BYU fans everywhere are weighing the pros and cons of the limited candidates wading in the shallow BYU head coaching pool. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae is more at BYU than just the offensive coordinator. He’s also currently the assistant head coach at BYU and was named such after returning from his two year stint with Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.
Now that Bronco Mendenhall’s departure has shaken things up, Coach Anae could become a stabilizing force, given the fact there will be more changes to the BYU coaching staff due to expected departures of some assistants to Virginia with Coach Mendenhall. The question is if Anae isn’t tabbed as the new head coach at BYU and is passed over for another head coach, would he stick around or leave for a new and potentially more lucrative opportunity? If the latter happens to be the case, BYU fans should expect more changes to the BYU coaching staff but this time on the offensive side of the ball. It would be hard to expect assistants like Guy Holliday, Mark Atuaia, and possibly Garett Tujague or Jason Beck to stick around. The advantage of Coach Anae potentially ascending from assistant head coach to head coach is that it would provide some stability within the program.
Anae has shown to be a good judge in assessing assistant coach talent in the likes of Tujague, Atuaia, Beck, and Holliday, whom he hired upon his return from Arizona. If Anae were hired at BYU, it is expected those coaches would likely stay on staff. There have been no Jaime Hill incidents on the offensive coaching staff and all are very close as a group. If Anae was hired on as BYU’s new head coach, what new defensive assistant coaches would he bring in? With the possible departures of Kelly Poppinga, Nick Howell, and maybe even Paul Tidwell, the defensive side of the ball could be lacking quality assistant coaches. Would Coach Anae go after very close friend, former Texas Tech defensive coordinator and recently-fired East Carolina Head Coach, Ruffin McNeill? Ruffin, who is African American, was in many cases a father figure and deeply loved by his players at East Carolina. Prior to being the Pirates’ head coach, he was a defensive coordinator under Mike Leach for two years. When Leach was fired, McNeill led the Red Raiders to victory over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl in 2010 as interim head coach. One would think that Anae would tab the interest of his close friend Ruffin McNeill now that he’s available for hire.
Having been a part of BYU during his playing days and 9 seasons as offensive coordinator, Anae understands the mission factor having served one himself and all the varying quirks that are unique to BYU. Most college coaches- review the Coach Crowton era for a full understanding of this- might not fully understand how to or recruit for an honor code-based program. Coach Anae fully understands what’s expected, knows the sifting process, and implements the current program process when it comes to evaluating recruits. Much like Coach Mendenhall, he would run a clean program and hold his players accountable.
Being heavily active in the LDS faith, and understanding the mission of BYU, Anae would also continue much of the character building aspects promulgated and emphasized by Bronco Mendenhall. It is likely that program staples such as Thursday’s Heroes and the current pre-game firesides more than likely won’t go away but will be reinforced under his tenure. In fact, one can surmise that not much, if anything, out of the current program established by Coach Mendenhall would change.
Now, many view Coach Anae’s public relations skills and blunt demeanor as a negative implication for the BYU head coaching job. His straight forward approach often rubs rough around the edges and many in the media have felt the sting of this aptitude. However, when it comes to Coach Anae, one has to remember one thing. He is simply an old school coach. And when it comes to the rough and tumble world of turning a white shirt and tie culture full of return missionaries in to hardened football players, his style of doing so isn’t one of leisurely sipping coco Samoa among the hibiscus flowers.
Rather, he’s a tough old school coach with a demeanor more like that of a drill sergeant. For those who covered BYU at the start of the Bronco Mendenhall era, they’ll remember that he too was much the same way. Mendenhall’s answers were precise, direct, and delivered in a tone that often got him labeled as rude and standoffish. In fact interviewees might remember that if there was a pause between questions, Mendenhall would simply cut the interview short by walking off leaving one to wonder what happened. Over time, Mendenhall learned how to use the media to his advantage and became more engaging and less robotic, even joking around and showing a lighter or more personable side. As a man of letters, Dr. Robert Anae is a very smart man. Many only see him in a football setting when that old drill sergeant of a coach comes out in media venues. However, in actuality Anae can be very personable and quite funny much like Coach Mendenhall was when he's away from the job setting. One would think that much like the change that occurred in Coach Mendenhall’s demeanor to suit a softer public relations expectation as the face of the LDS flagship university’s football team, the same would also occur with Robert Anae as he adapts himself to meet those expectations.
Next up, we’ll take a look a Kalani Sitaki and what he brings to the BYU head coaching table.