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It’s no secret John Hartwell is a fan of explosive offenses.

Hartwell, Utah State University’s Director of Athletics, definitely made that apparent during his press conference last month in the wake of his decision to fire then-Aggie head football coach Gary Andersen. When asked the coaching attributes of potential candidates, Hartwell said, “if it is a defensive guy, I want to know up front what their plan is to fix our offense.”

During that press conference, Hartwell also reminisced about USU’s record-setting offense during the 2018 season, in which the Aggies went 11-2 and matched the single-season program record for wins.

Hartwell has apparently found his man. According to multiple reports, Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson will be USU’s next head coach, although a deal has not been finalized. The news was first reported by CollegeAD and was later confirmed to The Herald Journal.

Arkansas State did issue a press release Thursday announcing Anderson, who has a track record of overseeing explosive offenses, “has resigned to accept the same position at another FBS program.”

“We appreciate Coach Anderson’s contributions to our program,” said Terry Mohajir, ASU’s vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, in the release. ”He is the only head coach in our FBS history to win two conference championships, and he played for a third while also leading us to six bowl games. We wish him the best moving forward.”

A couple of hours later, Mohajir announced the university had reduced Anderson’s buyout from $800,000 and $150,000, which is surely welcome news for Hartwell and the Aggies.

Dr. Kelly Damphousse, Arkansas State’s chancellor, also spoke highly of Anderson, whose wife Wendy passed away after a valiant battle with breast cancer in 2019. Anderson also lost his father that same year.

“I had the privilege of watching Blake interact with his student-athletes behind the scenes, and I know how much he cares about their development beyond the playing field,” Damphousse said in a statement.

“Importantly, I can tell that the students know it, too. Beth (Damphousse) grew to be very fond of Blake, Wendy (Anderson), and their children over the years. We are sad to see Blake go, but we are excited about his future. He is leaving our football program better than he found it.”

This was Anderson’s seventh season at the Arkansas State helm. The 51-year-old guided the Red Wolves to six straight bowl games and winning records, although that streak came to an end this fall. Arkansas State went 4-7 in 2020, including 2-6 in Sun Belt Conference play. The Red Wolves did beat Kansas State on the road early in the season.

During Anderson’s time at the Jonesboro-based university, the Red Wolves posted a 51-37 record, including 38-18 against conference foes, and went 2-4 in bowl games. The Red Wolves captured back-to-back Sun Belt titles in 2015 and 2016.

Arkansas State has struggled defensively this season, but has shined on the offense side of the ball. Case in point: The Red Wolves are averaging 489.7 yards of total offense an outing, including 364.36 through the air, which currently ranks third nationally among FBS programs, and 32.91 points per game. A pair of ASU quarterbacks have combined for 3,921 yards passing and 37 touchdowns, vs. eight interceptions, during the 2020 campaign.

In 2017, Anderson helped guide the program to single-season schools records in total yards per game (494.8), yards passing (4,106) and TD passes (38). In Anderson’s first season in charge of the program, the Red Wolves racked up a school record 6,174 yards of total offense. ASU ranked fifth nationally in passing offense in 2017 and 10th in 2019.

Anderson ultimately provided some stability to an Arkansas State program that lost its previous three head coaches to higher profile programs after just one season. Anderson replaced Bryan Harsin, who bolted for the same position at Boise State after his lone season at the ASU helm.

The native of Hubbard, Texas, started his collegiate coaching career at Eastern New Mexico from 1992-93. Anderson has also coached at Howard Payne (1994), Trinity Valley Community College (1995-98), New Mexico (1999-01), Middle Tennessee (2002-04), Louisiana-Lafayette (2007), Southern Mississippi (2008-11) and North Carolina (2012-13).

Arkansas State was Anderson’s first head coaching job, although he gained valuable experience as an offensive coordinator at North Carolina, Southern Miss, Louisiana-Lafayette and Trinity Valley. In his first of two seasons as North Carolina’s offensive coordinator, the program broke 35 school records, finished eighth nationally in scoring offense and averaged 485.6 yards an outing.

The former Baylor and Sam Houston State player has extensive experience coaching quarterbacks. He was a quarterback and wide receiver in college.

Anderson, who is close friends with former Aggie head coach Matt Wells, has experience coaching against Utah State as the two programs squared off in 2014 and 2016. The Red Wolves beat the visiting Aggies in overtime, 21-14, in 2014. USU missed a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. The Aggies got revenge at Maverik Stadium in 2016 by prevailing 34-20.

Anderson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Sam Houston State in 1992 and a master’s degree in sports administration from Eastern New Mexico in 1994. Blake and the late Wendy Anderson have three children in sons Coleton and Cason, and daughter Callie.

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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