Utah State Looking For Special Coach To Continue Momentum

Nov 30, 2018, 6:38 PM
The Utah State Aggies bench celebrates a touchdown during the Utah State versus BYU football game a...
The Utah State Aggies bench celebrates a touchdown during the Utah State versus BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)
(Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

LOGAN, Utah – The Matt Wells era has come to an end in Logan.

He is leaving his alma mater after a successful six-year run to become the next head coach at Texas Tech. The lure of coaching a Power 5 program in the Big 12 just seven hours away from where he grew up in Oklahoma was too much for Wells to turn down.

So now Utah State athletic director John Hartwell begins a search for a new head coach. This will not be Hartwell’s first coaching hire since taking over the athletics department at USU.

It’s early, but his hire of men’s head basketball coach Craig Smith looks like a home run.

This is also a much different situation.

Hartwell will be searching for a candidate who can build upon the most successful run in Utah State football history. The Aggies just completed a 10-2 season and the cupboard is not bare. Jordan Love, Darwin Thompson, Gerald Bright, David Woodward, Tipa Galeai, Shaq Bond, Jordan Nathan, and Christopher Unga all return.

“You have to have CEO skills. It’s more than just Xs and Os and recruiting,” Hartwell says about what he’s looking for in a head coach. “I don’t think the Utah connection is an absolute pre-requisite but they need to understand the culture.”

The new head coach must understand how to recruit Polynesian players. They must understand how the missionary program works. They must understand the importance of building the foundation of the program around Utah high school kids and mixing in great talent from out of state.

Gary Andersen and Matt Wells understood this and found success that the program had never experienced before.

Utah State is conducting a nationwide search and the list of interested candidates is sure to be long and impressive, but KSL Sports has compiled a list of a few qualified candidates, their credentials and why they would be a good fit in Logan.

Dave Aranda, LSU Defensive Coordinator

Aranda is well respected around the country and considered one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. He has spent five years as a Power 5 coordinator at LSU and Wisconsin.

He was also the defensive coordinator for one of the best Utah State teams of all time in 2012. The Aggies won a school record 11 games that season under Gary Andersen and he oversaw a defense that ranked seventh in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 15.4 points per game.

He would likely have to take a pay cut to return to Logan (he makes $2.5 million annually at LSU) but it may be worth it to get his first head coaching job

Todd Orlando, Texas Defensive Coordinator

Orlando has played a major role in turning around the longhorns defense since coming to Austin with Tom Herman in 2017. Before that he was part of a successful run at Houston where the Cougars reached a New Year’s six bowl.

Orlando replaced Aranda as Utah State defensive coordinator in 2013 and had similar success during his two year run in Logan. Like Orlando he would have to walk away from a lucrative salary ($1.7 Million per year) but the chance to be a head coach in a familiar place with a well-stocked roster may be appealing.

Lance Anderson, Stanford Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator 

Probably not the first Anderson fans would expect to be a candidate for this job but a look at his credentials make him a strong candidate. The Rupert, Idaho native has been at Stanford the past 12 years, and has been the defensive coordinator of one of the most respected defenses in the Pac-12 for the past five seasons.

This past season David Shaw promoted Anderson to the position of associate head coach.

Anderson understands the missionary program for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has years of experience recruiting “mission kids.”

Anderson is a member of the church. He has been recruiting the state of Utah for years and has had tremendous success recruiting Utah high school football players to Stanford.

He does not have previous head coaching experience but he checks off every other box on the list of things Utah State wants in a head coach.

He has worked under two of the best in the business in Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw. He may be ready for his first head coaching job and Utah State would seem like a perfect fit.

Jay Hill, Weber State Head Coach

Jay Hill has what the previously mentioned candidates do not. Head coaching experience. Hill took a hapless FCS program at Weber State and turned the Wildcats into a national power in his five years in Ogden.

He’s a Utah native, played at the University of Utah, and has been mentored by Ron McBride, Urban Meyer, Kyle Whittingham and Gary Andersen.

He spent 13 years at Utah and installed a very similar program at Weber State.

Hill checks off all the boxes on the list of things Hartwell is looking for in a head coach. He is very happy in Ogden but the chance to take over a successful FBS program close to home may be enough to convince him to make the move.

Gary Andersen, Utah Associate Head Coach/Defensive Assistant

This one seems obvious. Andersen turned the Aggies into a winner during his 4-year stint as head coach from 2009-12. He led the Aggies to a conference championship and a bowl win during an 11-2 season in 2012.

Anderson built the foundation of success that continued through the Matt Wells era. No one listed here can boast of the experience Andersen has as a college football coach.

Is it time for a reunion? Is he ready and interested in being a head coach again after resigning mid-season at Oregon State in the 2017? Does his abrupt departures at Wisconsin and Oregon State give Hartwell pause in hiring Andersen?

While his time in Logan was magical, there is no guarantee that success can be duplicated – and Utah State may be more interested in moving forward than turning back the clock.

Frank Maile, Utah State Interim Head Coach/Co-defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach

The Aggies have a great candidate already on staff. Frank Maile is now the interim head coach after Matt Wells departure and has served as the assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.

He’s a former Utah State player where he was a standout defensive lineman and team captain from 2004-2007.

He has been an assistant at Utah State for a total of 8 seasons. He was the defensive line coach under Gary Andersen and Matt Wells from 2011-2013. He worked under Aranda and Orlando.

Maile left Logan to coach in the SEC at Vanderbilt for two years before returning in 2016. Maile is a West Valley City native, played at Alta high school, and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Dominican Republic.

He’s well respected as a recruiter and his former players rave about him. He understands the culture and what it takes to be successful at Utah State.

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Utah State Looking For Special Coach To Continue Momentum