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Murray Journal

Well-travelled Cottonwood High School graduate Gary Andersen returns to U of U football sideline

Aug 23, 2018 04:27PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Gary Andersen (L) and Kyle Whittingham look on from the University of Utah football sideline. (U of U Athletic Dept.)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Joan Lambert, 77, is as thrilled as she can be to have all five of her children back living within two miles of her Murray home. Four of the five have never strayed too far. But the fifth – once Stacey Lambert, now Stacey Andersen – has been all over the place… all because she married her Cottonwood High School sweetheart. 

Joan’s wayward daughter is back – and hosting Sunday family dinners most weeks – thanks to an offer made by one “big time” college football coach, and a promise made to her by another “big time” college football coach. 

University of Utah Head Football Coach Kyle Whittingham made the (associate head and defensive line coach) offer, while Gary Andersen himself – Joan’s son-in-law – kept the promise. 

“Gary’s coaching career has taken us a lot of places,” Stacey Andersen said. “But he always promised me and my Mom he would get us back here (to Murray). For a while it looked like that might not happen until he retired. But then this opportunity came along. We were so excited – and Mom is thrilled.” 

If you follow PAC-12 football, you know all about Andersen’s mid-season departure last fall from Oregon State. As the Beavers’ head coach, his guaranteed contract would have paid him millions had he been fired by the school. Instead, Andersen made national news by telling OSU officials he wanted to resign – and would not expect one more penny from them.  

“We have never been money driven,” Gary Andersen said. “We’ve never woke up and said, ‘We’re doing this for the money.’ I coach to help student athletes grow and develop. So leaving (OSU and as much as $12-million in guaranteed money) was a difficult decision. But it had to be made.” 

And Joan’s daughter Stacey gave her husband no pushback. 

“I don’t need all the bells and whistles (millions of dollars can buy),” Stacey said. “We’ve always lived modestly. So, honestly, we did not give (walking away from the OSU contract) much thought.” 

After leaving Corvallis, Gary and Stacey moved back to their home in Logan, where he had been head football coach of the Utah State Aggies for four seasons. That was prior to their move to the University of Wisconsin, and then to OSU. 

“I first met Kyle (Whittingham) when we were both assistant coaches at Idaho State years ago (1992-93),” Andersen said. “And, of course, I had coached with him at Utah. So when the NCAA approved one additional college coaching position, Kyle called me. I was excited to take the job. Stacey had already gotten after me saying ‘retirement’ wasn’t working out. So I accepted the job and we started looking for a home in Murray near her family.” 

Andersen said they got close. “If you’re a strong golfer, you can hit any one of her five kids’ houses – from my mother-in-law’s place – with a good 9-iron shot,” he quipped. And Gary wasn’t the only coach who was pleased. 

“We’re happy Gary has rejoined our staff,” coach Whittingham said at the time of the hiring. “Gary brings a wealth of high-level coaching experience to the program, including serving as the head coach at two Power Five schools (Wisconsin and Oregon State). During his previous time on our staff, he developed some of the best defensive linemen in Utah history. In addition, he is an excellent recruiter and motivator and understands what it takes to win at this level.” 

High praise for the 1982 Cottonwood High School graduate who married his classmate. 

“Stacey and I met working at the same Murray hamburger joint,” Gary said. “She is the only girl I ever dated seriously.” 

The two wed three years out of high school and have three sons. Keegan, 27, has worked with his father at various schools, first as an assistant coach and now in recruiting. His twin younger brothers – Chasen and Hagen, 24 – just graduated from Utah State last December and are investigating non-sports career opportunities. 

The boys are all married, and Gary and Stacey are due to be first-time grandparents in December.

Gary Andersen admits to being somewhat amazed at how a coaching career can turn on a phone call or two. In the early 1990s, he quit his job at Idaho State and ended up the head football coach at Park City High School for one season. At age 30 – and after six years coaching at the college level – he wondered whether he’d remain a high school coach forevermore… until the phone rang.

“That call came from (former BYU head football coach) Bronco Mendenhall, who was then at Northern Arizona University,” Andersen said. “He called out of the blue and got me back into college coaching… the same way Kyle (Whittingham) called me out of the blue, last winter.”

Andersen said he is primarily the Utes’ defensive line coach. “That associate head coach thing… that’s just so Kyle can throw me a few small duties when he’s too busy,” he said. “There hasn’t been much of that.” 

The last time Whittingham and Andersen prowled the same sideline together was during, arguably, Utah’s most significant win in school history. Heavily-favored Alabama was shocked to see the Utes race out to a 21-0 first quarter lead in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.  They then held on to beat coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, 31-17. 

Utah finished their undefeated 2008 season with a No. 2 national ranking.  Whittingham was elected Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association. And Andersen accepted his first college head coaching job, in Logan. 

“I think we’ve been very fortunate with his coaching career,” Stacey Andersen concluded. “We’ve been lucky to be here in Utah for 13 seasons; but we’ve also had the opportunity to see other parts of the country. Gary’s worked hard to get where he is. It’s been challenging at times… but mostly exciting and fun.” 

It’s not yet certain whether this will be Gary Andersen’s final coaching stop. But, for now, Joan Lambert will continue enjoying her Sundays with all five of her children… just as soon as someone fires up enough good 9-iron shots to call them to dinner.