Kragthorpe: BYU’s going backward by rehiring Anae
College football • Mendenhall basically acknowledging mistake in letting new OC go first time
Published: January 4, 2013 07:03PM
Updated: January 5, 2013 04:23PM
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Tribune file photo Robert Anae, seen at a team practice in 2006, is back as BYU's offensive coordinator and is installing an uptempo attack as the Cougars prepare for the 2013 season.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall just wrote a weird epilogue to the book about his purposely unorthodox management style.

Exactly how Robert Anae’s return to BYU’s football program fits into the organizational tenets of Running Into the Wind is beyond my comprehension. Let’s just say I’m not sure “running” is the proper verb in this case.

In bringing back Anae as offensive coordinator, Mendenhall basically is acknowledging a mistake two years ago when he encouraged all five offensive coaches to pursue other jobs as he sorted out his staff composition.

The reality is that Mendenhall’s first shakeup of the offensive staff did not work, so why should anyone believe that this move will be rewarded — especially when it’s a return to the old method?

Paul Gustavson, the management expert who advises Mendenhall and co-authored the book about him, once said, “Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are currently getting.”

So BYU’s future offensive results should resemble those that were unsatisfactory two years ago, right?

Anae, who resigned from BYU and later joined the Arizona staff, and receivers coach Patrick Higgins, who moved to Purdue, were the two coaches who left after the 2010 season. Quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman was promoted to offensive coordinator.

When I later asked Mendenhall if everybody guessed correctly about whether they should stay or go, he said that was “an oversimplified” summary. But he stood by the process and the results, saying the Cougar offense “had plateaued with the existing leadership” after Anae’s six seasons on the job and that he wanted consistent production — “not every other year or every third year.”

The Cougars have produced adequate offensive numbers every fourth year in recent history, failing to repeat their success of 2009, quarterback Max Hall’s senior season.

Not having a future NFL starter (if briefly so) like John Beck or Hall at quarterback obviously colors the judgment of Anae’s work in 2010 or Doman’s performance the last two years. Yet it’s clear that Doman’s limited experience of coaching BYU’s quarterbacks for six seasons did not adequately prepare him to become the coordinator. He may well have grown into this job, but it overwhelmed him.

So now, Mendenhall gets a more experienced coordinator. In that sense, demoting Doman — who deserves to remain the quarterbacks coach — is defensible. The problem is, Anae is the same guy whom Mendenhall was eager to displace two years ago. My sense is that Anae was not Mendenhall’s first choice in the pursuit of a new coordinator, but here he is.

And Mendenhall’s unusual management practices continue. Two years ago, what Mendenhall actually hoped would happen is that offensive line coach Mark Weber — who’s now headed to Utah State, making room for Anae to coach the line — would move to another staff position, creating a soft landing for Anae’s demotion. Weber asked to keep coaching the linemen, spoiling any such plans. So Anae left.

Anae succeeded as Arizona’s line coach, helping the Wildcats rank No. 7 in the country in total offense in 2012. It would be difficult to blame Weber for all of BYU’s struggles up front, considering the volume of injuries to his players — including, coincidentally enough, one that ended the career of Famika Anae, Robert’s son.

Anae may well improve the Cougars’ line play. Whether he can make the entire offense more productive is another issue.

Mendenhall obviously didn’t believe so after the 2010 season, even when Anae’s offense produced 52 points and 514 total yards against Texas-El Paso in the New Mexico Bowl behind freshman stars Jake Heaps, Joshua Quezada and Cody Hoffman. Ironically, Anae got his old job back after another New Mexico Bowl last month, when Arizona’s offense delivered 49 points and 578 yards and beat Nevada with a miracle comeback in the last minute.

So now, after Doman went through four starting quarterbacks in two seasons, Anae’s skills will be tested in 2013 when BYU tackles a tough schedule with an unproven QB.

Coaching is a strange business. Utah fans hardly minded when offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig departed after the Sugar Bowl season of 2008, but the Utes have had all kinds of trouble replacing him — with four play-callers in four seasons. And now Ludwig is about to join Gary Andersen’s Wisconsin staff, and Anae is coming back to BYU.

Actually, there’s a precedent for the successful return of a BYU offensive coordinator. The Cougars thrived after Doug Scovil came back to Provo in 1979, having spent one season in the NFL. But the difference between him and Anae was that nobody was happy when he left.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt