Thirty-five years ago, Joel Tuialeva used to walk by Robert Anae and his older brother Brad and flick their ears.
The Anae brothers were water boys for the Kahuku High School football team in Hawaii. Not yet old enough to play, the Anae brothers hung around the squad and helped manage equipment. Tuialeva was a linebacker and the Red Raider coach, Famika Anae, was Brad and Robert's dad. When Coach Famika didn't play Tuialeva, he'd take it out on his boys, teasing them with the pesty finger flick.
That was before the Anae boys grew. And grew and grew. Now, Tuialeva doesn't mess with the Anae boys. He speaks in reverent tones about his coach, the late Famika Anae, who passed on 22 years ago.
"This is a great family and Robert is the rock, the anchor of them all," Tuialeva said.
Robert Anae was the first hire by Bronco Mendenhall as he took the reins of BYU football when Gary Crowton resigned under pressure. The former offensive line coach at Texas Tech, Anae was promoted to offensive coordinator by Mendenhall and expects the big Samoan and native of Hawaii's north shore to follow in the footsteps of Crowton, Norm Chow, Mike Holmgren, and Doug Scovil.
Anae is a serious man, all business. His sense of humor is subtle, maybe a little sarcastic. He is part John Wayne, part Vin Diesel with some Norm Chow mixed in.
When asked for a 45-minute interview, Anae's reaction was both unpretentious and incredulous. "What do you need 45 minutes for? What can we do in 40 minutes that we can't in five? All you have to know about me is completing passes, third down conversions and no turnovers. There's not much more than that. I am not a teddy bear. I'm pretty much a boring guy."
In his spare time, Anae doesn't watch movies and he doesn't read a lot
of books. If he reads, it's the Book of Mormon, the Samoan translation. When he coached at Ricks College, some friends got him to try flyfishing and he liked it. But his favorite thing to do if he had a choice is to surf. His favorite food is ethnic Tongan-Samoan lupulu with Hawaiian poi and corned beef, that and Texas brisket.
"The problem with me, is I hate talking about myself. I just plain hate talking about myself."
When BYU hired Anae, he had one big concern, that BYU wouldn't like his rough edges, his direct approach, his demanding style, his distaste for babying athletes who need just the opposite.
Anae coaches with an edge, he wasn't sure if BYU wanted that.
"I'm a tough guy. That's how I coach, how I live, how I am, how I played. I learned that right here on this field. Guys like Roger French and Norm Chow. Those are the guys who influenced me the most. Chow was technical and smart. But when you answer to Roger the Dodger, you can't help but toughen your grip on your mental capacity.
"That's been my whole approach as a player and coach. Those were some of the first conversations I had when approached to come back here: Yes, I am a BYU guy. Yes, I love BYU. Yes, I'd like to come. Yes, yes, yes, but you have to understand me. Are your sure your want this? It was better received than I thought it would be."
Anae's father Famika was one of the first Polynesian football players recruited to play at BYU. Famika's parents, Auaileo Tame'ame'a and Vasati Tevaga Anae migrated to Hawaii from Western Samoa to build the LDS temple at Laie in 1913. The Anae family goes way back in that Mormon settlement on the north shore of Oahu. Robert's older brother Brad remains in Hawaii in the independent produce business. While Brad, Robert and brother Matt played at BYU, a sister, Wendy, was just named the head girl's basketball coach at Timpview High School in Provo.
Famika met Robert's mother Alice while at BYU. Famika played junior college football at Compton Community College in Los Angeles in the '50s before transferring to BYU. Alice was from Tacoma, Wash. Their marriage provided Robert with his half-Samoan heritage. Today, there is an army of Kahuku High football players who played for Famika from 1967 through 1972. Now, their sons are high school and college players recruited by Robert.
In their third son, Famika and Alice found a child with a lot of self discipline. "He has always been highly motivated. He never gave us trouble. A part of him is a hard taskmaster who expects a lot, but there is a soft side to him."
This was evident at Kahuku High School when after a basketball game, Robert and some friends went to a local restaurant to hang out and eat. Eric B. Shumway, now president of BYU-Hawaii and a faculty member at the time, was present and loves to tell the story of how Robert ordered his food then gave it to a homeless man.
Robert always got the hand-me-downs from older brother Brad. Robert followed in Brad's footsteps at BYU. Brad was a 6-foot-5, 280 offensive lineman. "He looks bigger now than when he played," former teammate Jim Hermann said. To this day, people always call Robert Brad from Laie to Provo. But the two Anae brothers are different as night and day. Brad has always been a free spirit. Robert has been a disciplinarian, the kind with a Ph.D.
When Robert Anae played at BYU in the early '80s, he was a freshman just off a mission, a situation commonplace now at BYU, but rare 20 years ago. He lived in an off-campus house with two Caucasian roommates. According to teammate Vai Sikahema, it was called the Animal House because while those three paid the rent, there were 17 to 20 Polynesians who always hung out there.
"He was older than everybody else," Sikahema said. "One thing Robert did, because he was the oldest, and it is part of our culture, is to take the lead. He'd counsel us to go to class, he'd tell us to graduate and remain eligible. I'm talking about Kurt Gouviea, Louis Wong, me and others who always regarded Robert as our leader. He was wiser than all of us, he was the one who went to the library and set an example for the rest."
Hermann calls Anae a quiet, reserved and gentle man who is an unbelievable competitor. "He's a disciplinarian. He's all into accountability."
The question is, can Anae succeed as BYU's offensive coordinator? Texas Tech coach Mike Leach says, yes, Anae will do the job. "He is very smart. I consider him one of the top offensive line coaches in the country and at Texas Tech, that's where it all starts, on the line. Robert will be a good offensive coordinator because he is a good football coach," Leach said.
Anae will work alongside BYU veteran coach and now assistant head coach Lance Reynolds, who partnered with Chow for more than a decade.
"It's been great," Reynolds said of his relationship with Anae. "Obviously we haven't hit those high stress times yet, but I can't see anything that isn't resolvable. I see it working well. He's a hard worker and is really focused and I believe in what he's doing. It's always hard that first year, but I'm supporting him all the way."
Players have noticed Anae's impact through spring drills. He demands perfection, expects detailed execution and hard work.
He was part of the Leach staff that propelled the Red Raiders to the top passing attack in four of the past five years and led Tech to an upset of No. 4 Cal in the Holiday Bowl last December.
He's preached execution and work in the Cougar spring camp.
"You can have a system which is strategically flawless. But if you can't run it that way, then it won't work," junior quarterback John Beck said of the Anae approach.
"In any offensive situation, you have to run it right. That's what he brings us. He brings the mentality that it doesn't matter how good the system is, or how talented you are, if you don't do the little things, it won't work. He brings the old mindset where BYU had a bunch of guys who weren't four-three-40 players, but shoot, they caught the ball on everybody. They just made plays. We have a coach who demands that every day in practice He's an overall demander of perfection. He works with the inside receivers, but as a quarterback, if I mess up, I'm going to hear about it from him. He demands perfection of the offense. If a wide out messes up on the outside, he's going to say something. He's just like a coach Mendenhall on the offensive side of the football.
"He has a scheme that when run correctly, will be successful. He's brought us a scheme, and a work ethic, and when run correctly, we will be successful."
Defensive end Manaia Brown saw Anae's offense up close and liked it in spring. "Personally, I think it's good. It's improved a lot more since last year. With the splits, it makes it very difficult to defend, especially for defensive ends. With those guys coming off the edges, they're just waiting for us. I don't like the scheme, but nobody likes our scheme so it's in our favor."
Senior running back Fahu Tahi said Anae's offense is simply fun to run. "I love coach Anae. He's really big on us perfecting our plays and assignments. And that's what we need to do, to change from past years, to be more disciplined, cut down on mistakes, penalties and have have less turnovers. Most of all, to make sure we're giving our full effort every play, regardless if we (the backs) have the ball or not."
Offensive tackle Eddie Keele said Anae has brought attitude. "What's really coming on is our mental toughness. And our will to get better. That's the big thing. Before anything can change, our take on football has to change."
"Anae is kind of another Bronco, a go-getter. He's the type of guy if you aren't going all the way out, you aren't doing what you're supposed to. He's a real motivator and he pays attention to details and wants it done right."
Anae admits spring football at BYU was tough with some setbacks. With a small corps of offensive linemen and receivers Todd Watkins, Matt Allen, Bryce Mahuika and Phil Niu out it was tough to get traction against Bronco Mendenhall's 3-3-5.
"To go up against our defense with a new offense," Anae said, "is like a big, bad backyard dog licking its chops with some weak-minded animal limping across the yard. But I've been pleased with the attitude and the work effort. It's been a good deal."Our players are learning things on the run. It's far from the destiny but we're headed in the right direction."
AGE: 46 (Dec. 21, 1958)
FAMILY: Wife Liane, children Famika 16, Penny 15, Max 9. Third of seven children, four brothers and two sisters.Comment on this story
HOBBIES: Surfing, fly fishing, hitting the beach. Anae plays the guitar and ukeleli. Performed in the BYU entertainment group Lamanite Generation during college.
FAVORITE MOVIES: Classic cowboy westerns including "Once Upon a Time in the West," and "Rio Bravo." Says he is not a geek movie guy at all and doesn't watch a lot of movies.
FAVORITE MUSIC: Pop music from the '70s, except for the Bee Gees and Barry Manilow. Loves the Eagles.FAVORITE TV: Doesn't watch much TV and has no regular show he wants to tune into.