JONESBORO -- The plan was set in motion long ago.
Arkansas State University Coach Blake Anderson announced Wednesday he is relinquishing the Red Wolves' play-calling duties and will no longer serve as the quarterbacks coach.
The school also announced the hiring of three news assistant coaches at a Wednesday news conference, including new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf; offensive line coach and running game coordinator Sean Coughlin; and outside wide receivers coach Malcolm Kelly.
Three-year tight ends coach and offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner; three-year offensive line coach Allen Rudolph; and first-year wide receivers coach Chris Buckner were each fired shortly after ASU's 2018 season ended at 8-5 with a 16-13 overtime loss to Nevada in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 29.
Anderson said the plan to bring in his play-calling successor was in motion well before ASU's Arizona Bowl loss -- a defeat for which Anderson publicly shouldered the blame.
"In the bowl game, it became evident that, yeah, it was time," Anderson said Wednesday. "I did a poor job preparing us. We didn't play with detail.
"We should've scored 35, 40 points on Nevada, and we didn't. I take sole responsibility for that. To me, taking a different perspective, getting out of the way and letting other people run with it is in our best interest."
ASU's 13-point bowl performance was the school's lowest score in a bowl game during Anderson's five-year tenure.
Anderson also said he sought to reduce his amount of spinning plates as his wife, Wendy, continues her fight against triple-negative breast cancer.
The Andersons discovered her breast cancer recurred in mid-September when she traveled to ASU's 29-20 victory Sept. 15 at Tulsa. An official pathology report concluded Wendy's cancer made a vicious reappearance and had spread to her lymph nodes, rib cage, lungs and liver.
"I reached out to [ASU Athletic Director] Terry [Mohajir] midway through the season when I could tell that things were changing," said Anderson, who also met with Mohajir before the bowl game to confirm ASU would overhaul its offensive coaching staff. "There was more to the signs of Wendy being sick. There was more to that. I let him know that I was concerned that I was letting us down."
On Nov. 25, one day after ASU completed a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, news of Wendy's diagnosis began to spread.
The Andersons knew the illness would elicit questions about Blake's future, especially after a season in which the Red Wolves were predicted by media members and the league's 10 coaches to finish with a Sun Belt championship.
The future for ASU's head coach became more clear Wednesday as he begins to rely on delegation instead of remaining the offense's lead strategist.
"I thought I could handle all of that and still do my job very well," Anderson said. "I just think there are things that slipped."
Anderson has led the school to five consecutive bowl appearances and seasons of 7-6, 9-4, 8-5, 7-5 and 8-5 records from 2014-18.
ASU finished the 2018 season averaging 30.3 points per game. The year produced ASU's second-lowest offensive point total per game since Anderson was hired in December 2013, and was far below ASU's season totals of 37.8 points in 2017, 40.0 in 2015 and 36.7 in 2014.
The Red Wolves opened Sun Belt Conference play at 0-2 -- including a 28-21 road loss at Georgia Southern on Sept. 29 and a 35-9 home defeat to future Sun Belt champion Appalachian State on Oct. 9 -- just weeks after the Andersons realized Wendy's cancer had returned.
"Gradually, as the season progressed and as it became evident to me that my wife wasn't well, I became obviously focused on her and distracted at times," Anderson said. "And I didn't do my job very well, and I let it affect our football team."
The keys for ASU's offense now belong to Anderson's trusted former sidekick.
Heckendorf -- who spent two seasons in an offensive quality control position at North Carolina beside Anderson, UNC's offensive coordinator from 2012-13 -- is the type of hire Anderson expects to blend seamlessly into ASU's offensive system.
"[He is] somebody that I knew I could turn things over completely to, and I could do the jobs that I needed to do," Anderson said. "Number one, being a husband that's taking care of his wife. Number two, being a head coach that's taking care of a total program, not just one side of the ball."
Other than a 47-43 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette, ASU did not score more than 21 points in its other four losses to Alabama (7), Georgia Southern (21), Appalachian State (9) or Nevada (13).
The Red Wolves' roller-coaster 2018 season was unlike any other Anderson said he has endured.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done as a head coach," he said.
Arkansas State Coach Blake Anderson (second from right), shown talking with players and coaches during the Red Wolves’ season opener against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 1, is turning over play-calling duties to newly hired offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf. “I thought I could handle all of that and still do my job very well,” Anderson said. “I just think there are things that slipped.”
Arkansas State Director of Athletics Terry Mohajir is shown in this file photo.
Sports on 01/10/2019
Print Headline: ASU's Blake Anderson relents to struggles, wife's battle; 3 coaches fired, 3 others hired