Gary Andersen is out as Oregon State’s head football coach, and in an unusual way. The school announced Andersen’s resignation on Monday, and it came with a twist: Andersen is freeing the school from all of its financial obligations to him.
OSU was reportedly on the hook for about $12 million to Andersen through 2021, and the coach is leaving every cent of that on the table. Athletic director Scott Barnes calls it an “unprecedented” sacrifice on Andersen’s part. (Steve Spurrier walked away from coaching at South Carolina almost exactly two years ago and didn’t collect a $3 million buyout that the Gamecocks would’ve had to pay to fire him, which was similar.)
Andersen is 53 and probably not done coaching altogether.
Andersen appears to have left out of principle, not something else.
Letting your employer keep almost $13 million out of goodness of heart or purity of spirit is not something most people would do. And there’s always the possibility that more news surfaces in the weeks and months to come, changing how this story looks.
But for the moment, it looks like Andersen left because he didn’t think he was doing a good enough job. That’s it. John Canzano shares previous messages from Andersen in The Oregonian, and here are a handful that show Andersen’s frustrations throughout the season:
Andersen (Sept. 3): "If the defense can not get better ... I will be making some decisions I really do not like or want to make."
Andersen (Sept. 9): "Hard place right now... one thing I guarantee you is this: This staff needs to figure it out. I ain't going to die doing this (expletive)! It's on me and I get that and right now I hired the wrong guys!! Beaver Nation deserves much better!"
Andersen (Sept 12): "I have them by the (expletive) for every penny, no buyout for the next four not counting this year... but that's not my style!! If it does not improve I will do some crazy (expletive) with my salary so I can pay the right coaches the right money!!"
Andersen (Sept. 20): "I hired the wrong (expletive) guys and are still working our way through a bunch of recruiting years that stunk!! It's year three! If these (expletives) can't get it right I will not just say fire them and start over!! That's not the way to go about it.
Andersen (Sept. 25): "Was solid. We are on the same page overall... eight games... see where myself and these coaches can get these kids. I respect Scott and won't hold him hostage.”
A source in coaching described Andersen’s mindset similarly to SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey.
"He was frustrated with a culture he couldn't change,” the source said. Andersen became frustrated with all the losing and decided OSU needed a major change.
By not demanding his guaranteed money, he’s giving the Beavers unusual flexibility as they look for his replacement.
Oregon State is around 50th in the country in athletic revenue, which is near the bottom among Power 5 schools. In 2015-16, it had the second-lowest intake in the Pac-12, only ahead of Washington State.
The money the Beavers save on Andersen could be a big deal in the search for the next guy. It should allow Barnes to spend more heavily than Oregon State would in a normal environment. The majority of programs with first-year head coaches have to pay two of them at once because of buyout money on the last coach’s deal.
Andersen was 7-23 in three and a half seasons in Corvallis, including 1-5 this year. He took the job after two years and 19 wins at Wisconsin. Andersen chose to leave Madison for OS in one of the oddest coaching transitions in a long time.
Andersen’s move helps Oregon State in other ways.
It won’t just give the Beavers more money to play with. It’ll also let them operate more publicly, which could keep them out of a lot of difficult situations.
Barnes might have wanted to fire Andersen at some time or another, given how badly the Beavers have played. If Andersen had stayed on and rumors started to swirl around his future, it would’ve clouded Oregon State’s recruiting. It also would’ve been hugely embarrassing if Oregon State got caught checking in with other schools, or maybe with a search firm, about other candidates. An obvious lame-duck situation is never fun, and Oregon State can be more transparent about going after whom it wants.
It’s also a nice thing for OSU’s new interim coach.
That’s Cory Hall, who’s been serving as the Beavs’ cornerbacks coach. Hall is 40, and he’s now one of the youngest head coaches in the country. Andersen’s giving him a chance to audition for a Power 5 head coaching job, which is an incredible opportunity.
Hall might not get the permanent gig, but being an interim coach tends to be a pretty good thing for a career. LSU coach Ed Orgeron helped resurrect his career with a strong showing as the interim boss at USC in 2013, after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin. Orgeron eventually lost out to Steve Sarkisian for that job, but his efforts helped set him on the path that led him to be LSU’s interim coach last year and full-time coach this year. Shawn Elliott, who replaced Spurrier as the interim at South Carolina, went on to get the head coaching job at Georgia State a year after not getting it in Columbia.
Andersen’s tenure in Corvallis didn’t work out, but his exit strategy is a nice parting gift.