As Arkansas State's fifth coach in five seasons, Blake Anderson knew there would be more than just football to attend to when he was hired after last season.
Anderson's mission was to restore trust and stability for a group of players accustomed to anything but.
The Red Wolves head into this season having won at least a share of the last three Sun Belt Conference championships, capped by last season's GoDaddy Bowl win over Ball State.
While it would have been easy for Arkansas State's players to become jaded toward another coaching staff — following a turnover-filled run that's included former coaches Steve Roberts, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin — they've instead embraced yet another fresh start under Anderson.
The former North Carolina offensive coordinator, who led the Tar Heels to more than 35 offensive records in 2012, preaches speed both in practice and games — a welcomed approach for a school that's 27-11 over the last three seasons.
More than his on-the-field approach, however, Anderson has done his best to earn the trust of the Red Wolves. His coaching staff has done so with numerous outings with players away from the field, as well as stressing the importance of relationships outside of football.
"They've been surprisingly very, very accommodating and open to me and my staff," Anderson said. "... Considering what they've been through and what could of happened in terms of attitudes, I've been remarkably surprised at how well they have adapted and handled us."
Arkansas State was picked by the league's coaches to finish second in the Sun Belt this season, largely based on the return of preseason Defensive Player of the Year Qushaun Lee at linebacker and the pedigree of a program that's only lost three conference games over the last three seasons.
While Anderson has been focused on the mental approach for Arkansas State, he's spent plenty of time on the physical part of the game — namely during up-tempo practices whose pace and demands have shocked many of the Red Wolves.
"There are a lot of guys on the team who have been through these coaching changes," Lee said. "From my standpoint, as long as the team stays together as one, no matter who comes in to help us get better, we're going to take coaching and stay together."
Five things to watch as the Red Wolves try and earn a fourth straight Sun Belt championship this season:
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