PROVO — The last time Robert Anae called the plays for BYU’s offense, it was in the 2010 New Mexico Bowl.
The Cougars beat UTEP that day, 52-24, with then-freshman quarterback Jake Heaps at the controls.
So much has changed since then.
Anae left a couple of weeks after that win in Albuquerque, and eventually, so did Heaps, who transferred to Kansas.
But Anae’s back again. He spent the past two seasons at Arizona before being rehired as the Cougars’ offensive coordinator in January. Certainly, Anae has evolved as a coach since leaving BYU’s program.
“I think coaches are like people,” Anae said. “You self-evaluate at your job, and you try to get better. If you’re passionate about what you do, you evaluate, you get feedback and you try to look for better ways of doing things.”
Anae’s offense has evolved, too. His “go-fast-go-hard” attack debuts Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPNU) at Virginia.
“It’s like no other offense that I’ve been a part of,” Anae said.
During his six-year stint with the Cougars from 2005-2010, Anae’s offenses enjoyed several outstanding seasons and produced some of the most prolific players in school history, including quarterbacks John Beck and Max Hall; running backs Curtis Brown and Harvey Unga; and receivers and tight ends like Austin Collie, Jonny Harline and Dennis Pitta.
With the Wildcats, Anae served as the offensive line coach and running game coordinator. Anae has brought back to Provo some elements of Arizona’s offense, which was led by coach Rich Rodriguez and boasted the nation’s leading rusher last season.
Anae has also mixed in various other elements to create BYU’s up-tempo, fast-paced offense.
“We’ve got some of that offense here,” Anae said of the Wildcats’ attack. “I tried to piggyback off of that and stuff we’d done in the past. It’s a hodge-podge of things. What you’re going to see this season is a new sort of deal. Each coach on our staff has contributed. It’s like no other offense that I’ve been a part of. If it fits your players and they execute at a high level, that’s when it works. We’re not doing anything new. We’re just trying to find things that fit the players we have. It’s coming from all sorts of disciplines.”
In rebuilding the Cougar offense, Anae started up front with the offensive line. He hired another former Cougar O-lineman, Garett Tujague, to oversee that position, and both have worked to create a culture that is similar to the one that was established by Roger French, who coached BYU’s O-line for 21 seasons.
The way Anae sees it, Tujague is very similar to French.
“For me, it’s like coach French is back in the program,” Anae said. “Coach Tujague is by far the best O-line coach since coach French. I’m having a blast working with him, working for him. We send stuff to coach French and he evaluates it, looks at it and sends it back. Values and fundamentals that make great offenses start with the offensive line and the attitude. I’m glad it’s back. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
According to Anae, French “built a culture that eventually led to greatness here that never would have happened without Roger French.”
What was it about French that made him successful?
“He challenged your every wit, your every ability,” Anae said. “If you made it through, it was like your own little badge of honor. That’s the mark he left on his players. Every day was challenging. I’m looking at coach Tujague coach those guys and there are times when I feel sorry for them. I think coach Tujague is on the right path.”
Indeed, Tujague has worked the offensive linemen hard during fall camp, and they’ll have to be in excellent shape in order to play this up-tempo style.
The Cougars plan to travel and play 11 offensive linemen in Saturday’s opener, and the coaching staff will rotate O-linemen in and out of the game.
Meanwhile, Anae will be calling the plays from the field, not from the sidelines.
“We’re (a) young (team),” Anae explained. “There are a lot of real-time adjustments going on and that’s expedited when the coordinator is on the field. If you have a veteran team, it’s a little different. The play-calling is always wired into the game plan. Being on the field gives you the ability as a coordinator to adjust because you’ve prepared for a certain thing and you’re not getting that. You have to be able to adjust some. We’re talking about a few slight adjustments that could help. You’ve still got to block. You’ve still got to run, you’ve still got to secure the ball, you’ve got to throw and you’ve got to catch. There’s no amount of adjustments that can make up for that.”
On Saturday, Anae will offer glimpses into how much he, and his offense, has evolved since his first stint in Provo.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company