Andersen turned to Meyer after health scare
September, 27, 2013
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
MADISON, Wis. -- Gary Andersen doesn't expect to talk with Urban Meyer until Saturday night, when they meet at midfield before Andersen's Wisconsin Badgers play Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium.
The two coaches have exchanged text messages in recent weeks. In July, they went out to dinner in Chicago during Big Ten media days. They remain close, but the two driving forces in their lives -- family and football -- make it challenging to connect.
"We really should spend more time, and get our wives and ourselves together somewhere," said Andersen, who served as Meyer's defensive coordinator at Utah in 2004, when the Utes went undefeated and finished No. 4 in the final AP poll. "I'm not real good at that, and I don't think he's overly good at that."
Andersen would like to see more of his friend and former boss, but he knows Meyer is there when he needs him. The fall of 2010 turned out to be one of those times.
Stacey Andersen had been worried about her husband, who was running himself into the ground. Gary was in his second year as Utah State's coach, trying to resurrect arguably the worst program in the FBS. He operated in fifth gear in the office and on the practice field. To relieve stress, he ran. He often forgot to eat.
"He was going, going, going and not giving himself enough time," Stacey Andersen recalled. "He was going 120 miles an hour, and there was no stopping him until that happened. Physically and mentally, he kind of broke."
After returning home from a game at San Diego State -- a 41-7 Utah State loss, no less -- Anderson collapsed in the bathroom of his home. He broke two vertebrae and sustained a cut on his head.
Stacey urged Gary to get checked out. Exhaustion was the culprit, doctors said. The Andersens were relieved it wasn't something more serious. But Gary knew he had to change, and he knew who could help him start the process.
"That was probably the most I've talked to Urban," Andersen said. "His deal was real simple, and it was the same advice that I'd gotten from doctors and everybody else: You do need to slow down, you need to take a deep breath and realize that pushing as hard as you push is good, but you have to take care of yourself and you have to remember there's a lot of important things in the world. Football's one of them, but there are other things that are very important, too.
AP Photo/David StlukaAfter a health scare while at Utah State, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has changed his approach to coaching and, more importantly, his life.
"You’re sacrificing your family and your life and your well-being if you're not smart."
Meyer spoke to Andersen from personal experience. Less than a year before Andersen's incident, in December 2009, Meyer had his own health scare following a game. The day after the SEC championship, Meyer, then Florida's coach, went to the emergency room complaining of chest pains. He was later diagnosed with esophageal spasms. He resigned from his position, only to return the following day.
Meyer still was coaching the Gators when Andersen had his health scare.
"When you have a friend, a real close friend, football had nothing to do with it," Meyer said. "I just care about him and his family and making sure he kept priorities and balance in his life, and I did have some experience with that. … Somebody told me [what had happened], and I can’t remember if he called me or I called him, but we talked a few times, shared some stories."
Andersen admits the fall was a wake-up call. His doctors told him to slow down. So did his wife. But it meant a little more coming from someone who spent as much time in football's fast lane as he did.
As Stacey Andersen said of her husband and Meyer, "They're very driven. They just go and go." Andersen, who turned 49 in February, is five months older than Meyer.
"It was really good for me to have a sounding board and communicate with him," Gary said. "He was very matter-of-fact with the scenario that he went through and very matter-of-fact with me. He knows me, he knows my personality. I coached underneath him for a year, and he knows how I push and what I expect. I have a hard time letting things go, so I think there's maybe some personality flaws between both of us, that we get so tied up in the moment. The facts that he shared with me were things that I knew, but to hear it from him and to have it validated was good for me."
Meyer, who stepped down from Florida for good after the 2010 season and didn't coach in 2011, has talked often about changing his priorities to put family first and taking better care of his health. Stacey Andersen also has noticed changes in Gary in the past three years.
He delegates better. He's more efficient with his time. Stacey no longer has to bring him lunch or make sure he's eating it, like she did in the weeks after his health scare.
"You can only do so much, and then you need to give yourself a break, regroup, take a deep breath and move on," Stacey said. "It’s the quality of the time, not the quantity of the time.
"He's been much better at using his resources and trying to take better care of himself."
Andersen remembers the phrase Ron Haun, his former coach at Ricks College, would often recite: Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. Rather than logging hour after hour at the football complex, he makes the most out of his time and asks that his assistants and players to do the same.
Wisconsin's practices don't run long. Neither do the Badgers' lifting sessions. Study hour is actually an hour during which Badgers players -- wait for it -- study.
"I don't think you need to sit back and pound your chest about, 'I work harder than anybody else,'" Andersen said. "It's how smart you work, and the ability to take a big deep breath and step back and come the next day and be prepared to really put in quality time and not just put in hours. That's how I try to manage my assistants and really manage myself."
Andersen and Meyer will share an embrace Saturday night before a football game. But they'll talk about other things.
"With guys like him, forget about football," Meyer said. "Those are special relationships, really cool friendships."
Meyer's friendship helped Andersen slow down, prioritize his life and maximize his time.
"I know that those things he definitely thinks about," Andersen said. "And in turn, I had to change myself that way, also."