Talk about hitting one out of the ballpark.
According to one well respected coach, that’s exactly what Utah State did when it hired Matt Wells as its new head football coach on Thursday.
“This is a home run hire for Utah State,” said LSU quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe.
Wells and Kragthorpe coached together at Tulsa and Louisville. During his time (2002-06) with the Golden Hurricane, Wells was the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
“Matt was an integral part of our turnaround at the University of Tulsa, and did a tremendous job for me not only there, but at the University of Louisville, as well,” Kragthorpe said. “Utah State is not only hiring a great coach, but a great man and a true Aggie.
“He will do a tremendous job as the head football coach at Utah State and will continue the great tradition in Cache Valley.”
The 39-year-old Wells replaces Gary Andersen, who left the Aggies for Wisconsin earlier this week.
“When I heard that coach Wells was up for the job, I was pretty excited for him,” junior linebacker Zach Vigil said. “I see coach Wells around a lot and he’s always been really good to the defensive players, so we all like him. Good for him, God bless him with that gig and he’s going to do a hell of a job leading us on and upward.”
The 18th-ranked Aggies have certainly been rising.
Andersen spent four years at the helm of USU and in the two seasons prior to Wells’ arrival in Logan, the Aggies went 8-16.
But during the past two seasons — Wells was the quarterbacks coach in 2011 and offensive coordinator in 2012 — USU went 18-8 and appeared in back-to-back bowl games for just the third time in school history.
“Coach Wells is a player’s coach,” junior offensive lineman Jamie Markosian said. “He’s a coach you want to play for and he makes a real effort to have a good relationship with his players. I’ve had a great relationship with him ever since he came and I couldn’t be happier for him, and of course his family.
“It’s a good feeling and I’m just excited to have coach Wells with us.”
Wells is just as excited to continue coaching the players he’s grown to love.
“We have a saying around here, ‘Players make plays, players win games,’ and it's oh so true,” Wells said at his introduction press conference Thursday at the Laub Complex. “We’ve won a lot of games here in the last two years.”
The Aggies have won 16 of their last 19 games. The three losses were by a combined six points.
“That’s a special run,” Wells said. “These guys are the reason I'm standing up here. If we’d stunk, Gary would still be here and I never would be standing up here. Thank you guys. These guys are the backbone of this program and what it's all about. I promise you I'm going to lead you every day and strive to make this the best experience of your lives.
“I think it's already started out that way for a bunch of you, but we have to finish this thing off. There are a lot of juniors fixing to be seniors in this room. The nice thing is we're not starting over. We're going to build on this thing. I love you guys. I appreciate you making the trip here.”
Wells also expressed his appreciation toward Andersen.
“I wouldn't be here without him,” Wells said. “About two years ago to this day, he went out on a limb and hired me unseen. They say the rest is history, but he's the guy that showed me the blueprint. He's built this place with the help and support of our administration, athletic department, our many donors and everyone who has had a hand in the program.
“He had an unwavering support of me professionally — upward and internally. Everything that he has done I appreciate. I thank him for what he has done for this program and look forward to continuing to build on it.”
Wells’ hiring caps a pretty crazy week for the Aggies, from beating Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to losing Andersen.
“It’s been a wild ride, but I think it’s going to be a good deal for us in the end,” Markosian said. “I have nothing but respect for both coaches and I wish both of them the best. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
USU, which will officially join the Mountain West Conference on July 1, 2013, returns 16 starters — eight on offense, seven on defense and one on special teams — and 58 letterwinners.
Linebacker Jake Doughty is one of those returning starters and he’s looking forward to a great senior season in 2013 under Wells.
“He’s about as good of a head coach as you could ask for,” Doughty said. “I’m really excited to keep this program going, keep it in the right direction and keep winning games — doing whatever we can to help the Cache Valley community.
“I’m really pleased with the outcome of all of this.”