by Daniel Olsen | Anderson will be the head football coach next season but he’s not the one we’re used to seeing. Former Arkansas State Red Wolves coach Blake Anderson is resigning and taking the job at Utah State. He replaces former USU head coach Gary Andersen. He has been through ups and downs in Jonesboro, Arkansas and looks to help the Utah State Aggies during a time of adversity. Here are three reasons why he’s a good fit for the Aggies.
The Craig Smith of Aggie Football: Aggie Athletic Director John Hartwell has stated on several occasions that his goal in this hire was to find a coach similar to the way he found USU basketball coach Craig Smith. His last hire did not work because pressure from donors to bring Andersen back to the Aggies led to a short coaching search. This time, he has had just over a month to find someone after he and Andersen mutually agreed to part ways after an 0-3 start.
Like Smith, Anderson wasn’t a candidate that was high on the radar of the sports media for this vacancy. Many thought a local guy like Weber State coach Jay Hill or BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes would get the job. Smith proved himself immensely with two Mountain West Tournament championships. If Anderson, who has already won two Sun Belt titles, can do the same for the Utah State Aggies, there will be more positivity in Logan.
Anderson has established a winning program in Arkansas State. His only losing season came this year amidst a global pandemic. He has a winning pedigree that will help the Aggies rebuild to where the previous Andersen got them to nearly a decade ago. This rebuild might be a little more difficult than when he took over for an already successful coach in Bryan Harsin. The Aggies will be coming off a poor 1-5 season unless they decide to schedule a game next weekend.
Battle Tested: On a more serious note, the last year has been particularly difficult for Anderson. He lost his wife to cancer and took a leave of absence in 2019. In 2020, he experienced the first losing season of his head coaching career. This doesn’t automatically qualify him for the job, but the time he has had to reflect and learn from these trials have ultimately shaped his character. If he can stay positive, he will be able to ultimately overcome those trials and find success in Logan. Overall, Hartwell has a good track record of picking head coaches. He definitely saw something in Anderson’s character just like he did for his previous hires.
Winning Pedigree: To illustrate this better, here are some stats that show just how great teams led by Anderson have been:
Total record: 51-37
Sun Belt Titles: 2015, 2016
Bowl wins: 2
(The below stats do not include 2019 when Anderson took a leave of absence)
Offensive Touchdowns: 305
Double-Digit wins: 38
Some have jokingly viewed this as a lateral move but in reality, Utah State as a program has reached heights that the Red Wolves never did. The Aggies have finished the season ranked twice in the last decade while Arkansas State has never been ranked for even one week in the AP Top 25 in program history. They were close but couldn’t quite get to that success on a national level.
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Prediction: Safe but not Splashy Hire
I’m not going to say that this is the New Year’s Six contending, bona fide coach the Aggies have been waiting a lifetime for. However, the Aggies get an offensive minded coach who will win more games than not. What they need is stability, and a proven FBS head coach is a safer bet than trying to predict the next great head coach from a pool of coordinators and FCS coaches. The Aggies have gambled and lost. One example two decades ago was Dave Arslanian. He was a good head coach at Weber State but struggled greatly in his short stint with the Aggies.
I don’t think this is a bad hire at all. Maybe there is someone out there who is better but if we are being honest, Coach Smith came from a small college in South Dakota with not much of a winning pedigree. USU gave him the tools to be successful. While it isn’t a recruiter’s dream like California, Texas or Florida, Logan is a place where recent coaches have proven they can win in the last decade. While Anderson never had a double-digit win season at Arkansas State, I predict he will have one rebuilding season, several bowl eligible seasons and one double digit season for the Aggies that will likely result in calls from Power 5 programs from all across the country.
Bonus: Coaching Staff Rumors
One confirmed member of the coaching staff is UCF co-offensive coordinator Anthony Tucker. Anderson also brings Kyle Cefalo from Arkansas State. Former Aggie QB great Chuckie Keeton is rumored to return again to be a position coach. Frank Maile is expected to receive a pay raise to stay on as an assistant. Other rumored coaches are Ephraim Banda (Miami defensive coordinator), Stacy Collins and Bojay Filimoeatu. There is also an unnamed strength and conditioning guy from SEC country that the Aggies are excited about. These additions that get announced in the coming weeks will be critical to helping Utah State football get back on track.
Featured image courtesy Carmen Mandato | Getty Images