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Aaron Roderick first walked into Robert Anae’s office at Ricks College nearly 30 years ago. Anae looked the 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver up and down, unimpressed.
From there, Roderick worked to prove Anae wrong, earning All-American honors at junior college in Rexburg, Idaho, and setting several school records. Eventually, he earned Anae’s respect. The coach fought for Brigham Young University to offer a scholarship to Roderick, where he played three seasons before becoming a graduate assistant. Last year, BYU named Roderick offensive coordinator.
“He was the reason I got the scholarship,” Roderick said. “I don’t know if all of this would have happened without Coach Anae.”
Anae served as offensive coordinator at Virginia, BYU and now Syracuse, which travels for a marquee game against No. 5 Clemson on Saturday. But it started with his first full-time job at Ricks, which became BYU-Idaho in 2001, where Anae served as offensive line coach from 1992-95 and offensive coordinator in his final season.
The traits of Anae’s coaching style – the tough but compassionate way he treats players, the teacher of technique, the independent thinker who adapts to the staff around him – have all flourished in Ricks. Other coaches emulate the strategies he used back then, and offensive linemen who played for Anae said the technique he taught them persisted throughout their college careers and into the game. NFL.
“He understood the game like no one else,” said then-Ricks head coach Ron Haun. “You could just tell this guy was going to be a great coach.”
From 1982 to 2002, Haun coached the Vikings, regularly sending players to Division-I and NFL teams. Haun hired Anae in 1992 after completing her two-year stint as a BYU graduate assistant. Haun had a close relationship with then-BYU head coach LaVell Edwards, recruiting similar players, including many Polynesians like Anae. Both schools were also affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Haun, looking to replace his offensive line coach, spoke to Edwards, who said Anae was a future coaching star. Ricks’ coaches also had to teach part-time, and the school had an opening for a sociology teacher. Anae holds a master’s degree in sociology.
Anae was an advanced coach when he arrived at Ricks despite only four seasons of experience, Haun said. Anae played under longtime BYU assistant Roger French and was well versed in technique, defensive fronts, blocking patterns and pass protection, former Ricks assistant EJ Caffaro said.
“He was very advanced, he could have coached any big college team at that time,” Haun said. “It was not a master key and I had to learn for Robert. Robert was ready.
Courtesy of Ron Haun
Anae’s intensity stood out. Skilled players sat back and laughed as Anae was tough on her players, former Ricks quarterback Daren Wilkinson said. Defensive players liked Anae more than offensive players because they didn’t work with him, former defensive end Ed Lamb said.
While sitting in the press box at the 1995 Real Dairy Bowl, Anae got frustrated with her players, snapped her helmet and walked out. Haun came over the helmet, asking where Anae was. Defensive line coach Rick Dixon replied that Anae wanted to see the players. Anae raced down the stadium stairs towards the offensive linemen. They looked at each other, thinking “someone is going to die,” recalls former Ricks offensive tackle Edwin Mulitalo. Anae jumped out at them, passed on her message, and came straight up.
“Talk about a guy who put you in the face when it was time to face you,” said former Ricks tackle Jose Portilla. “We needed to do this job. But it was the coach.
Anae had a soft side off the pitch. He invited players to his house, preparing coolers full of teriyaki chicken, Dixon said. He played the ukulele, tuning in with the Polynesian players who sang and weaved their way through 15-hour bus rides from Rexburg to southern Arizona.
“He’s like a grandfather, I really like that,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “I’ve never seen a guy be so nice with words, and yet maybe tell you that you’re not really good at your job. But do it in such a nice way that you’re not bad. And then you want to come back and work for him.
Anae’s Polynesian connection to Ricks is similar to what he has now with some of Syracuse’s offensive linemen. Kalan Ellis said Anae uses slang that only Hawaiians know – “raj” instead of “roger that” – and Samoan words like sole (meaning “bro” in English) or uso (“brother”) , giving a feeling of home.
Players and coaches said Ricks was a perfect fit for Anae. It was similar to BYU, but in a small town with players who were overlooked or couldn’t qualify academically for DI programs.
Although it was a top junior varsity program, Ricks players felt the difficulty of playing at a lower level. Mulitalo said the players tried to befriend local McDonald’s employees to collect leftover food. Portilla remembers grabbing extra potatoes along the fences if local farmers hadn’t picked them up.
He understood the game like no one else. You could just tell this guy was going to be a great coach.
Ron Haun, then head coach of Ricks on Robert Anae
But Anae “loved it” at Rexburg, Dixon said. He became an avid fisherman and embarked on adventures with coaches that sometimes resulted in capsized boats and 3:30 a.m. returns to shore. He once went to a restaurant called Big Jud’s and ordered a three-pound burger, eating it slice by slice like he was “cutting a tusk.” After Ricks arrived in Arizona for a game, Anae cleared her mind with a run in 110 degree heat.
In the field, Anae is obsessed with teaching technique. Many Ricks offensive linemen were unfamiliar with pass protection when they arrived, but Anae’s time playing in BYU’s pass-heavy offense helped them. If the linemen couldn’t get it, Anae taught them as long as he needed.
“The number of mistakes he got you okay with was miniscule,” Mulitalo said.
Mulitalo credits Anae with building his foundation as an offensive lineman. Mulitalo originally thought he would play defensive line, but Anae said if Mulitalo wants to play football for a long time, he should play offensive line. Mulitalo obliged.
Anae taught him his stance, how to time his punches, and how to be a knee flexor instead of a hip flexor. He had the fitters go under the ropes, once pulling out a PVC pipe to make sure they stayed under them. The linemen did their kicks and power kicks, their clinch combat, and their speed work with Anae.
Both Portilla and Mulitalo said they took lessons from Anae throughout their careers. Mulitalo said he was heavily recruited from Ricks because of Anae. After two years in Arizona, Mulitalo played 10 seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl.
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“A lot of coaches are smart, but they can’t teach it to the players. But he had this gift. He was a teacher, he was an educator,” Haun said of Anae.
As Anae developed, he became more involved in designing schematics. Anae and Caffaro collaborated on game plans and reconnaissance reports. Haun eventually promoted Anae to assistant head coach and offensive coordinator in 1995. He learned of Ricks’ West Coast offense, which was still being introduced into the college game. It was similar to BYU: sending the ball quickly to players in space, with running backs and tight ends as passing threats.
Haun said there were tricky things for the offensive line, especially for players who worked heavy hitters in high school. Anae therefore often took part in meetings to understand the passing game, even when he only coached the offensive line.
Eventually, viewers viewed Anae as an expert, and her reputation grew. Haun said when schools adopted the West Coast look, coaches from major programs would ask Anae about the offense.
Anae’s work turned out to be a success. Wilkinson said he was only fired five times during his two-year career at Ricks. During Anae’s four seasons, the Vikings compiled a 40-4 record, consistently ranking in the top five nationally in points, rushing yards and passing yards.
Anae left in 1996 to become the offensive line coach at Boise State, learned the air raid under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and landed her first DI offensive coordinator gig in 2005 with BYU. Haun said he still sees similarities between Anae’s current attack in Syracuse and what they ran at Ricks.
Lamb, now BYU’s assistant head coach, recalled playing Anae’s offense in Virginia last season. He said preparing for Anae’s attack is like planning the game with the triple option – it’s different from what other college teams do. Anae made several early personnel adjustments Lamb had never seen before, putting three or four tight ends on the field, sometimes without a running back. The Cavaliers scored 49 points on 9.2 yards per play.
Anae’s impact still resonates 30 years after her time at Ricks College, although the school no longer has a football program and many of her former colleagues are retired. He orchestrated a stunning turnaround for an offense that ranked last in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the past two seasons, with a dramatically improved quarterback, receiver and offensive line game.
But that’s no surprise to those who remember those formative years at Rexburg.
“I thought he would do that one day,” Caffaro said.
Published on October 20, 2022 at 00:14
Contact Conor: [email protected] | @csmith17_