There’s a bleak outlook. And there’s a Blake outlook.
And Utah State athletic director John Hartwell clearly likes the way Blake Anderson looks at the challenge of rebuilding the Aggie football program.
“You can talk to coaches — both current and former — across the country, and they rave about Blake Anderson the football coach. But people really, really talk about Blake Anderson the person,” Hartwell declared during a press conference Monday morning in Logan, Utah.
“And I think those qualities that he brings to Utah State — as a winner on and off the field and as a developer of young men — put Blake heads and shoulders above the rest of our candidates and made him a very easy choice to be the next head coach at Utah State University.”
The head coach at Arkansas State the past seven seasons, Anderson accepted the head position at Utah State late last week and was introduced as the 29th head coach in school history a few days later in front of about 40 masked and socially distanced members of the media, Anderson’s coaching staff and USU officials at the West Stadium Center at Maverik Stadium.
“I’m beyond excited to be here,” Anderson proclaimed. “Excited just doesn’t do enough. I’m beyond excited to be here and honored to be the head coach at Utah State.”
Anderson said he is familiar with the tradition and history of football at Utah State, primarily due to his long friendship with former Aggie quarterback and head coach Matt Wells. The two became friends when they were both attending camps as young assistant coaches back in the ‘90s.
“I have listened to (Wells) talk about this place and what it meant to his family, and just how much they enjoyed living here,” Anderson noted. “I’ve watched this program win, and I actually got my tailed kicked right out there in that stadium not too long ago as the head coach at Arkansas State. So, I feel like I’m pretty familiar with it, and I was on staff with Rocky Long at the University of New Mexico … so I also feel like I’m familiar with the Mountain West.
“So, when I say that I’m excited to be here, I feel like I’ve got enough knowledge of the place, the culture, the history and tradition here that I can truly mean it and truly be honored.”
The Anderson Era at Utah State begins less than six weeks after the Andersen Era came to an abrupt end. Former head coach Gary Andersen was relieved of his duties on Nov. 7, after the Aggies started the 2020 season with three straight losses, leaving his record at 7-9 during his second stint as the head coach in Logan.
Co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile took over for Andersen on an interim basis, guiding the Aggies to a 1-2 record the rest of a difficult season that saw two scheduled games canceled.
Although Anderson is coming off his worst season at Arkansas State – the Red Wolves ended up 4-7 – the 51-year-old coach won 47 games, won two Sun Belt Conference championships and went to six bowl games in his first half-dozen seasons in Jonesboro.
“This year I felt like we had a great team going into the season, played close with Memphis and went to K-State and beat K-State in Manhattan for a Power 5 win and then COVID took over. And we were hit really, really hard,” said Anderson, who tested positive for COVID-19 in late September.
“So, I appreciate the fact that John had enough faith in me and my body of work that he didn’t look at a 4-7 record in the middle of a COVID epidemic and let it define who I was. … And I can promise you, we were better than a 4-7 program.”
During Anderson’s first years at the helm of the Red Wolves, his offense broke 12 school records, including 494.8 yards of total offense per game, 4,106 passing yards and 38 touchdown passes in 2017; 520 points scored and 69 total touchdowns in 2015; and 6,174 yards of total offense and 1,024 total plays in 2014.
When someone compared Anderson’s offense to the fast-paced one that Wells helped orchestrate in 2018 with current Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Jordan Love and has been trying to implement the past two seasons at Texas Tech, Anderson smiled and said: “I love Matt Wells to death. But no offense, we’re going to play faster.”
“And we’re going to be physical, “Anderson continued. “Matt did a great job and he does still –- I know he’s got some challenges going on in Lubbock right now – but y’all know he’s a great coach.
“It’s a little different. There are some of the Air Raid principles in our offense, but we have continued to progress and move and take it a little bit further.”
Among the members of his staff that Anderson announced Monday are Central Florida co-offensive coordinator Anthony Tucker (offensive coordinator) and ASU special teams coordinator Kyle Cefalo (wide receivers/passing game coordinator). Anderson also made it official that former Aggie star quarterback Chuckie Keeton will be back in Logan, coaching either running backs or wide receivers. Since his senior season in 2015, Keeton has served as a graduate assistant under Gary Andersen at Oregon State and under Wells at both Utah State and Texas Tech.
“When I called Matt Wells about potentially hiring (Keeton), he could not stop talking about the kind of coach he is potentially going to be in his career,” Anderson said of Keeton.
During the press conference, Anderson took time to thank numerous people from Arkansas State and the community of Jonesboro. Anderson’s wife, Wendy, died in August 2019 following a two-year battle with breast cancer, breaking the hearts of not only Anderson and his three children, but college football fans from around the country.
“The last three years have been the hardest of my life, losing my wife to cancer and losing my father to lung disease and what we went through this year,” Anderson noted. “I can tell you there’s no way that I made it through the last three years without that group of people supporting me and helping me.”
Anderson played quarterback at Baylor in 1988-89 before transferring to Sam Houston State, where he met Wendy and spent two more years as a wide receiver. He started his coaching career at Eastern New Mexico in 1992, and spent time at New Mexico and Middle Tennessee before leaving coaching for three years from 2004-06.
He returned to the sidelines in 2007 as the offensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette, and went on to serve as the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss (2010-11) and North Carolina (2012-13) before getting his first head coaching job at Arkansas State in 2014.
On the move again for the first time in seven years, Anderson said he took “the first step” by meeting with the returning Aggies over the weekend. He said he felt the players’ “body language” was something to be optimistic about. However, after his experience of bringing an end to a revolving door of head coaches to come through Arkansas State, Anderson said he understands that he has some work to do when it comes to the current group of Aggies.
“I don’t expect those guys to trust me anytime soon,” Anderson said. “I know that’s going to take a while, and I’m perfectly fine with it. I was the fifth head coach in five years (at ASU) and those guys didn’t trust me until they knew I wasn’t going to leave right after the very last game of the season
“So, I understand this process is going to take a while, and we’re OK with that. We’re going to be patient.”
Utah State didn’t announce the details of Anderson’s deal, but it’s believed to be a five-year contract at around $1 million per year.