Conference released its all-league teams, featuring enough USU players to place second in the conference.
Andersen was named the WAC coach of the year by his peers.
When asked where the events of the past few days ranked during his USU career, the answer was clear — and all based on one factor.
“Oh, yeah. This is the best,” Andersen said. “Winning a championship is a special time. They’re hard to come by. I’ve coached this game for a long time and it’s hard to win championships.”
Andersen’s last conference title as a coach came in 2008, when was Mountain West Conference champions en route to a Sugar Bowl victory. The Utes’ MWC trophy previous to that was in 2004, which also involved an undefeated season and BCS appearance.
“This is the first time the kids have ever won one, so that’s an exciting time. If it involves the accomplishments of the kids, I’m pretty excited about it.”
Fourteen of those “kids” were honored in the form of all-conference recognition for leading USU to a 10-2 season — the program’s first double-digit win fall — along with national rankings in multiple polls and a conference title, their first outright since 1936. Four Aggies were represented on the offensive and defensive first teams. They included quarterback Chuckie Keeton, running back Kerwynn Williams and offensive linemen Tyler Larsen and Eric Schultz. The defense was represented by defensive back Will Davis, defensive lineman Al Lapuaho and linebackers Jake Doughty and Kyler Fackrell.
The offensive second team included wide receiver Matt Austin and offensive lineman Jamie Markosian, while the defense featured freshman defensive lineman Jordan Nielsen, linebacker Zach Vigil and defensive backs McKade Brady and Nevin Lawson.
Receiver Chuck Jacobs, tight end Kellen Bartlett and defensive lineman Connor Williams received votes.
USU’s eight first-team all-WAC selections are tied for the most in a single-season in school history along with the 1997 team, while its 17 total honorees rank second all-time behind the 18 all-conference picks in 1997.
Andersen was quick to divert recognition to the players for his own accolade. But he expressed dismay at the all-WAC results — particularly that no one in his group, as conference champions, were selected as the league’s top player on either side of the ball.
Andersen said he believed Keeton (second in the WAC in passing efficiency and total offense), Williams (first in the WAC in all-purpose yards) and Davis (first in the nation in passes defended) that were deserving of the honor.
“But that’s not the way the coaches saw it,” he said. “We won the conference, so see it as you will.”
Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron was named offensive player of the year, while San Jose State defensive lineman Travis Johnson and Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon were named defensive and freshman players of the year, respectively.
When asked if he was more upset with the lack of accolades his players received or more pleased with the honors Aggies did receive, Andersen said he’d never be satisfied.
“Not any head coach in the country would say, ‘yep, we’re happy about it,’ because we’re biased for the (USU) kids,” Andersen said. “But I not go further than that because those who were honored are tremendous football players, and I have respect for those kids.”
Keeton’s adamancy was clear in emphasizing that USU’s conference championship was more important to him than any further recognition for him or teammates. Fackrell, a freshman, said being a first-team all-WAC honoree — along with freshman All-America recognition — after his first season was a goal he set with Andersen before the season.
“Dixon, he’s a great player for sure,” Fackrell said of a fellow-first year player who set NCAA freshman records for most rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points scored — marks previously held by NFL running back Marshall Faulk. “But I would have liked to get it, absolutely.”
Keeton and Fackrell both said Andersen had told them that he wanted to remain USU’s coach through the end of their careers. Keeton is a sophomore, while Fackrell has three more years of eligibility.
Andersen stressed Monday that a single factor did not primarily influence Andersen’s decision to spurn interest from Cal, Colorado and possibly others. The relationship with his players and an administration of university president Stan Albrecht and athletic director Scott Barnes — which included their commitment to a new weight room and athletics facility next to Romney Stadium, set to be fully functional next summer — made the difference.
Andersen also has a son (Keegan) on the roster and has recruited another (Chasen) to USU.
“Aggie Nation is pretty important to me,” he said. “If you come in and you’re still an outsider, it takes time. It doesn’t matter where you go, but also it takes time in this case to be an Aggie. And I feel like I’m an Aggie now, and I’m very proud and honored to be an Aggie. And it’s a special statement. That’s not just something I say and let it roll of my back. It means a lot to say that.”
Andersen had reportedly held preliminary discussions late last month with the Cal athletics department. He acknowledged Monday that FBS coaches — including one whom he worked for at Utah, current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer — often use success at non-BCS schools to take a higher-profile and higher-paying position. USU in early October announced that they further addressed the latter by giving Andersen a salary increase that could pay an average of $765,000 annually with incentives through 2018.
Andersen also acknowledged Monday that USU officials last week discussed another contract re-negotiation for him. But he emphasized Barnes’ willingness to increase assistant coaches’ salaries as a priority for Andersen’s staying in Logan — especially now that he feels at home.
“The ability of Mr. Barnes to allow (assistants) to compete at a higher level and keep them together, that’s important,” he said.
“Every situation is different,” he said. “Every moment in time is different. Every coach is different, the circumstances. You get to coach great kids, in my experience, and you’ve started building something for years — and to be real frank, it’s fun to enjoy it, to see these kids have success. I have a tremendous group of kids in that locker room I want to be here for.
“For me, ultimately, I know without a doubt that’s where I’m supposed to be and where to impact these kids’ life. And the best I can do that is at Utah State University.”