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Dick Harmon: Utah State loss catalyst for changes at BYU

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 12:08 p.m. MDT

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae coached several talented players, including Max Hall, left, John Beck, Harvey Unga and Dennis Pitta. (Mike Terry , Deseret News) Offensive coordinator Robert Anae coached several talented players, including Max Hall, left, John Beck, Harvey Unga and Dennis Pitta. (Mike Terry , Deseret News)

PROVO — Outside University Stadium shortly after BYU blasted UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl, Cougar offensive coordinator Robert Anae stood apart from the rest of the players and coaches over by the buses with his son.

This is a time when players and staff pick up box lunches and drinks and migrate from the showers to the buses that await departure for a charter flight at the airport, a ritualistic and routine scene repeated every road game.

After wins, it is a joyful atmosphere with plenty of celebrating, laughing and joking around as players meet family and friends before leaving the stadium.

Anae's separateness, the body language, the setting placed against the backdrop of BYU just posting the most points ever in a bowl game didn't equate — not to me, not to other observers at the time.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae coached several talented players, including Max Hall, left, John Beck, Harvey Unga and Dennis Pitta. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Offensive coordinator Robert Anae coached several talented players, including Max Hall, left, John Beck, Harvey Unga and Dennis Pitta. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Twelve days later, Anae resigned as BYU's offensive coordinator. His destination is unknown, despite speculation that often accompanies these things.

As it turns out, that scene spoke volumes about impending changes about to take place on BYU's offensive coaching staff. A little more than 24 hours later, five offensive coaches met with head coach Bronco Mendenhall and were asked to spiff up resumes. The next day, a Tuesday, BYU's website posted a job opening for "one-plus" assistant football coach(es).

Thursday marked the first domino from that Monday meeting. Anae resigned.

Anae leaves BYU with a remarkable record of both impacting talent and producing statistics — none loftier than a nation-leading third-down-conversion rate in 2009 and NFL quarterbacks John Beck and Max Hall. His tight end, Dennis Pitta, became BYU's all-time reception leader, and running back Harvey Unga broke BYU's all-time rushing mark without playing his senior season.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae coached several talented players, including Max Hall, John Beck, Harvey Unga and Dennis Pitta. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Offensive coordinator Robert Anae coached several talented players, including Max Hall, John Beck, Harvey Unga and Dennis Pitta. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Anae decided it was time to move on to other opportunities in his life. He was not fired. He left of his own accord, said the Thursday press release issued by the university.

Before the book is closed on Anae as offensive coordinator at BYU and a different era opens up from this reign between the Gary Crowton days and what lies beyond, there is one aspect of his arrival in Provo that should be rectified.

There is a perception that Mendenhall did not hire Anae in that furious week of firing, courting and hiring following the Crowton era at the end of 2004.

It is an understanding I bought over the years because of how crazy that week was with Kyle Whittingham giving an oral agreement to coach at BYU, then changing his mind before it was finalized.

Did Mendenhall hire Anae? Some say it is a matter of semantics of who hired whom and when. As you remember, it was the same fall that BYU also fired men's and women's athletic directors Val Hale and Elaine Michaelis.

The acting athletic director after Hale and Michaelis was university advancement vice president Fred Skousen. He auditioned two associate athletic directors, Peter Pelling and Tom Holmoe, for the job to oversee both men's and women's programs.

Skousen would hire those that would continue in the department, including Mendenhall, Holmoe and basketball coach Dave Rose. He oversaw approval of Mendenhall's recommended staff with the help of former Pac-10 coach Holmoe.

This is where it gets sticky. Some say Anae was hired for Mendenhall and he accepted the forced hire.

In reality, Holmoe and Mendenhall flew to Lubbock, Texas, in those rapidly unfolding days of transition between Crowton and Mendenhall. There, Mendenhall interviewed Anae, who was the tight end and offensive line coach at Texas Tech under Mike Leach.

Mendenhall chose to hire Anae.

Since that time, Mendenhall has backed Anae and supported his work as coordinator in every press conference conducted the past six years. Even after extensive probing and questioning of certain offensive play calls and strategies by the media over the years, Mendenhall consistently said he approved of his offensive coaches, specifically Anae.

So what changed?

Well, since the loss at Utah State, I think Anae's staff pushed for more say in planning, scheming and play-calling and a metamorphosis started. Much of it was positive for a struggling offense that stood on a 1-4 record, 80th in passing, 96th in total offense and 114th in scoring after leaving Logan.

When BYU finally reached bowl eligibility, led Utah most of the game in Rice-Eccles and turned things around, Mendenhall told reporters it was his most fulfilling season.

It was not so for his offensive coordinator.

Somewhere in the ensuing weeks, I believe Anae decided his approach and contribution ceased to be as satisfying as it once was. Surrounded by a staff that was eager to push in fear of their own jobs, a measure of serenity evaporated — again in my opinion.

Heading into an easier part of the schedule with offensive statistics and wins climbing, public scrutiny and criticism of Anae's offense continued. Controversial decisions such as playing two quarterbacks in August and September continued to draw fire. I believe Anae felt underappreciated and many of the pylons he once felt as support weakened.

A quitter? No, Anae is a realist.

His critics will say the blessing of working with all-time performers and talent masked his flaws. His supporters will say his contribution helped make those all-time performers, and the record does not lie.

And so it will be debated. It is the nature of the game, the sport and the personalities that get plugged into roles and jobs.

Nobody understands this more than Anae.

It was time for him to move on.

Anae did just that on Thursday.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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