No one seems to be quite sure what the NFL's Cleveland Browns are doing with their front office and coaching moves of late, so nothing related to that topic would qualify as much of a surprise. Still, it was a bit of a stunner to learn Tuesday that the Browns reached out to Wisconsin's Gary Andersen in their recent coaching search before hiring Mike Pettine.
The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport first reported Tuesday morning that Andersen had interviewed with the Browns. Later, the Badgers released statements from both Andersen and athletic director Barry Alvarez:
"Officials from the Cleveland Browns contacted me to talk about their head coaching vacancy," Andersen said. "After our initial conversation, I decided not to pursue the position. I am committed to the University of Wisconsin and the student-athletes in our program. I love the city of Madison and am grateful for all the support from Badgers fans around the state and around the country. I look forward to the start of spring football in a couple weeks and turning the focus to preparing for 2014.”
“I’m appreciative that Gary handled all of this the right way," Alvarez said. "He alerted me immediately that he had been contacted by the Browns and affirmed his commitment to the University of Wisconsin. When you have talented coaches on your roster, there will always be people who want to talk to them. I think that Gary is one of the top coaches in the country and am glad that he is leading our team.”
Andersen has spent his entire career in college football and has only coached one season in a major conference, so it's certainly surprising that the Browns would be interested in him making the jump to the NFL as a head coach. Wisconsin fans have a right to be nervous about their coach leaving after Bret Bielema shockingly left for Arkansas right after the 2012 Big Ten championship game. Andersen said all the right things about wanting to stay in Madison, Wis., for a long time when he was hired away from Utah State.
But the reality is that good coaches are always going to be in demand for other jobs, and you can't blame someone for listening, especially when the NFL comes calling. And while it's unclear exactly when the contact between the Browns and Andersen happened, it sounds like he went about things the right way by keeping Alvarez in the loop -- something Bielema famously didn't do in the Arkansas situation. We also don't know how seriously interested the Browns were in hiring Andersen, but it's still reassuring to Badgers fans that Andersen didn't go anywhere. He did get a raise and a one-year contract extension this winter, but that was a rollover clause that would have happened anyway.
Expecting Andersen -- or any successful coach -- to stay at one place the rest of his career is shortsighted, but he does seem committed to the Badgers, especially with his son, Chasen, joining the team as a walk-on.
And besides, who really wants to walk into that mess in Cleveland?