Andersen faces tough situation; Gets a win
[dropcap]G[/dropcap]ary Andersen is yet to coach his first practice at Wisconsin but he already has a victory of sorts.
It won’t show up in the record books or the media guide, but Andersen faced an incredibly tough situation this week – one that that will significantly impact efforts to put his stamp on the program – and from top to bottom, his handling of it appears to be a masterstroke.
Last Friday, Andersen found out that his tight ends and special teams coach Jay Boulware, a coach he’d hired two months earlier, was leaving for Oklahoma.
With the start of spring practice a week away, the staff was in full planning mode. Andersen had no advance notice of the departure.
“I found out about four hours before you guys,” he told reporters on Monday.
Planning mode to panic mode?
With nine full-time assistants, each individual is critical, but equally important – perhaps more so – is how well they operate as a unit. Coaching roles and responsibilities, recruiting territories and connections – everything must work in sync.
That’s all the more important to Andersen, an outsider to the Wisconsin program, which, for the first time in more than 22 years, will be led by someone from outside the Barry Alvarez coaching tree.
Andersen didn’t just need to hire a tight ends and special teams coach. He needed to find the right tight ends and special teams coach to fit with the rest of his staff, and he had to find him quickly.
That’s no small task anytime, and in the first week of March – when the majority of major college staffs are set for the upcoming season – it’s gargantuan.
On Monday, Andersen met with the media for the first time after Boulware’s departure. He was candid and honest, expressing his frustration and accepting full responsibility.
He stopped short of taking shots at Boulware and didn’t say anything unprofessional, but made it clear he wasn’t happy.
“I told the kids this this morning, ‘Ultimately I hired him and it’s my fault,'” he said.
“…It is my responsibility to get the coaches in here. I don’t like the timing of it. I don’t like the situation that we’re in at all.
“But we’ll get a coach in here that is excited about Wisconsin football and wants to be here in the worst way and he’ll do a tremendous job. We’ll rebound very quickly.”
Boulware was born in Oklahoma City. His mother and family still live in the area. He’s played and coached in the Big 12.
As bad as the timing was for Wisconsin, coaching is a business and he has to look out for his family and his own career first. Andersen understands that. Based on his strong reaction, you have to wonder if something else happened behind the scenes to heighten his frustration.
Regardless, Andersen said he didn’t beg him to stay.
“I’m here for the University of Wisconsin,” he said. “I’m here to make everybody proud of the football program on and off the field. If I’ve got a coach or a player that doesn’t want to buy into that, so be it and move along. Because there’s a lot of people that want to be a part of it.”
That kind of passion and ownership is refreshing, and it’s endearing to fans and to the media.
A day later, he delivered on that promise.
Enter Jeff Genyk
Genyk grew up in Milan, Mich. the son of a Wolverine football captain and longtime coach. He played quarterback and punter at Bowling Green.
On paper, its a pedigree tailor made for a college coach, but it didn’t start out that way.
Genyk has an MBA and spent his first 10 years after college in business. He worked in materials management and international purchasing in the automotive and oil industries before the call of coaching was too strong to ignore.
His only opportunity was as quarterbacks and tight ends coach at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College. It was a long way from the big time, but with an infectious energy and strong drive, he wouldn’t be there long.
Two years later, Genyk got an opportunity at the Division I level as a defensive graduate assistant for Northwestern. He arrived in 1992 – the same time as head coach Gary Barnett – and began his move up the coaching ladder just as the Wildcats’ began their ascension from the depths of college football’s cellar.
By 1994, Genyk was director of football operations. Three years after that he moved to an on-the-field position as outside linebackers coach.
Genyk spent the next seven years under Barnett and Randy Walker, coaching special teams, linebackers, running backs and safeties at various times. He was recruiting coordinator for five seasons.
During his 12 years there, the Wildcats won three Big Ten championships and went to four bowl games.
Genyk was ready to ascend another rung on the ladder, and in 2003, he was named head coach at Eastern Michigan.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, and he was never able to rekindle that same magic at EMU that he was part of during Northwestern’s revival.
In five years, the Eagles never won more than four games in a season. He was let go at the end of 2008 with a 16-42 record as a head coach.
Genyk spent the 2009 out of coaching, recharging his batteries while working for ESPN as a color analyst on ACC games and coaching his son’s flag football and soccer teams.
In 2010, he was back, joining Jeff Tedford’s staff at Cal in the same roles he will fill at Wisconsin, special teams and tight ends coach.
Cal players, especially those on special teams, took notice.
Genyk’s organization was impressive. He handed out articles such as a Sports Illustrated piece on the increase in big plays on special teams in the NFL. During spring meetings, players watched video of bowl games that that were impacted by special teams plays.
His teaching methods were different, too. Placekickers practiced kickoffs by trying to kick the ball into cones arranged in a small square along the back of the end zone. Kicks that landed inside the cones meant fewer sprints. The same went for field goals, where the focus was on creating pressure situations to increase mental toughness.
“The whole team was watching, the coaches would bang on your helmet as you’re taking your steps, poking at you, yelling at you,” former Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio said in a 2010 interview with the Daily Californian. “You just got to execute your fundamentals, do what you’ve done thousands of times.”
Genyk’s methods worked, and Cal’s special teams improved across the board.
From 2009 to 2010, Tavecchio increased his average kickoff nearly seven yards per kick and doubled his number of touchbacks. Punter Bryan Anger improved his average from 41.5 yards per punt to 45.6.
“He’s very energetic,” Anger said. “There’s not many teams in NCAA football that have a special teams coach who knows what he’s talking about. Some people will tell you that you need to be mentally strong, but they don’t give you the tools to do it.”
Tavecchio earned All-Pac-12 honors in 2011. His successor, Vincenzo D’Amato, did the same thing in 2012. Punt returner Keenan Allen led the conference and was fifth nationally, averaging 14.1 yards per return.
“You have to develop an environment where special teams is a want-to and not a have-to,” Genyk said. “That happens by understanding the important aspect of those plays.”
Road to Madison
Genyk was let go along with the rest of Tedford’s staff at the end of the 2012 season. He was hired as tight ends and special teams coach on Brian Polian’s Nevada staff in January, but like Boulware’s stay in Madison, the stint would be short lived.
Andersen targeted Genyk as soon as the position came open, and with his family ties to the Midwest and Big Ten experience, Genyk jumped at the opportunity.
Could this be a case of sticky situation where everybody wins in the end?
Boulware returns to his home state and a conference he’s played and coached in.
Genyk moves closer to his family roots and back to the conference where his career took off.
And, perhaps Andersen most of all. He winds up with an outstanding coach, and earns some goodwill from fans for his strong stance and performance under pressure.
Time will tell, but it looks good right now.
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