JONESBORO -- Blake Anderson's first attempt to poach Keith Heckendorf from the University of North Carolina was a success.
Prior to his first season as Arkansas State University's coach in 2014, Anderson hired Heckendorf to be the Red Wolves' tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. Anderson's vision had Heckendorf eventually rising to offensive coordinator.
"I told Heck at the time, 'Dude, you come in here and learn, and you're going to be the next coordinator,' " Anderson said Wednesday. "I knew he was capable of that."
Heckendorf was hired in January 2014 by ASU, but he was rehired by former North Carolina coach Larry Fedora about a month later as quarterbacks coach and stayed in the role for five seasons, including three as passing game coordinator.
One of Anderson's partners had left him.
"He did not last very long," Anderson said. "He was my right-hand man. I had him on one side and [former ASU offensive coordinator] Walt [Bell] on the other. He was with me with every meeting with the quarterbacks."
Five years later, Anderson's trusted colleague has returned to Jonesboro.
ASU announced three hires to its offensive coaching staff Wednesday, including Heckendorf as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach; Sean Coughlin as offensive line coach and running game coordinator; and Malcolm Kelly as outside wide receivers coach.
Heckendorf, Coughlin, Kelly and new head strength coach Jake Miller, a hire ASU also announced Wednesday, will all report to Jonesboro by Sunday.
Shortly after finishing the 2018 season at 8-5, Arkansas State fired offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner, offensive line coach Allen Rudolph and outside wide receivers coach Chris Buckner.
Anderson announced he will no longer be the team's primary offensive coordinator, play-caller or quarterbacks coach -- an extensive reduction to his duties as ASU's head coach while his wife, Wendy, continues her battle against breast cancer.
"I needed to put guys in place that help me do my job better," Anderson said. "I also think it frees me up to do some jobs that I need to do better. I need to be more involved with the defense. I need to be more involved with overall team morale, discipline, detail -- things that have slipped and kept us from winning 10-11 games that I think we're capable of winning."
The offensive staff's makeover was finalized after Heckendorf rose above a short list of candidates to become ASU's new coordinator once Anderson ruled out any in-house elevations.
"I ultimately decided that I did need to go outside of the program," Anderson said. "I felt a new perspective was needed and some new ideas and really just someone that I felt was going to be in line with what my philosophy was."
Heckendorf joins ASU's staff after spending eight seasons in multiple roles at North Carolina, including in 2012 and 2013 when he worked beside Anderson, who was the Tar Heels' offensive coordinator then.
"There's a level of comfort and trust between the two of us," Anderson said. "There was a very short list of guys that I would have considered. I'm happy to have him come back."
ASU's offense will belong to Heckendorf, a native of Mosinee, Wis., who assisted North Carolina in setting school records for passing yards in three of the past five seasons.
"He will call it. He will run it. He will design it," Anderson said. "I do believe there's plenty that I can help out with, but I'm stepping out of that role and turning him loose."
Coughlin, an 18-year coaching veteran, has spent the past 13 seasons at Missouri State University. He was elevated to associate head coach in 2018 and has been the Bears' co-offensive coordinator since 2016.
"He really just brings a no-nonsense, blue-collar mentality to the room," Anderson said. "That will go well with the guys that we've put in there."
Kelly, a former wide receiver at Oklahoma who was a second-round selection by the Washington Redskins in the 2008 NFL Draft, will become ASU's recievers coach after spending the past two seasons at the University of Houston as an offensive graduate assistant and analyst.
"The main thing is, I think they're both great fits with Keith," Anderson said of the hiring process for the two position assistants. "[Heckendorf] was comfortable with them. He grilled them. They talked ball. They watched film.
"At the end of the day, I didn't tell him who we were going to hire. I wanted [Heckendorf] to choose. And we were both on the same page."
Sports on 01/10/2019