At the beginning of the 2019 season, there were quite a few Mountain West teams hiring new head coaches in Colorado State, Hawaii, Fresno State, UNLV, New Mexico, and San Diego State. This year there looks like two teams that will be playing next season with a new head coach, and both are unexpected.
Utah State and Boise State will both be entering the 2021 season with new head men running the program. For Utah State, Gary Andersen is out after two years during his second run at the school and for Boise State, Bryan Harsin leaves after spending seven years at his alma mater. The vacant head coaching spot at Boise State was especially surprising because it had been so many years since Boise State had to hire a new head coach. Utah State ended up hiring Blake Anderson away from Arkansas State and Boise State brought Andy Avalos back home after he left to be the defensive coordinator for Oregon before the 2019 season. So how did each school do with their respective hires?
Old Coach: Gary Andersen (2019-2020; 7-9)
New Coach: Blake Anderson (51-37 at Arkansas State)
Blake Anderson has spent his entire head coaching career at Arkansas State starting in 2014 after Bryan Harsin left for Boise State. As shown above he has a 51-37 career record and was 38-18 in conference games. Under Anderson, the Red Wolves won the Sun Belt once in 2016 and went undefeated in conference play, finishing the season at 9-4 with a bowl loss. This past season, Anderson’s team would go 4-7 (2-6) but would get a massive victory for the program over Kansas State.
Blake Anderson was hired on December 12th, 2020, taking over the job that interim coach Frank Maile had been doing since the departure of Gary Andersen. So far Andersen has put his staff together with some notable names. He has brought former Aggies Chuckie Keeton and Al Lapuaho back to their alma mater and also retained Mike Zuckerman, who came to Utah State from Miami last season. This season Anderson also brings in Kyle Cefalo and Nick Paremski from Arkansas State.
Cefalo will serve as the pass game coordinator/wide receivers coach, which is a key spot that Utah State will need to improve on next season. In 2020 the Red Wolves ranked second in passing offense (364.4 yards per game), 11th in yard per completion (14.57 yards), 14th in total offense (498.7 yards), 17th in passing efficiency (156.02), and 35th in scoring offense (32.9 points per game). In 2019, they ranked 10th in passing offense (312.1 yards per game), 14th in passing efficiency (157.55), 26th in scoring offense (33.7 points per game), 33rd in total offense (439.3 yard per game) and 33rd in red zone offense (88.9%).
The Aggies have play makers at the receivers position however they have at times had a difficult time getting those players more involved. A coaching change and new energy in addition to a new perspective could change that.
Parenski will serve as the special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach. Utah State showed life on special teams this past season and will be looking for continued success in the kicking and return game. The Aggies ranked 20th in kickoff returns in 2020 and 99th in punt returns and will be looking to improve in both numbers. Serving as outside linebackers coach in 2018, Paremski was an important part of the defensive staff that helped the Red Wolves four of the final five opponents on their schedule to less than 300 yards of total offense. The safeties struggled last season in the passing game so the addition of new defensive coordinator and safeties coach Ephraim Banda from Miami should help.
Blake Anderson, in addition to the new coaches, has also brought in new players. Quarterback Logan Bonner follows Anderson from Arkansas State and receiver Deven Thompkins also returns after entering the transfer portal.
The addition and return of Justin Rice to the Mountain West is a huge one for the Aggies because it gives them another play maker in the middle of the field, where the Aggies gave up a lot of big plays during the 2020 season.
Miami linebacker Patrick Joyner Jr. transfers to Utah State as well, giving the linebackers more depth. Aurion Peoples, a junior college defensive lineman from College of the Canyons, joins the Aggies defense as well. Texas linebacker Bryan Hobbs-Vaughns will also be joining the team.
The Aggies will also add Kyle Mayberry, a grad transfer from Kansas. Anderson has also been able to keep key players on the team such as Andrew Peasley, Shaq Bond, and Justin McGriff among others.
Blake Anderson should bring a new energy to Utah State and will bring in a new perspective. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Andrew Peasley and Logan Bonner both play in games next season as Blake Anderson has experimented with the two quarterback system. One of the things that has hindered Utah State from being a better team is consistency. Blake Anderson is a coach that has had consistency in the past and will look to bring consistency to his new team. He looks to have more resources at Utah State
Hire Grade: B+
Old Coach: Bryan Harsin (76-24 overall) (7-5 at Arkansas State) (69-19 at Boise State, 45-8 in conference)
New Coach: Andy Avalos (former Oregon defensive coordinator) (0-0 as a head coach)
Bryan Harsin left for Auburn two days after the Broncos turned down a bowl bid. Things seemed very chaotic for the Broncos and their fan base since there was no athletic director and no head coach in a time when Boise State was at a crossroads with the Mountain West and looking to play at another level. There were a lot of questions such as what was going to happen to the recruits, the other coaches, even the current players.
Enter the hire of Jeremiah Dickey, who served as Baylor’s Associate Vice President of Athletics. He was named the Boise State head coach and little more than 48 hours after he arrived in Boise, he made one of the biggest hires any athletic director will make, a head coach for the football program. Much of the fan base was rooting for Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, a former Bronco player and coach, to return home and Jeremiah Dickey delivered. Considering the financial issues Boise State is having right now, especially in the amount of funding for a support staff for the head coach, which is $630,000, this is a huge hire.
During his press conference on January 10th, Avalos sounded elated, humble, and hungry to get started. Avalos is a guy that truly bleeds blue and orange and there was clear excitement in his eyes when he talked about the opportunity to be around his brotherhood again and to embrace both the players he hasn’t seen in two years and the new players he has yet to meet.
Two major things happened this same day as Boise State held the press conference for Avalos. First, Avalos confirmed that Spencer Danielson, who served as the interim head coach before Avalos arrived, will be retained on the staff. There were reports that Danielson was following Bryan Harsin to Auburn however the reports quickly turned to the news that Spencer Danielson was reconsidering. Danielson was brought to Boise State as a graduate assistant working with the STUDS and in 2018 was given a full time position doing the same work before eventually moving to defensive line. Curtis Weaver and Jabril Frasier have both been players coached under Danielson and both finished top 10 in the Mountain West in sacks with Curtis Weaver receiving a lot of national attention. The players have expressed a tremendous amount of support for him so keeping Danielson is a big win.
The second thing that happened was that Boise State reportedly finalized a deal to hire UC Davis offensive coordinator Tim Plough to the same position with the Broncos. Plough has been the offensive coordinator for four years at UC Davis and the program has had a lot of success offensively. In his first season as offensive coordinator in 2017, UC Davis ranked 3rd in the FCS in passing yards with 322.8 yards per game and in 2019 ranked 6th with 309.2 yards per game. This will be yet another offensive coordinator for the Broncos, who have lost their offensive and defensive coordinator quite a few times over the past couple years. As a defensive minded coach, it was going to be key for Andy Avalos to bring in an experienced offensive coordinator who can play a significant role in helping players such as Hank Bachmeier to develop. The next key for Avalos will be to hire an offensive line coach that has struggled many times since 2017.
Khalil Shakir, Hank Bachmeier, George Holani, JL Skinner, Riley Smith, Ezekiel Noa, Markel Reed, Marques Evans, Jack Sears, and Asia Kelemete among many others return for the Broncos next year and they look to have more experience this year than last. Avalos, as previously stated, knows quite a few of these players as well as the defensive scheme. Since Andy Avalos left for Oregon after the 2018 season, the defense struggled to force turnovers, a statistic that the Broncos were near the top of the nation at in 2017 and 2018. Avalos is going to be very important in getting the Broncos defense back to being dominant in turnovers.
Avalos has not only managed to keep key current players and recruits on the team but he has managed to energize the entire team and community behind him. While he hasn’t been a head coach before he does have deep connections with the Broncos and has done a fantastic job so far. Chris Peterson was a young mind and provided a new start for the Broncos in 2006 and led Boise State to arguably their best win in program history over Oklahoma. It is a fresh start for Boise State and while only time will tell, it seems that big things are coming for the Broncos as they look to continue their success under a new head coach.
Hire Grade: A