Utah State stays in-house for Andersen replacement

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On the same day Gary Andersen officially left his beloved school for the Wisconsin job, Utah State officially found a replacement.  And, as expected, they didn’t even have to go outside the football building to do it.

In a press release, USU announced that Matt Wells has been named as Andersen’s permanent successor.  Wells has spent the past two years at USU, with 2012 marking his first season as offensive coordinator.  He was the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2011.

The 39-year-old native of Sallisaw, Okla., was also a quarterback for the Aggies in the mid-90’s, earning three letters during his playing stint at his alma mater.

“I’m extremely honored and humbled to be the next head football coach at my alma mater,” said Wells. “This is a university that molded me as a student-athlete and I am fully invested and passionate about continuing the vision for this football program that was set before me. I would like to thank University President Stan Albrecht and Mr. Barnes for the trust, belief and vision they have in me to lead this program.

“We will continue to strive for excellence on the field, in the classroom and community, and continue the blueprint for success that has been established over the last few years. Our goal will be to compete for Mountain West Conference Championships and bowl championships on a yearly basis with young men that represent Cache Valley and Aggie Nation with the utmost class.”

Utah State, which set a school record with 11 wins this season under Andersen, will move from the WAC to the Mountain West next season.

In the first year with Wells at the offensive controls, the Aggies averaged 34.9 points per game and 469.1 yards per game.  Last season, those numbers were at 33.6 and 457.3.

Prior to his return to Logan, Wells had served on a handful of collegiate staffs, including two stints at New Mexico as wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator (2007-08 and 2010); in 2009 as Louisville’s quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator; from 2002-06 as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Tulsa; and a stint from 1997-2001 as an assistant at Navy.

“We crafted our Football Excellence Plan four years ago in part to attract and retain top level assistants. Individuals who, if called upon, could grow into excellent head coaching candidates. Matt Wells has become our succession plan,” said athletic director Scott Barnes. “With resources generated through the Merlin Olsen Fund we were able to bring Matt to USU. Matt’s body of work as offensive coordinator has gained national attention and his significant contribution to our success over the past two years will be critical in providing continuity. Aggie football has gained national respect. Matt is simply the right leader at the right time to continue that progress.”

With the moves made today, just one head coaching job at the FBS level remains open — Florida International.  All told, and at the moment, 27 FBS teams will head into the 2013 season with new head coaches.

(Photo credit: Utah State athletics)

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas set to give DC Todd Orlando new contract with raise to $1.7 million a year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: “There are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC.”

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.