After what seemed to be another successful season by most team’s standards, the feeling around Red Wolf football is one of uncertainty. After so much coaching turnover, and the program underachieving compared to its own lofty standards, things are certainly cloudy.
Let’s take a look back a few years to provide some context.
In 2011, a coach you might’ve heard of named Hugh Freeze came on the scene. He would lead the Red Wolves to a 10-2 season that would set the program best since it had become Division 1. This led to a promotion, as most group of 5 program head coaching jobs do. He would accept the position at Ole Miss and achieve success there. (We’ll omit any interim coaches during this history lesson since none retained the position).
Next up on the coaching carousel was yet another up and coming name in the coaching circles, the innovative offensive mind Gus Malzahn, armed with a knowledge of the state since his roots were in Arkansas.
Having been the offensive coordinator for the Hogs during one of their best seasons, he followed that up with a stint at Tulsa in the same role, before landing at Auburn and winning the Broyles’ Award as the top assistant coach in college football.
He followed that up by then accepting the position at Arkansas State. He would have a good 9-3 season which launched him back into the power 5, returning to Auburn.
Yet another unexpected coaching change led to another up and coming coach on the circuit: Bryan Harsin. Coming from Boise State with a short stint at Texas, he seemed like one to stick around.
He led a so-so season at 7-5 and would return to Boise State, which despite being another Group of 5 school definitely had better resources and history behind it. Understandable.
It seemed at this point that A State was becoming Head Coach U – the destination for all up and coming coaching candidates to boost their resume one more time before heading to the big time. You couldn’t even brag on the new guy before he was already on the move.
Coach Anderson seemed different from the jump.
Preaching faith, and doing things the right way he seemed destined to lead them to the promised land, and to win, and mainly STICK AROUND. His first season was decent, going 7-6 and making the Go Daddy Bowl but losing to Toledo.
The next two would build his empire, going 9-4 and winning the Sun Belt and losing in the New Orleans bowl, and then 8-5 repeating as Sun Belt champion and winning the Cure Bowl. 2017 and 2018 were middling at 7-5 and 8-5, with bowl losses both years.
He seemed to have peaked too early, and now fans are getting antsy. The Sun Belt has improved tremendously since he first arrived, with Troy and App State becoming national darlings, as well as ULL gaining noteworthy relevance. While those programs have consistently been improving, it seems that A State has begun a slight, noticeable decline.
Rumors of lack of discipline are loud. Coaching staff turnover has been rampant. The team had high expectations for the last two seasons with the returning players and incoming ones and failed to meet them. This past season really was indicative that something may have been up.
Championship teams show discipline and grit when it’s needed. Penalties galore turned the tide against them. Add in the winnable games and whatever ‘it’ is has plagued the Red Wolves the last two years. As a result ask anyone around the program, or even fans and they’ll say the same: this seems to be shaping into a make or break year.
The Red Wolves have got to back up Coach Anderson. He’s going through the worst hell imaginable. He’s dealing with his wife’s fight against cancer. His team needs to show they have their coach’s back by winning the Sun Belt this year. If not, another underachieving season could very well cost him his job, even in the midst of his personal adversity.
What’s happening to Coach Anderson is what can be related to a few things. It reminds me of when you discover a new restaurant. You start eating there frequently, it’s so enjoyable and delicious. Everything on the menu is new to you, and you love it.
Over time that luster dulls. It no longer appeases you and isn’t matching the expectations you once had. Now you’re on the hunt for a different taste, something that’ll fill that craving now.
Another thought is, the situation is similar to some music artists who start strong, but stale over time, while those other newcomers around them flourish. Prolonged and sustained success is incredibly difficult. It is a reason why we see so much coaching turnover in college football.
Coaches leave while still ahead, because fan bases and boosters can turn on you in the blink of an eye. Your seat can get hot really quickly, so you have to get the flowers while you can still smell ’em. Look at Nicki Minaj and Wale. Both started out incredibly strong. Such strong starts led to high expectations, maybe unrealistic ones, and they didn’t meet those.
Other talents have now risen up and taken the spotlight. Both artists still are insanely talented, but due to not reaching the expectations bred from such early success, are now in the background.
Coach Anderson is sort of seeing that now. The coming season will tell us a lot as the rubber will meet the road. Whether anyone likes it or not, it seems this has become a make or break season for Coach Anderson.