At Arkansas State, they refer to it as “The One-and-Done Era”: three straight football coaches, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin, leaving for greener pastures after a single season.
However, to Red Wolves senior tight end Darion Griswold, it was nothing to laugh about.
“We felt like we were just a steppingstone,” Griswold said. “It was really frustrating, and we took it very personally.
“We’d get used to one system, one set of coaches, and they’d move on. It was like we were the only ones who wanted to be there.”
But despite the rapid turnover at the top, Arkansas State football has persevered and prospered.
Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against Louisiana Tech is the fifth straight bowl game for Griswold and sixth other fifth-year seniors, two of them played under interim coaches.
The Red Wolves have won four Sun Belt Conference championships in that span, including this season when they were unbeaten league play. A victory Saturday will give A-State (9-3) double digit victories for the third time in those five seasons.
Perhaps most importantly, the Red Wolves have had the same coach in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009-10.
And barring the unexpected, Blake Anderson will be back as the Red Wolves’ coach in 2016 along with his entire staff.
“It’s a cycle that needed to be broken,” said Anderson. “The kids deserved some continuity and stability in general.
“We believe in what we’re doing here, and the job’s not done yet.”
Not that Anderson — a Hubbard, Texas, native who came to the Jonesboro, Arkansas, school from North Carolina, where he the offensive coordinator under Larry Fedora — hasn’t had opportunities to move on like his predecessors.
He was on Tulane’s radar although he didn’t interview with new Green Wave Athletic Director Todd Dannen.
A $3 million buyout, which is reduced to $2 million after next season, probably had something to do with it.
“We don’t believe coach Anderson will be here forever,” said Arkansas State Athletic Director Terry Mohajir, who has made the past three coaching hires at the school. “That’s why we’re building a program.
“And you could say we’ve had success despite our coaching changes. We’re winning no matter who our coaches are, and we’ve proven that.”
Also, Mohajir points out, Anderson’s predecessors had extraordinary opportunities to return to the schools from which they’d just come: Freeze to Ole Miss, Malzahn to Auburn and Harsin to Boise State.
With Fedora thus far staying put at North Carolina, that situation hasn’t yet arisen for Anderson.
And while successful coaches moving on from the Sun Belt level is common, albeit not as quickly as has happened at Arkansas State, following the departures of Malzahn and Harsin (He wasn’t there for the Freeze exit), Anderson spoke to the players about turning into a positive.
“I told them, ‘First of all, this is your university. You wear the uniforms; you win the games,” he said. “And I also told that in life we all must adjust to changes and that ‘You embrace it, you learn from it and you have success from it,’” Griswold said he and his fellow players appreciated Mohajir’s words. But even more so, they appreciated the fact that Anderson and his staff have stayed put.
“Everything has been so much smoother,” he said. “It’s not like we had to learn about each other all over again.
“The coaches showed they believed in us. I know the guys coming back are really looking forward to seeing what they can do next year.”
Still, as senior quarterback Fredi Knighten said, “We’ve learned that this is more of a business than anybody anticipated when you were in high school.
“It’s been rough sometimes, but it happens. We were really glad when coach Anderson came back for this year.”
Anderson, 45, has his own heavenly take on the probability of how long he will be at A-State.
“I’m going to stay as long as God wants me to be here,” he said. “He put here and he brought a great staff as well.
“There are a lot of bad jobs out there, but this isn’t one of them. Whenever he tells me it’s time to move, I know we’ll be leaving the program in better shape than we found it.”