First of all, I don’t know who the athletic director at Utah State is, but he put on a clinic on how to conduct a coaching search. Thursday morning a social media post from College AD (I had never heard of it either) reported it had a source indicating Arkansas State Coach Blake Anderson would be the next coach at Utah State.
That was news to the folks who cover A-State daily. They scrambled to confirm and a short time later, it was revealed Anderson set a meeting at 2:30 that afternoon to visit with his players. It was confirmed, out of the blue, that Anderson was gone.
My first thought: ‘Good for him.’ Anderson has been good for A-State with six winning seasons in seven years in Jonesboro and two Sun Belt Conference Championships. After winning at Power 5 member Kansas State this fall, it’s been a downhill slide for A-State this season and some fans have been antsy after a 4-7 finish. However, things aren’t broken there. There are plenty of programs that felt an impact from COVID-19 for a good part of the year following an outbreak. That was probably one of Anderson’s biggest problems, which occurred early after the K-State win. They were playing shorthanded against the Wildcats, and then the virus spread and A-State didn’t play for two weeks. However, nothing is broken at A-State. There is plenty of talent there, and that’s why there has reportedly already been a great deal of interest there.
But, back to Anderson, who was 51-37 at A-State. I made a post on social media encouraging A-State’s fans to treat Anderson with grace following his wife, Wendy’s passing from cancer at the beginning of the 2019 season. It was met with hostility from some for suggesting such a deplorable notion. Look, I’ve been covering sports a long time. I know fan bases have short memories with winning coming first. Sure enough, this year fans started piling on. Do you think Anderson just got over the pain of losing the love of his life in a year? Nah, and I am sure being in Jonesboro was just a constant reminder of the grief he carried. You add the pressure of losing to that, it was the right time to move on.
I have no doubt Utah State will thrive under Anderson which has seen recent success. Gary Andersen became the Aggies’ coach in 2008 and by 2011 he guided them to their first winning season since 1997 and a berth in the Idaho Potato Bowl. The 2012 team notched their first double-digit winning season and a bowl win for the first time in 19 years as well as a national ranking. Andersen parlayed the success into a job at Wisconsin. Matt Wells, Andersen’s offensive coordinator, took over and didn’t miss a beat leading the Aggies to several successful seasons. After the 2018 season, he left for Texas Tech and Andersen returned.
After starting the season losing three straight games, Andersen was fired following a 34-9 Mountain West Conference loss at Nevada in early November. While Andersen’s second tenure hasn’t gone as planned, the Aggies did go to a bowl game last season. The cupboard probably isn’t bare and it’s a good bet starting late because of COVID-19 didn’t help Utah State. At any rate, Anderson will have a great chance to get USU back to its winning ways it enjoyed under Wells.
More importantly, it’s a fresh start for him personally where he won’t have the constant reminder of Wendy. It’s great all the way around.
The good news for A-State is, Anderson leaves the program with a winning reputation and talent, including starting quarterback Layne Hatcher, the Pulaski Academy product.
Terry Mohajir is one of the more underrated athletic directors in the country and will have his choice of a good successor for Anderson. The problem for Mohajir may not be finding the right candidate but choosing between several qualified candidates. The future of Arkansas State looks bright. When A-State hired Anderson they were seeking stability after going through coaches at an alarming rate. Anderson did that staying seven years and battling through the adversity of losing his wife.
This was the right time for he and A-State to part ways and both parties should enjoy success on the other side.
Photo credit: Travis Clayton/Arkansas State