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Dick Harmon: BYU's Robert Anae says Cougars must be 'crystal clear' about coaching hires

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 5:14 a.m. MDT

Robert Anae said, Robert Anae said, "I've got a lot of finishing work to do," when asked about the search for a quarterback and receivers coach. (Associated Press)

PROVO — According to BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, filling the two remaining coaching positions on the Cougars' offensive football staff was too important to just hire anyone. His boss, Bronco Mendenhall, thought it significant enough to postpone the entire process until after all efforts in recruiting were finished for the class of 2013. That culminated Wednesday with national signing day.

Since that time, Anae and Mendenhall have been back to the task of hiring. And it isn’t simply a matter of making an announcement in the next few days.

I asked Anae this past week if the search for a quarterback and receivers coach was a matter of crossing Ts and dotting Is.

“We’ve got a lot of finishing work to do,” he said.

Mendenhall told reporters on signing day he hoped hiring would be finished in a week or two — definitely before spring practice begins at the end of February.

“We’ve got a detailed process,” said Anae. “And its gotta be crystal — crystal clear. This has to have Bronco’s stamp on it; it is his staff. I’m here to reinforce that hiring process. People think I’m just signing off on this person or that, but it’s been an extensive process of interviewing and cross-interviewing and self-selecting, like it was with Aaron Roderick. It isn’t easy.”

Well, what about Roderick? The Utah assistant coach was onboard at BYU and then off again within 24 hours. Was that a hasty mistake?

“I was surprised,” said Anae.

“I was disappointed because I was probably the biggest advocate for Aaron coming to BYU. No matter how things shook out, Aaron Roderick is an outstanding football coach. I have known that for some years now. He did a great job at Utah for a good friend of mine, Andy Ludwing, and he did a great job for Gary Andersen at Southern Utah with Kalani Sitake. I am a big fan of both of them.”

Perhaps BYU’s care in re-doing the Roderick "hire" shows how serious they were about his abilities. It is no secret BYU has interviewed former players Jason Beck, currently the offensive coordinator of Simon Fraser in Canada, and Steve Clark, currently the offensive coordinator at Southern Utah. BYU has also done due diligence in courting Ty Detmer. That means they have put on a full-court press for the Hall of Famer who's now coaching a small high school outside Austin, Texas.

The hire of College of the Canyon’s head coach Garrett Tujague appears to be a solid fit since he was instrumental in chasing down junior college recruits with his ties to California. He had been in the JC ranks 17 years and, like Anae, has common roots in former BYU offensive line coach Roger French, who also tutored Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

The hire of Mark Atuaia as running back coach was quick, but a no-brainer according to Anae, who explained that move was a spinoff of acquiring someone with the same skills and personality of retiring Lance Reynolds.

Anae says Atuaia is more a protege of Reynolds than of himself. Atuaia played for Reynolds, spent every day of his career learning from him and was a graduate assistant coach in BYU’s program.

“Mark brings outstanding characteristics to an institution that prides itself in those kind of standards. From an education standpoint he’s been able to navigate that at the highest levels. More than anything in my mind, what he brings as a position coach is his experience in emulating his coach, Lance Reynolds. He’s had far more exposure to Reynolds as a mentor than I have. He has played for him an entire career and coached alongside him,” said Anae.

“When Mark was going to law school, you probably saw him on the game sidelines. I had him do some things, but first of all, he’s got personality-type skills that help him successfully manage a position group. Mark is a people person and that’s what he brings to the table. The dedication he has toward education, recruiting and developing young people to take it to the next level on and off the field takes an extreme amount of skill — life skills, street-smart skills. I think nobody has the unique blend of those traits as does Mark.”

Since Anae has coached tight ends, he likes the idea of utilizing them in the Cougar offense now that he’s returned. His former tight ends at BYU were very successful and include Dennis Pitta, Johnny Harline and Andrew George.

But more important, Anae says BYU’s 2013 offense will utilize the talent that is available.

“This is a tight end offense. But I’ve been around long enough to know that the key to your offense is your talent. If you don’t build your offense around your talent, then it is ego-driven and that’s detrimental to the whole thing.”

If Anae is to run a no-huddle offense, he and Mendenhall will need to find quarterback and receiver coaches who are familiar with getting it done. No stuttering allowed.

Anae said the thing he is most pleased with this time around with the Cougars is he can see how things might fall into place. He wants an offense that plays like Mendenhall’s defense. He sees ways he can get that done with different practice techniques and an infusion of some of Rich Rodriquez’s philosophy with his own ideas.

Will it work?

In the idea stage, it’s already taken root for Anae.

“I can see a clear vision that the future here can be wildly bright. Does that mean we win every game? No. But I think we are going to develop a program, even with a tough schedule, that will be competitive each year in every single game. That’s what makes me most happy and I look forward to a bright future.”

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company