It’s been a helluva week. From Bryan Harsin, to Lane Kiffin, to Jim McElwain, there has seemingly been a new “best bet” for Missouri’s new head coach, and the quality of the name has gotten worse and worse. Enter Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson. Now, I want to be clear, I would take Anderson over McElwain in a heartbeat, but Anderson certainly doesn’t make a splash or have the clout that McElwain does. Despite the fact that Missouri fans got an in-person taste of what his teams are like back in 2015, the one thing Anderson has been known for in the past two years was his wife’s battle with cancer. With her unfortunate passing this past year, Coach Anderson is looking for a fresh start elsewhere and was seemingly ready to go on Thursday before the Missouri administration told Jim Sterk to do better. However, given the sanctions, financial situation, and Missouri’s place in the SEC pecking order, this is about as good as it’s going to get without cranking up the money cannon to over $4 million. Yes, there I go “underselling the program” and “settling for mediocrity,” but I’m the one that’s always bumming the party out with a realistic take and making you eat your vegetables. So let’s check out Coach Anderson and the disappointment that we might/could be hiring.
After wrapping up his playing days at Sam Houston State (under yesterday’s profile subject Willie Fritz), Anderson started coaching the offensive side of the ball, eventually working with Rocky Long at New Mexico (a Sterk employee at San Diego State). He bounced to Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Lafayette before becoming Larry Fedora’s OC at Southern Miss and North Carolina. Now, you might remember that Fedora was the “can’t-miss” young coach about 10 years ago who was masterful in crafting quick-hitting offenses. Anderson was at the controls of that attack and tweaked it slightly as he became head man at Arkansas State. He’s been in Jonesboro ever since, so let’s break down his history and see how it stacks up.
Other than the first-year-breaking-in period, Anderson’s offense fairly reliably falls into the 40-50 range of offensive SP+. He was better than that in his two years at North Carolina, but his G5 offenses typically rank near the top for a mid-major offense. The Anderson-attack isn’t anything special (anymore); throw-to-run, short passes to faster receivers inside, utilize basketball-player-sized receivers on the outside for deeper stuff, smaller running backs to race the defense to the sidelines. It’s not novel, but it is consistently effective.
This is where I’m really curious to see what he does in Columbia, and I hope Sterk asks good questions about his recruiting. Anderson loves to pick up Power 5 castoffs; highly-ranked athletes who either didn’t make the grades or were kicked off their teams for disciplinary issues. He buffers those transfers with JUCOs and takes a few four-year development guys as well. When the transfers and JUCOs click, it really works, such as the years where he’s won/tied for the Sun Belt title. And even when it doesn’t work, he’s still winning 7 games. But because he’s in the Group of 5 and doesn’t care about the Playoff, he uses the non-conference slate to get all the new guys used to playing together and figuring out what he has and what works. At an SEC school, we don’t want the non-con to be used in that manner, so I wonder how he tweaks his approach. My assumption is that character/grade risks wouldn’t jive as well, nor would JUCO-heavy classes, so I’m curious how he would change.
His best team was 66th, his worst team is - currently - this year’s team at 74th. Consistency and quality for the G5 level— certainly nothing terrible. You would like to see a few breakout seasons, especially with a coach at the same school for six years, but consistently winning 7-8-9 games is something that the Mizzou fanbase was clamoring for this past year and...well...Anderson has shown he can deliver that.
I already know a solid, vocal chunk of you who read this are going to haaaaaaaaaaaate his deconstructed record. Just remember, he coaches in the Sun Belt where only two teams are consistently ranked (App State and Troy), and most of the ranked teams/winning record teams are buy-in games for P5 programs. Anderson openly does not give a crap what his non-con record is, and the conference is littered with teams ranking 80th or worse. So the fact that he’s gone 32-10 against his peers is pretty damn good.
The blowback from the fans finding out that this was the best guy we could get was swift and - understandably - negative. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind this hire; the record isn’t great but he operates with a weird-for-today philosophy of “just win the conference.” How does he recruit at an SEC school? How does he schedule in the non-con when he has to start winning those games? Will he put out as consistent a product with tougher competition? Will his offenses mirror the quality of North Carolina? I’d certainly be willing to hire him and find out.