There’s that saying that, “All good things must come to an end.” Well, that would be a fitting way close out the Arkansas State Red Wolves’ 2015 football season. The New Orleans Bowl was indeed the end of the season for Head Coach Blake Anderson and his team, and this season was indeed, a good one. After going 7-6 last season, Coach Anderson’s team improved to finish 9-4 this season. Included in that record was finishing the Sun Belt Conference season undefeated at 8-0 as the outright champions. This year’s senior class made history by winning more games than any in school history and helped keep this program together during their time in Jonesboro. The bowl week and the time spent in New Orleans truly was a celebration of what the team had accomplished this season.
The bowl game did not go as Red Wolves’ fans had hoped. Arkansas State came into the game missing a lot of the pieces they had for their win at Appalachian State, the last real game where they were at full strength. Unfortunately, whereas they were able to hide those missing pieces in the closing 3 games of the season, it just became too much to overcome against a good and rested Louisiana Tech team. In all the Red Wolves headed into the game missing around 6-7 starters, and then lost a couple more early in the game. That didn’t keep the team from playing hard to the end in front of a record crowd of Arkansas State fans. The game did not end the way they wanted, but it didn’t take away from the fact that they had a great season and added more to the program’s foundation as they look ahead to the offseason and building off of the momentum of their conference championship.
AStateNation sat down with Coach Anderson to discuss the bowl week and is happy to bring you the final 2015 installment of “The 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson.”
The 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson
1st Quarter: How did the bowl week play out for you as the celebration you wanted for your players, the staff, and the fans? – “I think, with the exception of the outcome of the game, it worked out great and I wouldn’t change a thing. We had a great time with our kids and their families. I think the bowl did an outstanding job with us in New Orleans. All the different activities they had for us from the arcade/karaoke night to the World War II Museum were a lot of fun. Working out in the New Orleans Saints facility was a cool deal for our kids too. The food was absolutely phenomenal all week and I think our guys got to really get out and about and saw what New Orleans is all about. That’s what bowl games should be for the players, is a total life experience. The fans, I can’t leave them out. They were unreal. They were around with us all week in record numbers. The send-off we had at the hotel was unlike anything I’ve experienced. When we came down the escalator to leave the Marriott the entire lobby was filled, the outside was filled and on down the street was packed with our fans. They were loud at the game too. They set a record for bowl ticket sales for AState which a huge deal for our program and the future in how bowls look at us. I’m just grateful for that response from the fans because they added to the whole experience for all of us. It was special. I just wish we could have given them a different outcome in the game.”
2nd Quarter: What are your initial thoughts on the game itself and what took place? – “I thought we played hard, but we didn’t play well. Turnovers and penalties hurt us, some of which I still don’t understand why they were called. I think the amount of injuries we had down the stretch of the season got exposed by a good La Tech team. We had some holes coming into this game that we couldn’t cover up. That was not the defense we’ve played with all season as we were without key guys in the passing game both from a coverage standpoint and the pass rush. We have 6 guys having surgery today that have been playing hurt the last few weeks. Those things add up when you’re still a class away from the depth you really want in your program. But our guys fought hard and we just didn’t execute in some areas in the 3rd quarter that hurt us and we didn’t recover from it. Some of those missing pieces would have helped in that situation but we basically just picked a bad time to not play well. And you know me, I absolutely hate losing. It burns me up. So hopefully, for my family’s sake, I’ll be back to normal before the end of this week.”
3rd Quarter: You’ve talked a lot about this senior class in recent weeks. How hard was it, personally to you, to say goodbye to them after the game? – “Man, don’t get me going again. It was extremely difficult. Lot of tears, a lot of long hard hugs. These guys are special to me. They were warriors for me. They were leaders for me. I can’t say enough about them. I can’t picture the locker room without them in it. But at the same time, they know this isn’t over. They’re always a part of this program and I expect to see them around it. We still get to visit with a lot of the guys from last year’s senior class and our guys know our doors are always open. But it’s just hard knowing they won’t take the field for you again. This was a historic group. Won more games than any other class in school history. Won 4 titles in 5 years with 4 different coaches. And they went undefeated in the conference when they were picked to finish 3rd. Players win, not coaches. I love those guys more than they’ll know.”
4th Quarter: News broke that Coach Bell is taking the OC job at Maryland before the game. What are thoughts moving forward and how you’ll replace him? – “I’m happy for Walt. I want him to be successful and I wish him the best. I mean, he’s family and he always will be. It hurts that he’s leaving but that’s the nature of our profession. Moving forward, I don’t want to panic or rush this thing. I want to see what the landscape looks like. This is the crazy time in our profession. The last thing I want to do is make a hasty decision before I know what our entire situation internally and externally looks like. The good thing is that this offense is what we’ve been running since long ago and that won’t change. We will stay within the framework of what we like to do. We can elevate from within or look outside and we’ll be able to do what we need to do to remain successful. We’ll look within our family tree a bit, but again, I’ll be patient and deliberate with what we do moving forward. It will be somebody that this university will be proud of and that will help our program.”
OT: Looking ahead to the offseason, what will be your focus for what you want this program to work on for next year? – “Well, I want these guys to be kids for the next few weeks and do nothing but think about family and relax. They had a long, grueling season and they deserve to sit back and know they had a great season and share those memories with their families. We’ll start getting ready for next year on the 20th and 21st. I’m excited about what we have coming back. We’re losing key components, but I think our speed might even have a chance to be more dynamic next year. Just go down the list of guys we have coming back and it gets me excited. Then look at the additions we’ll have either from red-shirt transfers or new guys coming in January and after signing day. The future is bright on both sides of the ball. Obviously the key on offense will be how our QBs develop and what they will bring to the table because that table will be set for big things if the ball is distributed well. We will learn lessons again of where we fell short this year in the early going and improve in those areas just like we did after last season. And then we will raise the bar again of what we want this program to accomplish. We’re not content; we want to raise our standards even higher.”
Double OT: So what’s Christmas like in the Anderson household? – “When I get through sulking it will be great. You know, just wearing sweats and hanging out with each other at home. Eating a lot of great food and watching movies. Flipping through the channels and watching some games as well. I’m going to not be a coach for a few days and just be a dad and a husband and be grateful for that time with them. We’ll have fun opening presents and celebrating Christmas. Wendy and I might actually get to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary which was this past weekend on the day of the game. We’re also hoping to get to Texas and see my parents and go back to my hometown for the first time in like 5 years. Christmas to me means being with my family and enjoying every moment with them.”
Astate Nation would like to thank Coach Anderson for his time each and every week in doing the 5th Quarter with us. On a personal note, I would like to thank the Red Wolves’ family for allowing me to be part of another season of AState Football and I look forward to the future with you all.