Robert Anae knows exactly the grease fire he’s jumping into.
And he’s doing it anyway.
That shows iron in the spine.
Being the coordinator of a defense or offense is a slippery slope. Even if you do well, you’ve got people who think someone else would be better. Provo is the palace of such thought among the masses.
Being the offensive coordinator at BYU may just be one of the most thankless jobs in college football. You’ll hardly ever live up to expectations. You’ll always do it with a limited recruiting base. You'll be watched intently by thousands of armchair quarterbacks. You'll rarely put up numbers that are good enough.
If you blow out a weak opponent, you were expected to. If you lose or barely defeat a respectable opponent, your play calls and game plans were stupid. If you play a top-ranked opponent and somehow win, it was luck, or the foe didn’t want to be there.
Anae’s been on this merry-go-round before.
And he chose to hop back on and take another ride.
That’s never happened at this school.
Back in the day, Norm Chow took the reins held by Ted Tollner after Doug Scovil. He had a guy named Mike Holmgren as a wingman. The numbers, the championships, the records he was a part of are phenomenal. Yet many Saturday nights and Monday mornings, he was whipped unmercifully as the surrogate for an untouchable head coach. And much of this was before Internet message boards featuring nameless, anonymous stone throwers.
Chow's reward? LaVell Edwards told him, prior to his retirement, he would not be his replacement.
When BYU hired Gary Crowton in 2001, he immediately took the Cougars on a 12-0 run with stars Brandon Doman and Luke Staley. While Crowton’s downfall was off-field player issues, his offense struggled after Doman and Staley left. This native of Orem took a beating. His reputation in Utah Valley has never been the same.
When Anae took BYU’s offensive coordinator reins in 2005 as part of Bronco Mendenhall’s new staff, he was a rookie play-caller, a novice to the job, albeit an experienced, veteran Division I coach. He, too, had some impressive successes, but left town after heavy scrutiny and criticism.
Up next came Doman, a gifted quote giver, recruiter and idealist; a former player nicknamed the Dominator; a BYU Kool-Aid drinker and poster person for the school. Doman took the job and also kept the title of quarterbacks coach. He then waited as the clock ticked down on his labor to create an offense in the post-Max Hall era with young, inexperienced quarterbacks and underwhelming protection.
In all, Crowton, Anae and Doman have all experienced being cuffed to the Chow whipping post.
They’ve felt the bite, experienced the humiliating criticism and second-guessing. They accepted that as part of the job and so have their families.
This is the stinky part of their profession. It turns them into nomads. Yes, it is like this at other schools with other coaches. But at BYU? Well, on principle, it is supposed to be different — but it isn’t. Just ask former basketball coaches Roger Reid and Tony Ingle.
This is why it is so intriguing to have Anae leave BYU for Arizona, where he took over duties as the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator and then return to Provo. Although Anae just had a Pac-12 job, he was not the coordinator and did not receive coordinator pay. He just helped produce the nation’s No. 1 rusher and could have safely worked in almost anonymity behind the scenes, simply coaching.
Now he’s back. Maybe for the job title; maybe for the challenge; maybe for a louder whistle; maybe to finish what he dreamed of starting; maybe for more support; maybe simply out of loyalty to the school. Or maybe it was simply accepting a phone call from somebody who said he was needed and sorely missed.
Certainly Anae’s return is not for a pile of money and not to win a popularity contest. It's not to appease the so-called Romans in the Colosseum. And certainly it was not to receive adoration from media commentators, who’ve verbally put tread marks on his back, reversed their machines and rolled over him again.
This is a strange, if not surprising, twist of the offseason.
Robert Anae must really love BYU.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].