The story of an Arkansas State head coach goes a lot like the one of Keyser Soze. The coach comes, enacts vengeance on the Sun Belt for a year, and like that, he's gone.
The Red Wolves enter the 2014 season with a new head coach for the fifth time in as many seasons. This type of change would shake some programs to the core. Arkansas State has not only withstood the storm, but reached new heights during it.
The non-stop coaching carousel began with the dismissal of Steve Roberts following the 2010 season. A long run of mediocrity left with him. Arkansas State went in-house and gave the head job to Hugh Freeze, who had joined Roberts' staff as the offensive coordinator the previous year and drastically improved the unit. Freeze's results were immediately spectacular, going 10-2 in his one and only season with a perfect 8-0 record in conference.
Freeze parlayed his ground-breaking season into the head gig at Ole Miss and former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn replaced him. Malzahn continued the success, going 9-3 overall and a Sun Belt-best 7-1 in conference, before going back to Auburn to become the Tigers' head coach.
Bryan Harsin, a former Boise State quarterback, was next in line. He followed suit by leading Arkansas State to a co-conference championship and a third straight appearance in the GoDaddy Bowl. When Chris Petersen decided to take the job at Washington, Harsin jumped at the opportunity to take over at his alma mater.
Finally, we get to current coach Blake Anderson. One would think expectations would be tempered for a man taking over a roster full of players that have never played under a staff for more than a season, but that's not the case. Arkansas State was predicted to finish second in the Sun Belt in the preseason coaches poll. That the three coaches before him handled similar situations in stride won't help Anderson's case if he struggles, either.
Anderson comes to Arkansas State after working under Larry Fedora on the offensive side for the last six seasons; first at Southern Mississippi and then the last two at North Carolina. Anderson never averaged less than 32 points or 425 yards per game in his four years as offensive coordinator under Fedora. His offense finished in the top 15 in the nation in scoring three times; his best finish coming with North Carolina in 2011 when the Tar Heels averaged 40.6 points per game.
Anderson will influence an Arkansas State offense that has been consistently solid in its own right, averaging over 29 points per game in each of the last four seasons. He has no reservations about what the team's style of play will be.
"Offensively, we're going to play as fast as we can possibly play; as fast the officials will let us play," Anderson said during the Sun Belt media day. "We've consistently been one of the fastest operating teams in the country at my stops before here."
The Red Wolves return possibly the best defense in the Sun Belt, but lose its starting quarterback and most of its offensive line from a year ago. If Anderson can throw off opponents with his pace and get his inexperienced offense acclimated quickly, Arkansas State should once again contend for a conference championship.
Arkansas State included a $3 million buyout during the first two years of Anderson's deal in an effort to keep a coach around for, gasp, more than a single season. Hopefully for Arkansas State that becomes a number worth noting as Anderson is able to keep the smoke of success rolling.