After watching three head consecutive head coaches leave after one season, Arkansas State wanted their fourth hire in as many years to stick. Blake Anderson has stuck.
Anderson left his job as North Carolina’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the conclusion of the 2013 season and has brought a measure of success and stability the program has not enjoyed since the mid 1980s, years before A-State joined FBS. Under Anderson’s direction, the Red Wolves are 39-25 overall and 31-9 in Sun Belt play; they’ve reached a bowl game in all five of his seasons and won or shared a Sun Belt conference or division title in three of those seasons.
All that success has come with a cost. When you win at Arkansas State, people — richer people, that is — notice. Defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen was hired away to the same post at Houston and brought defensive line coach Brian Early with him. Assistant head coach/cornerbacks coach Trooper Taylor was hired away by Duke. Running backs coach and special teams coordinator Norval McKenzie left for Louisville, as did head strength coach Pat Ivey.
In a related note, Arkansas State paid Anderson’s assistant coaches a collective $1.289 million in 2018, which ranked fourth in the Sun Belt but 76th nationally among public schools. (Anderson himself made $850,000 last season, third in the Sun Belt and 89th in the country.)
In total, Anderson will have to replace eight of his 11 senior staff members from 2018 to 2019. (Three such hires have already been announced, and more are in the works.)
But though Anderson must do more work to build his staff than any sitting head coach in recent memory, that isn’t close to the biggest battle facing the 49-year-old.
Wendy Anderson, Blake’s wife, is currently fighting for her life. Wendy fought and beat breast cancer originally in 2017, but the family revealed in November that the cancer has not only returned, but spread to her lungs, lymph nodes, rib cage and liver.
Anderson has worked through both of his wife’s bouts with the disease. In 2017, he accompanied her to Mexico for a month’s worth of immunotherapy treatments. He coached Arkansas State in last month’s Arizona Bowl weeks after the family publicly acknowledged Wendy’s cancer had returned.
While Wendy fights for her life, Blake will be by her side — while also running a major college football program at the same time.
“This is a long journey that’s coming up,” Blake told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in December. “They’re not going to be able to do surgery and get this. It’s in way too many areas in her body. This is going to be treatment of some kind. We’re looking at a long road of something. It’s not like they can just go in and pluck it out. It’s everywhere.
“How do I balance it? That’s where I’m really fortunate. I’ve got great bosses that are all-in and say, ‘Do what you need to do.’ We’ll make it work.”