Gary Andersen Has Some Decisions To Make

(And They Aren’t Going To Be Easy)

As Oregon State heads into the second half of summer preparations, Head Coach Gary Andersen is already having to look at some serious decisions that will have to be made, and probably sooner than later.

They are the kind that are hard in part because they are the kind that carry implications far beyond just the player involved, and can even carry from one year to the next, in terms of the overall fortunes of the team and all those concerned with it.

The biggest decision looming is whether or not to red-shirt offensive lineman Sean Harlow. Harlow, who is returning from a broken ankle last season, has been cleared to play, and has demonstrated he’s physically capable to do so. But whether he can be back to his best by the start of the season is more uncertain.

Andersen indicated back on media day that sitting Harlow for the season was a possibility, and he sat one of his team captains out of last Friday’s scrimmage.

The urgency is only a little less in regard to DE LaMone Williams, who has been on crutches since suffering a knee injury early in the team’s week in Bend, in that Williams was “merely” a member of the rotation on the d-line, not one of the handful of actual next-level players on the Oregon State roster, as Harlow is, though Andersen has said he wants 2 “starters” at each position on the D-line.

The extent of Williams’ injury isn’t clear yet, but it is clear that he will be set back significantly, probably more than Harlow will be. A compounding issue with Williams is that unlike Harlow, who still has his red-shirt season available, Williams was red-shirted as a freshman. If he can’t or doesn’t play this year, Oregon State will have to apply for a hardship, second red-shirt season, or Williams will lose a year of eligibility.

Reality is if he’s declared out, the NCAA is highly likely to grant an extra year, but there’s no guarantee.

And then, Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune kind of forced the issue forward, writing that it “Appears Harlow will wind up redshirting this season”, and that “…Williams may be lost for season.”

Does Coach Andersen, absent any known medical diagnosis that absolutely necessitates those moves, let Eggers make personnel decisions from afar for him? Does he wait, and risk erosion of credibility if he announces the decision later? Has he already made the decision, but is withholding it? What does it do to the company line of unfounded enthusiasm ensuing from a sports information department concerned with moving a still large inventory of tickets to what will be a challenging season if Coach Andersen makes the decision that what’s best for next season is more important than trying to salvage wins this year?

If Coach Andersen sits Harlow down for the year, then he will be available next year, after Gavin Andrews, one of the few things on Andersen’s too short list of things he doesn’t have to worry about is gone. And freshman tackle Blake Brandel will be a lot more ready after a year’s trial by fire playing in place of Harlow.

Ironically, Andrews is only around because of a decision last year at the end of camp to red-shirt him, rather than have him return to action, but not until the latter portion of the season.

And with the vast majority of the team being underclassmen, there are valid reasons to believe next year has a legitimate chance to be a better one for the Beavers than this season.

Writing off a season to get a head start on the following year certainly isn’t unprecedented. Mike Riley did it at halftime of the 2011 season opener against Sacramento State, writing off that season, and Ryan Katz’s career. It can be argued that it paid off, in the form of a conference passing yardage record that has a Beaver’s name, Sean Mannion, attached to it, and an Alamo Bowl trip.

That’s an easier to accept big picture take from the program point of view than it was for Katz, and anyone who was a senior on the team, in the band, or in the Beaver Dam, that suffered through 7 blowout (double digit) losses that year, and weren’t around to go to San Antonio.

And though WR Victor Bolden is now back at practice, after missing Friday’s scrimmage still recovering from a hamstring pull that sidelined him for a week, Andersen now has to weigh decisions about individuals that actually weigh on this season and next with starting LB Manase Hungalu with his left arm in a sling, and fellow linebacker Ricky Liuchan joining Williams on crutches, with his left leg encased in a brace.

Today’s medical retirement due to repetitive concussion issues by rotation safety Gabe Ovgard, the former walk-on from Klamath Falls who earned a couple of starts last season, and then a scholarship, can only further temper immediate expectations. Ovgard’s departure raises the number of players permanently lost due to medical reasons just since last season ended.

And it comes on the same day that Cyril Nolan-Lewis decided to walk away from the Oregon State football program, degree in hand, but also with a year of eligibility in hand. That takes 2 players who have played multiple positions in the secondary, with multiple starts each, out of the rotation on the same day.

The schedule throws an additional wrinkle in, given that the opener on Sept. 1 at Minnesota is one of the few games Oregon State won’t be a decided underdog in, and as such, is one of the swing games.

If the Beavers can get to 5 wins exclusive of the Minnesota (or any other) game, then doing anything and everything to secure a 6th win, and under the current circumstances with bowl games that sent 10 Pac-12 teams to the post-season last year, a bowl trip, complete with extra practices, and extra visibility for recruiting, is mandatory.

But if a bowl game isn’t within reach, or you think the Minnesota game on the road might be down a Gopher hole anyway, then there are 16 more days until the home opener against Idaho St., and really more than 3 more weeks, almost 6 weeks from now, until Boise St. comes to town. That’s the next, and perhaps first, time Harlow’s conditioning, and Hungalu’s arm and William’s leg, will actually matter in terms of on the field outcomes. And 6 weeks is time for a lot of recovery.

Coach Andersen must also gauge after what he himself termed as “a lot of give and take” in Friday’s scrimmage, just how much will bright young stars like WR Trevon Bradford and RB Art Pierce be as difference makers or game changers? And will that be this year, or next?

Hence the premise of this story; that there are some decisions to be made that aren’t easy, and don’t necessarily have an apparent right or wrong answer where we sit today.

It also raises a question I’ve been mulling over, and Peter wonders about, that we would like to hear from you below in the comments. Where do you feel the priority should be placed when “winning big now AND forever” isn’t an immediately available option?

At this point, with only 2 bowl games in the last 6 years, and really only that 1 upper-tier trip to San Antonio since the 2008 Sun Bowl, plus a brutal schedule of 9 teams coming off bowl games in 10 weeks that makes a bowl trip this year unlikely, do you expect Oregon State to still do everything they can to get any given win?

Or is potentially sacrificing a chance for a win at some point this year in order to better set the stage for getting an additional win or two next year, ones that might return the Beavers to that “air of optimism” people are looking for, and maybe a bowl game then, a better choice? Is it one you would make?

(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)


6 thoughts on “Gary Andersen Has Some Decisions To Make

  1. Craig Meyer

    Although Beaver fans are beyond long-suffering, can we really withstand another year like last year. Wouldn’t three or four wins, a marked improvement help the fan base during this transition. Already the stadium is far from full. Another bleak year could prove such lasting damage that it would take many seasons to recover. I would not kill today on a hope for tomorrow. I would hope that all these decisions are based on what’s best for the players.

    1. Marty Stanton

      i agree. You can’t “throw” a game this year for the “potential’ win next year. GA owes it to his players to give it his all now. That would be equivalent to a player “cruising’ this year to avoid injury for preparation for an NFL opportunity next. How would the coach feel about that?

  2. Peter Riley Osborne

    Great thoughts Andy, and I agree, there are a lot of tough decisions. With Isaac Garcia and Christian Wallace also most likely unable to play the first game (and maybe in line for a redshirt season) and the movement of Kenny Turnier to tight end, you now have a defensive end position group that was this:

    53 Isaac Garcia FR / 6-4 / 225
    OR 34 Kenny Turnier FR / 6-3 / 248
    OR 52 Joah Robinett FR / 6-7 / 236
    OR 54 Shemiah Unutoa-Whitson FR / 6-2 / 226
    48 Reed Woodward FR / 6-5 / 220

    Becoming this:
    OR 52 Joah Robinett FR / 6-7 / 236
    OR 54 Shemiah Unutoa-Whitson FR / 6-2 / 226
    48 Reed Woodward FR / 6-5 / 220

    I think there is a lot of decisions, and like I say in a post I have in the que for tomorrow, we as Beaver Nation need to be prepared for the chance that this year is not a step forward. That this year is a building year, much like 2011 as Andy pointed out. We need to have that vision for the program, even if it is rough now, because that is the undertaking that Gary Andersen has set out to do. Last year was not as much of a building block as a reset. So we need to be tough as a fan base. We need to look at groups like the linebackers where most of the depth has FR or RFR next to their names and know that we are going to see a ton of new faces and that expecting them to make huge strides in just a few weeks of practice is a tough task. Throw in 11 straight games after a week 2 bye and a murderers row of a schedule from UW on, and this year has a lot of questions. It doesn’t mean 2017 and 2018 aren’t still slated to be huge jumps for the program, but it does mean that this year has so many questions that no one can honestly say they know what we will see. Plus, with all the youth and new faces, what we see week one and what we see week 4 should be vastly different.

    1. Andy Wooldridge Post author

      The good news is that Isaac Garcia is now with the team, though not yet working out with them. He still has to complete the “Bridge” program, but Coach Andersen expects he will hit the field soon.

      Whether we see him at all this season (other than in practice and on the sidelines) is another matter though, and Coach Andersen said it may take Garcia and Wallace “a year” to get ready, suggesting a red or gray shirt season for them, as you noted.

      A lot of decisions about personnel are going to be as much about deciding in which year they can best be utilized, never mind which point in the season!

      1. Andy Wooldridge Post author

        For those considering attending the open scrimmage tomorrow (Thursday) morning, the heat wave has prompted a schedule change, with start time moved up to 9:30 AM instead of 10:30 as originally scheduled, per Oregon State Football.

  3. wcbeav

    I think the Harlow decision comes down to Harlow and his family. The guy has NFL aspirations and a father who has been there (#11 overall pick 1991 and a decent career). If the family is good with him sitting and he’s not 100% why not redshirt him? If he’s coming out regardless, redshirting is a waste. But I doubt that as O-lineman have good career lengths in the the NFL, as opposed to this situation if he was a running back, then it would be “thanks coach but I’ll see you later. Maybe this is a case of Andersen and Sean/his dad thinking he’ll be 100% by the BSU game or not pulling the trigger until that date. If he’s on board and I’m Andersen, I’m redshirting him as we need all the “spacing” help we can get at O-Line. I’d rather an all-Pac 12 guy next year than an honorable mention this year. I also figure with Sean’s attitude/lineage and the tools he brought out of high school this is not a matter of him not taking his rehab 100% seriously. I think think because of his dad, Coach A being an o-lineman himself and Sean’s grit, I trust that the correct decision will be made.


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