Monson: Anae's firing, er, resignation is the right move for BYU
Not long after Robert Anae returned home to BYU, having played on some of the school's best teams in the '80s and moved on to coaching at Texas Tech, he was thrilled at the prospects of coming back to coordinate the Cougar offense, LaVell Edwards' old offense.
So thrilled, he looked and spoke as though he might nod off at any moment. Charisma was never Anae's go-to punch. But the words he uttered that day during fall camp in 2005 stand out because they were as enthusiastic as any I ever heard him speak.
"This new offense that we're running right now â¦" he said, the words sliding out of his mouth like blocks of granite grinding down a gentle slope, "â¦ originated here on this campus. It was LaVell's. â¦ I'm excited to have the chance to bring this thing back to where it belongs its home."
Anae backed the vans into BYU's practice facility for six seasons, unloading all the gear the Cougars could use. The offense was the offense, and that was never a problem. But over that span, homeboy had a hard time not just getting the right goods in the right place at the right time, he struggled using sound judgment in key situations and inspiring his players to the heights they might have otherwise achieved.
Winning wasn't scarce. Completely fulfilling potential was.
And that's why Anae left the home of LaVell's offense in his rearview on Thursday morning, resigning from his offensive coordinator position and heading out toward whatever it is he'll find next. Maybe he'll reunite somewhere Maryland? with Mike Leach, maybe not.
Either way, resigning, in this case, is a euphemism.
Anae was forced out, a victim of Bronco Mendenhall's recent declaration to his offensive assistants for them to seek employment elsewhere. And that strong suggestion was aimed primarily at You Know Who. Now that the main objective has been met, with the tossing of another assistant or two yet to come, Mendenhall can charge into independence with the guys he wants.
That's what he desired for a long time, but the politics here were delicate. Anae was hired as BYU's lead offensive man not by Mendenhall but by administrators. In other words, Anae was being crammed down the head coach's throat before he was even named the head coach, and it wasn't until recently that Mendenhall felt empowered to show Anae the door.
He finally got that green light, and accelerated through it.
It was the skittish 2010 season that prefaced the dirty deed. Beyond what's already been noted, it wasn't easy unloading Anae because the Cougars had been putting up winning seasons (56-21), and statistically the offense had been impressive. In half of Anae's years, BYU had ranked in the top six passing offenses nationally.
But there were troubles brewing beneath the surface. Players had difficulty communicating with the coordinator even in good seasons, and, at times, those breakdowns caused real antipathy. Mix in Anae's stubbornness, and the entire offensive push was ham-handed, made worse by Mendenhall's lack of expertise on that side of the ball.
When Bronco canned Jaime Hill partway through the 2010 season, it was because 1) he knew his defense had fallen flat, and 2) he knew he could take over and make a difference, lifting players' spirits and their play.
He saw much of the same sagging on offense, but lacked the wherewithal at that time to throw all of his offensive pizza dough in the air.
It was more than a coincidence through the back half of the season that Anae was down on the field during games, patting fannies, being more animated than he had been. It was because he was reinventing himself, trying to save his job.
Reinvention, in plain view of players, does not fly.
Anae also struggled with calling plays. In the past, when John Beck or Max Hall was in the game, those quarterbacks could work as a buffer between Anae and what actually happened on the field. This season, with freshman Jake Heaps acclimating himself as starting QB, he couldn't simply alter what Anae wanted.
Moreover, even with the success BYU had against lesser opponents, there were numerous situations in which Anae's judgment was more curious than crafty. The call for a pass on fourth-and-inches deep in Utah territory in the rivalry game is just one example, one in which other assistants wondered aloud what Anae was thinking.
Add that to the botched dual-quarterback deal employed early, a failure that Mendenhall later acknowledged as a mistake but one that Anae defended at one retrospective point calling it "the exact course to take" and the foundation was crumbled. He added: "There's bound to be a bunch of second-guessing when you're not successful. But there's no doubt in my mind that we did the right thing for our team."
His mind was a solitary one.
And no amount of producing big numbers by beating up on New Mexico and UNLV and UTEP was going to save Anae.
In late October, the O.C. was asked if he thought changes might be in store. His response: "If there needs to be a change, that's a different time and different place."
That different time came in December. That different place, as it turned out, was the very same place he used to call home.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 The Zone. He can be reached at email@example.com.