Trust is a big word in Gary Andersen's personal dictionary.
After he was hired to coach the University of Wisconsin football team in December, Andersen knew nothing substantial would take place with the Badgers until a circle of trust could be built between himself and a group of players who have endured enough coaching turnover to be skeptical of the new guy.
Well, time's up. With fall camp set to start Monday, the meet-and-greet session is over. From now on, the focus will switch to football and getting ready for a season the Badgers hope will end up with a fourth straight Big Ten Conference title.
"I think in large part the period of transition with Coach Andersen and his staff is over," linebacker Chris Borland said. "We've had seven months now to get to know one another, to get to know the schemes. We're ready once fall camp starts to hit the ground running."
Credit for that goes to Andersen and his staff. They set out to make a group of players they had never met feel comfortable around them, and it appears they've succeeded. With the heavy lifting about to start, a foundation has been laid that should minimize any problems created by Bret Bielema's abrupt departure and Andersen's subsequent arrival from Utah State.
"You just look for the trust to come from coaches to players and players to coaches," Andersen said. "I had the leadership committee over to the house the other day -- it's 30 young men on our team -- and just the way we can move around each other, the way conversations go, I don't believe they're very guarded any more. The way kids move themselves through the hallways, walk into coaches' offices. We need to be approachable, whether it's an academic question, a social question, and they come in and they do that now. I think we've made great strides there."
Don't just take his word for it. When the Badgers gathered for media day Friday, player after player spoke of how Andersen won them over by being exactly what he said he was -- a coach who shoots straight with his players, who gets to know them on a personal level and who puts their interests above all else.
For wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, it didn't take long at all for Andersen to gain the players' acceptance.
"The day that we found out he called all of his Utah State players (to say goodbye), I think right then we knew we had a guy coming in who would appreciate us," Abbrederis said. "Basically, right off the bat we knew he would be a good coach for us. That really helped, just knowing that he's all about the players."
Others took a little longer before they were convinced. That's understandable given that turnover among assistant coaches had been a constant in the program even before Bielema surprised everyone by taking the job at Arkansas.
Most, though, said they were hooked the first time Andersen spoke to the team. The players immediately sensed that he was a stand-up guy who meant what he said.
"I think it's been like this the whole time he's been here," offensive tackle Ryan Groy said. "Everything he said in the beginning has come true. Everything he said -- how it's going to be, how he's going to coach, how practices are going to be -- has come true and that's just how it's been. That has earned our trust."
Indeed, Andersen's style has played well in all corners of the locker room.
"I know Coach B and his staff truly cared about us, but I think the difference with this staff is, they do care about you and they take every opportunity to show you they do," safety Dezman Southward said. "There's been many times when Coach Andersen will just randomly call me. Not that he wanted to talk about football or class or anything like that. he literally calls me because he wants to know how I'm doing. That's something you really don't get everywhere."
The players not only value Andersen's honesty and genuine interest in their lives, they appreciate the little things he does for them. That is especially true of practice. Even in fall camp, Andersen will run shorter, snappier practices and get the players home earlier than they're used to, which should help reduce the drudgery of camp and the wear and tear on their bodies.
"It just went a lot easier with this whole coaching staff," tight end Jacob Pedersen said. "You'd think it would be harder because it was almost an entirely new staff, but this went really smooth. I think he demands your respect and we demand his. There's kind of a mutual thing there. We trust him. We know he's going to do everything he can to put us in the best position to win. When you've got a coach that's doing that, you're going to give him everything you've got."
That won't guarantee another Big Ten title, but it will assure that starting Monday the coaching transition will no longer be an issue.
Contact Tom Oates at email@example.com or 608-252-6172.