Tar Heels lose record-setting coordinator to Arkansas State

Dec. 19, 2013 @ 08:02 PM

Blake Anderson has made a habit of breaking records in his two seasons as the offensive coordinator at North Carolina.

The 43-year-old hopes to bring his style of up-tempo football — along with a healthy dose of stability — to Arkansas State.

Anderson was introduced as new coach of the Red Wolves on Thursday, becoming the school’s fifth head coach in five seasons. He replaces Bryan Harsin, who left Arkansas State last week to become the head coach at Boise State.

“I am absolutely completely honored and thrilled to be here,” Anderson said. “... You cannot imagine how excited I am and my family (is) to be here.”

UNC coach Larry Fedora issued a statement of support for Anderson late Thursday afternoon.

“Blake is an outstanding football coach and I’m thrilled he has the chance to be the head coach at Arkansas State. It’s been a goal of his for a long time to be a Division I head coach and he deserves this opportunity.

“Blake has been with me for the last six seasons and we’ve had success at both Southern Miss and North Carolina, setting several offensive school records. When you have that kind of success other schools are going to notice. I want our assistants to have these types of opportunities and I’m excited for Blake and his family as they make the move to Arkansas State.

“Going forward, we will take our time to find the best fit for our program.”

The Red Wolves (7-5) won at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship for the third straight season this year — all under different head coaches. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn left Arkansas State after one season last year, just as Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze had done a year earlier.

Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir said the coaching turnover played a large factor in in Anderson’s contract, a five-year, $700,000 annual agreement that includes a buyout of $3 million for the first two years. The buyout tapers to $2 million in the third and fourth years, and then to $1 million in the final year.

Harsin had a $1.75-million buyout in the first year of his contract, and Mohajir said Anderson — who said he was born in Arkansas — had no objections to the hefty clause.

“Although we want to continue momentum and success, we want to create stability as well,” Mohajir said.

Defensive coordinator John Thompson will serve as the interim coach when Arkansas State faces Ball State in the GoDaddy Bowl on Jan. 5. Anderson originally said he planned to start with the Red Wolves following the Tar Heels’ bowl game against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 28, but Fedora indicated otherwise Thursday evening, saying Anderson would not coach in the bowl game.

Fedora said he will have to decide who will call plays in the Belk Bowl, but pointed out that he, Fedora, has been an offensive coordinator in the past and is comfortable with calling plays himself. Fedora said there's no hurry to replace Anderson, saying it's about "getting the right fit" for the staff as well as someone who will "recruit hard and coach hard."

Fedora said the team might promote one of the assistants on staff to offensive coordinator permanently.

Anderson's offensive approach should fit well at Arkansas State, which has gone through a flurry of offensive-minded head coaches since the firing of former coach Steve Roberts following the 2010 season.

“We will be one of the fastest operating flying-around football teams in the country,” Anderson said. “It’s called fast-break basketball on grass. ... You will never be bored if you come to a game.”

The one-and-done approach has worked well for the Red Wolves, who are 27-11 over the last three seasons under Freeze, Malzahn and Harsin — a vast improvement at a school that had enjoyed little success since becoming an FBS school in 1992.

Prior to a 10-3 record under Freeze in 2011, Arkansas State had finished above .500 only once during that span, and the school’s back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011-12 was the first time it had won in double digits since it was a member of the I-AA Southland Conference in 1986.

In Anderson’s first season with the Tar Heels in 2012, the school set more than 35 records — including points per game and total offense. This season, North Carolina started the season 1-5 before rebounding with five-straight wins to earn bowl eligibility, scoring a school-record 80 points against Old Dominion.

Anderson came with Fedora from Southern Mississippi, where the Golden Eagles were known for their offensive prowess as well. The Texas native played at both Baylor and Sam Houston State, and his previous coaching experience includes stops at New Mexico and Middle Tennessee State.

As good as a fit as Anderson’s up-tempo style appears for Arkansas State, he made it clear on Thursday he wanted the job regardless of the style the school has been accustomed to during its recent run of success.

“They could have been running the wishbone,” Anderson said. “I wanted this job.”

— Staff writer Mark Donovan and correspondent Dan E. Way contributed to this report from Durham and Chapel Hill.