There is a reason that Oregon State, who were under the direction of Mike Riley for the past 12 years, will be the only team in the conference with a new head coach this season. The improving quality of the rest of the Pac-12, compared to the stagnation in Corvallis, led to Mike Riley feeling it was time to move on, while every other school was pleased enough to keep their coaches around for another year.
Naturally, Thursday at Pac-12 Media Day new head coach Gary Andersen answered many questions about the differences between his old home of Big Ten Wisconsin and his new job at Pac-12 Oregon State, as well as how to begin to close the gap as the only fresh face in an ultra-competitive conference.
Andersen started his opening statement with the classic "we're excited to be here," and later offered what he called the "cleanest" explanation he could for why he took the Oregon State job.
"I was given a tremendous opportunity in a school that I have a hundred percent belief in, and that is Oregon State," Andersen said. "After 20-plus years, you get a really good idea of the communities that you liked, the schools that you like."
While Andersen said he was attracted to the small-town feel of Corvallis, he denied any difference in overall conference atmosphere between the Big Ten and Pac-12, stating they are both "big time college football." He wasn't shy, though, about differences in on-field play between the two conferences, saying the Pac-12 has "juice. It is fast."
He also pointed to "the way this league plays in a physical nature in the box," noting, with surprise and befuddlement, that he "never hears people talking about this league is tough minded." Additionally, he said that the linemen are "well coached" and play with "leverage and technique." While Andersen might not have much of a personal adjustment to make, he seems to realize that the game itself is different from what he grew used to at Wisconsin.
Andersen also disagreed with a sentiment that Oregon State has a lack of tradition, even saying "we go back to the (Rose Bowl team." However, they say athletes should have a short memory, and the Beavers' last Rose Bowl Trip was in 1965, so I'm not sure how well that card will play in terms of painting a picture of tradition while recruiting. Nonetheless, he also heralded the current state of affairs, saying "Oregon State's in a great place right now" and commending the improvement of the football program's facilities and academic standards.
As far as recruiting goes, Andersen seemed confident that recruiting to Corvallis wouldn't be a problem, because he feels recruiting is "still a relationship business."
"The question I always say to my assistant coaches is, do you believe in the place that you're recruiting into?"
Andersen expressed confidence that Oregon State will be in the big-time recruiting battles, but also made clear he won't shy away from developmental projects, a concession that could be imperative to his success in Corvallis. "What we have in our weight room, the way we feed our kids and the way our kids can go," Andersen said, "we can take a developmental kid that nobody else is going to give a chance and let him develop with us."
"And they'll catch that, whatever star that other guy was, we'll catch that dude. Just give us a couple years. We'll catch him."
As far as his first year of recruiting, Andersen made some statements that could cause Beaver fans some worry. Referencing selling recruits on the soon-to-be upgraded football facilities, he explained that it's "been a challenge for us to be able to present that to the young men and making sure they'll walk out of our place saying, okay, I get it." In addition, he pointed out that due to the small graduating class of just 11 seniors, "on paper right now you're recruiting 11 or 12 guys. That is a challenge." While Andersen showed confidence in his recruiting, he also made some statements that should remind fans to pump the brakes, as there is a reason rebuilds can take considerable amounts of time.
Andersen covered all the bases as far as his change of scenery, and Beavers fans should be content with his answers. He reassured that the atmosphere of the new conference won't get to him, while showing he recognizes differences in the on-field product the two conferences put out. He showed some of his recruiting strategy, and though he admitted there are challenges, it is important to remember that it is year one (or zero, if you subscribe to that school of thought) for Coach Andersen in Corvallis, and Beavers fans have every reason to believe the best is yet to come in terms of recruiting.
And as far as the obligatory Civil War question, Andersen said that beating the Ducks ranks extremely high as a priority. "Those rivalry games are so important to everybody," Andersen said, closing his answer with "We respect them, but we're going to chase like hell to catch them."
Let the chase begin.