JONESBORO — Strap in. Buckle up. Hold on tight.
Arkansas State will play football at breakneck speed. The Blake Anderson era is officially underway.
Known for high-scoring, fast-paced and record-setting offenses throughout his career, the 44-year-old Anderson was introduced as Arkansas State’s head football coach during a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Convocation Center.
Anderson, who spent the last two seasons at North Carolina and the previous two at Southern Mississippi as offensive coordinator, helped mold each of those programs into high-powered offenses that produced yards in bundles and lit up scoreboards. Now he’ll return Arkansas State to a style similar to what previous coaches Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze implemented, except he plans to dial it up a notch faster.
“This is what we will be — number one, we will be fast,” Anderson told a near-capacity crowd inside the Convocation Center auditorium. “We will be one of the fastest-operating football teams in the country. If you haven’t seen us at North Carolina and if you didn’t see us at Southern Miss before I got there (but) you’ve obviously seen some guys play fast. Well, look at that and ramp it up a notch because we are going to be one of the fastest-operating, flying-around football teams in the country.”
Eight days after former coach Bryan Harsin stepped down to take the Boise State job, the ASU search committee of athletic director Terry Mohajir, Systems President Chuck Welch and Chancellor Tim Hudson settled on Anderson. After some late-night negotiations with different candidates, the group offered Anderson the job around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning as Anderson was driving to work.
Anderson stopped the car, accepted the chance to be ASU’s 30th head coach and said a quick prayer to thank God for the opportunity. Then he called his wife and parents to give them the news that he was Arkansas State’s man.
“You cannot imagine how excited I am and my family are to be here, to be part of this Red Wolf nation and to be welcome,” Anderson said. “It’s been amazing just real quickly how open everybody has been. I haven’t lost a game yet, so I know that can change real quickly. But I’ve been doing this for almost 22 years and this is a dream true.”
On the first day the search began for a new coach last Thursday, Mohajir was researching candidates on the Internet when he came across different articles and videos of Anderson that peaked his interest.
As the search proceeded over the next week, the committee conducted four in-person interviews with whom Mohajir said were “some of the best coaches in the country.”
When all was said and done, the committee felt like Anderson was the best candidate because of his background, experience and philosophy. Anderson met nearly all their criteria, including the desire to coach long-term at ASU and an ability to recruit the region.
Welch believes Anderson will continue the unprecedented success of three straight Sun Belt Conference titles the Red Wolves have enjoyed over the last three years.
“We said from the very beginning we were going to go out and find the absolute best football coach we could find that was a fit for this university and we were going to continue what has been happening over the past three years,” Welch said. “We talked to a lot of top-notch coaches. We had literally calls from all over the country; the interest was unbelievable. The one thing that set Blake Anderson apart from the rest was his energy, his excitement level and the very obvious fact that he wanted to be the head coach at Arkansas State University.”
Anderson, who just happened to be born in Jonesboro, had also been successful everywhere he’d been before.
“I wanted somebody excited to be a Red Wolf, somebody who wants to be a Red Wolf,” Dr. Hudson said. “We’ve got a new Red Wolf family here I’m sure. I also wanted somebody who appreciated what Jonesboro can mean for his family. … And, I also wanted somebody who can put up a lot of points on the board.”
Anderson will almost uncertainly stick around long enough to see the fruits of his labor grow and produce, again and again.
Upon Arkansas State undergoing its fourth coaching change in four years, the search committee made it a priority that stability be part of the package. Each of the previous three coaches — Malzahn, Freeze and Harsin — all left for high-dollar jobs at larger schools after just one season.
Included in Anderson’s five-year contract worth $700,000 annually and $3.5 million total were buyouts that almost undoubtedly ensure the new coach will be in place at least a few years. The buyout for the first two years is $3 million, then drops to $2 million for the next two years with a $1 million buyout in the final year of the deal.
Anderson said the large buyout played no role in his decision to accept the job. He wanted to be ASU’s head coach no matter what and he doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
“I’m not here to leave,” Anderson said. “I’m not going to make any false promises to anybody, but I’ve got a daughter that is a freshman that I want to get graduated from high school and I want her to quit moving around. I want to give these players that do all the work, I want to give them the best chance to build a program and have some continuity. If we do a great job and somebody comes calling, that’s part of college football, but the buyout doesn’t scare me.”
Anderson has not decided whether he’ll remain with the Tar Heels for the next couple of weeks through their bowl game. North Carolina faces Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 28.
Anderson also promised to consider every current ASU assistant coach for his own staff. But he acknowledged there are several people he has in mind for certain spots, and he will ultimately build the staff with coaches he feels are the best fit for his system and the program.
Overall, Anderson just seemed to be relieved and happy to have several days worth of negotiating and interviews end with his first head coaching job. It was a unique way for he and his wife, Wendy, to celebrate their 21st anniversary.
“I’ve got to thank my Lord and Savior,” Anderson said. “He has blessed me with a great family and he’s got me to this point because absolutely none of this was by accident. You will find out that as you deal with me and as you watch me conduct our team that every thing I do will be through faith and prayer, and will be done with my faith as part as what I decide to do in the best interest of our university and our kids.”