Arkansas State head football coach Blake Anderson ended his leave of absence just hours before the Red Wolves dominated UNLV 43-17 in Las Vegas.
Anderson took a leave of absence on Aug. 19th due to his wife Wendy battling an aggressive form of cancer. She passed away just hours later, shortly before midnight.
“It’s good to be back. It’s exciting to be back,” said Anderson. “I appreciate the time I had away. It was needed, obviously. I’d like to say thanks to the fans and people across the country. The support has been unbelievable. So many people have reached out. The fan base, the community, the coaching community, and guys (in the media). It has been what has really lifted us in our spirits, and carried us through the toughest time in our life. I appreciate your patience and respect as we kind of figure out what a new normal looks like.”
Anderson said that he originally planned to return to his team the week before they head to Athens to battle the Georgia Bulldogs, but felt like Saturday was the right time to return.
“I thought it was time. I really did not know when would be the best time to get back with the team,” Anderson said. “I fully expected that was going to be Sunday. I really did not have a detailed plan as to joining the team early until late in the week. When my schedule started solidifying with what I was doing with my kids and had conversations with my kids about when to go back, and didn’t truly make the decision on going to Vegas until about 4 in the morning on Saturday.”
Anderson said he was glad that he made the trip, but he was concerned about being a distraction to his team.
“I’m glad I went. The biggest concern was being a distraction,” said Anderson. “I didn’t want to be a distraction to the kids. I didn’t want to take away from their prep. I didn’t want it to be about me, I wanted them to know I was there for them. I struggled and really fought with that as to whether or not to go. I’m glad I did. They responded perfectly. They were genuinely excited for me to be there. It made it easy for me.”
Anderson said he only had one simple message for his team when he surprised them by walking into the team meeting before the game against the UNLV Rebels.
“My message to them was really clear,” Anderson said. “I missed you, I love you, I want to help in any way I can and my role is to be here to lift you guys up just like you lifted me up, and they went out and played a great game.”
Anderson said that defensive coordinator David Duggan, who served as interim head coach during his leave of absence, did a phenomenal job leading the team during his time away.
“Just a phenomenal job,” said Anderson. “I told the staff that thank you just doesn’t seem to be enough. That’s a lot to shoulder, it’s a lot of pressure to take on. There’s a lot of little jobs then the amount of media responsibilities that added to his plate. He is just one of those guys that if you give him a job he is going to go do it so thoroughly that you know he put countless hours and energy into it. He took it personal. He didn’t want to let me down. There is no way he could have, but he spent an enormous amount of time to make sure everything ran smoothly.”
“Other than coming up short against SMU, I can’t imagine he nor the team could have handled everything they have been put through any better,” Anderson continued. “The game is a game. That game could have gone a million different ways. They did everything right, and I’ve been really, really pleased. God brought good people in place for this time and exactly what we’ve been going through, and David Duggan is a great example of that.”