Arkansas State’s players knew the time was coming when their coach would need to step away. So over the summer a plan was put in place to ensure they would be prepared.
The time they dreaded came Aug. 19 when Wendy Anderson died at 49 after a two-year fight with breast cancer. Her husband, Blake, has since been on leave as the Red Wolves’ coach.
David Duggan continues to serve as the interim coach and could remain in charge when the Red Wolves (0-1) play UNLV (1-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium. Duggan said he didn’t know when Anderson would return.
“We have a lot of experienced coaches, and the administration has been great supporting us,” Duggan said Monday. But most important, said Duggan, is how his team has responded.
“By their reaction yesterday in practice, I think we’re focused and ready to step forward this week.”
Duggan said he’s sure Anderson knows the football program needs him, “but he’s taking care of his family first. When he feels comfortable that they’re set, then he wants to get back as soon as possible. … We’re ready to hold down the fort until he returns.”
Anderson tweeted a message Monday calling the support he has received nationally “OVERWHELMING.”
“Its impossible to adequately say thank you to so many AMAZING people who both energized Wendy’s fight & who now are carrying me and our kids daily through prayer, texts, hugs, cards, food, & so much more,” he wrote.
— Blake Anderson (@CHbanderson) September 2, 2019
That video would have been valuable even if Anderson had returned last week because Duggan and offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf are in their first season. Duggan was Western Michigan’s linebackers coach the previous three seasons, and Heckendorf was at North Carolina the past eight years, the final five as the quarterbacks coach.
Five other assistants also are in their first season on the staff.
“There are so many new personalities in the room,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “So we’re watching film on their previous stops — both coordinators.Managing being a head coach and a coordinator in your first year and not expecting to do so, that’s a lot on your plate. From that I saw this last week, they handled it pretty well .”
Sanchez said he was uncertain if UNLV running backs Chad Magyar (personal issue) and Courtney Reese (high ankle sprain) would play, but said after watching Arkansas State video that he expects quarterback Armani Rogers to pass more on Saturday. SMU threw for 360 yards against the Red Wolves.
Rogers completed 11 of 17 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s 56-23 victory over Southern Utah.
“I feel like I did well that game,” Rogers said. “Just missed a few passes. It was first-game jitters getting out of the way, and now I know what to expect.”