Matt Wells: 'Earn the right to be heard'
It's a predicament that is shared throughout many college football programs, though it is new to Utah State. A previously struggling mid-level program has a season for the ages, wins the conference, cracks the top 25 and sets a school record with an 11-2 record.
Gary Andersen rode Utah State's success to a head coaching job at Wisconsin, and the Aggies promoted 39-year-old offensive coordinator Matt Wells as his replacement. Wells' first head coaching job will undoubtedly benefit from Andersen's work, but he also faces a daunting task in following his predecessor's success - making sure his previously humble program keeps its feet on the ground.
"First, it serves as a motivation that we’ve been there and we’ve done it," Wells told DeseretNews.com. "We gained confidence through the outcomes. The second thing I think it does is it provides motivation for me to allow them to understand that last year’s accomplishments doesn’t give them anything this year. You don’t get credit. You don’t all of a sudden walk off the bus at Utah and get up 7-0 because you won 11 games and finished in the top 20 in the country. That means absolutely nothing."
Another wall Wells must climb in year one leading the Utah State program is replacing a senior-laden program. Like a lot of mid-major programs whose success was a long building process, their victories were won largely on the backs of a strong senior class. The Aggies will lose 10 starters from their 2012 squad, including all-everything running back Kerwynn Williams and their top five pass catchers.
With so much leadership from a successful team gone, how does Wells plan on creating new leaders?
"The saying I always say is ‘Earn the right to be heard.’ There are some guys around here who have earned that right and we all know who they are," said Wells. "When they speak, players listen. Then there are guys on the team who haven’t done that yet who will. They’re going to get that opportunity and they need to step up and earn that right to become that leader.”
The Aggies return veteran quarterback Chuckie Keeton, all five starting offensive linemen and five of their seven leading tacklers so there's certainly a lot for Wells to build on in year one. But like any first-year head coach, he has his set of issues to tackle. At a program that was down for so long, however, replacing a successful head coach and talented players are issues that would have been more than welcome as recently as two seasons ago.