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Coach Gary Andersen resigns from Wisconsin, heading to Oregon State

Late Wednesday afternoon came shocking word that Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen resigned to take the job at Oregon State. According to a UW spokesman, Andersen — after only two seasons in Madison — informed his players at a 4 p.m. team meeting.

Andersen, 50, leaves the program with a 19-7 record. He’ll replace Mike Riley, who last week was hired by Nebraska.

“First and foremost I want to thank [athletic director Barry] Alvarez for the opportunity to coach at the University of Wisconsin,” Andersen said in an official statement. “I also want to thank my staff and the people at UW. We worked very hard together and accomplished some great things. I had the opportunity to meet and coach some great young men and I look forward to watching them as they continue their careers and move through life.”

Alvarez was scheduled to meet with local media at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday.

“I began working to find a new head coach as soon as I spoke with Gary this morning,” Alvarez said. “My first concern is taking care of the players on the current team, especially the senior class, and ensuring that their bowl experience is a memorable one. I will find a head coach to uphold the great tradition at Wisconsin, someone who is committed to excellence both on and off the field.

“I want to thank Gary for his two years here and commend him on the way his team performed on the field, in the classroom and in the community. I wish him the best at Oregon State.”

Andersen hadn’t shown outward signs that he was looking to leave. His final game coaching the Badgers was an awful one — a 59-0 defeat against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game — but afterward he alluded to future seasons in Madison.

“We’ve got to find a way to chase those guys that beat us tonight,” he said last Saturday in Indianapolis. “If that’s what we want to be, everybody’s going to be there every single year now. So away we go.”

It couldn’t have been a pleasant experience for Alvarez to be watching the 59-0 debacle in a room with the rest of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Known as the architect of Wisconsin’s long-standing run of football success — and for having a strong personality — Alvarez might have been tempted to voice his displeasure with Andersen. Alvarez is in very close contact with the football program, as he was when hand-picked successor Bret Bielema had the job.

Many who know Bielema believe part of the reason he left for Arkansas was to have a little less hands-on direction on the football program coming from his A.D. Andersen has said that when he interviewed for the Wisconsin job, Alvarez made it crystal clear that he expected the team to play a certain way — physical, and built around interior linemen and the running game.

A close observer throughout Andersen’s two years in Madison told the Sun-Times that the coach never seemed fully comfortable at the school and didn’t have a special connection with the fan base or with boosters.

As for potential replacements, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, whose unit was ranked No. 1 in the nation in yards allowed for much of the season, could be considered. Aranda is seen as an eventual head coach, though most would’ve expected him to land his first head job at a lesser program.

Perhaps the leading candidate, especially if Alvarez moves fast, is Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst, a Madison native who played at Wisconsin and was its offensive coordinator from 2005-11. In his last season, an offense led by quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball set all kinds of school records as the Badgers won the Big Ten and reached the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin will face Auburn in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.