LITTLE ROCK — Equally comfortable poking fun at a radio show host and updating the governor, Arkansas State University football coach Blake Anderson is Hubbard City, Texas, through and through.
At the intersection of Highways 31 and 177 about an hour southeast of Fort Worth, Hubbard City is where Anderson’s father does coffee every morning at the town’s version of "Cheers" and returns in the afternoon to talk with his cronies about things they didn’t do during the day. In between, golf might be involved.
Hubbard City, population 1,600, where the traffic light that sequences green-yellow-red says big city to people in four nearby communities with blinking stoplights. Anderson grew up there, always in front of folks, often at the First Baptist Church where father Scott still leads the singing. An insurance man, the elder Anderson passed on his people skills to his 43-year-old son, hired two months ago as ASU’s fifth head coach in five years.
In Little Rock on Wednesday to be on KATV at 6 a.m., Anderson was eager to convert the visit into a media blitz. Beginning at 7:30, he did a half-hour on radio, hustled to ASU offices near the Capitol for a sit-down with a couple of ASU media insiders, and then walked across the street to vist with ASU alum Gov. Mike Beebe.
No matter the questions, he was quick with an expansive, articulate answer. He never hesitated, never ducked a subject, and his sense of humor bubbled up easily.
At the radio station, former Arkansas linebacker David Bazzel ran the show. Wednesday was the day a 30-year-old picture of a topless Bazzel was in a newspaper and Anderson referred to it as a WWE poster. Later, he posed for a picture with Bazzel and other on-air personalities against a backdrop of an Elvis photo, plus pennants and flags from ASU, Arkansas, the University of Central Arkansas, and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
Standing next to Bazzel, who still has an athlete’s chest, Anderson said,"We don’t have to get our shirts off for this do we?"
Before leaving, he checked out the lone ASU pennant and promised more swag.
In a small conference room inside the ASU offices, he talked with two reporters about personnel, spring practice, his hurry-up offense, and other inside football.
He laughed about his promotion from assistant coach, saying a friend had noted that he was a "big time ball coach" with his own parking space. "It doesn’t have my name on it," he said. "It just says head coach."
Wearing a dark gray warmup jacket with red piping and stAte on the left pocket, and sporting a red-and-black wrist band, he talked about the emphasis on players being lean and fast instead of big and thick. Offensively, the idea, he said, is "to look complicated, but be simple" by using the same concepts. If the other team can steal signals from the one person on the sideline and get word to the defense, "then we’re not playing fast enough," he said.
In Beebe’s office, the governor, who referred to ASU as "us," asked for and received an update on specific players and their academic progress.
Golf and ping pong were mentioned and competition is in the works on both fronts. Anderson told Beebe he was rusty at ping pong since his oldest son had left home. "I can beat my 13-year-old left-handed, my wife is terrible, and my daughter doesn’t play," he said.
During the radio show, Anderson explained a brief hole in his coaching resume occurred because he ran the insurance business while his dad was recuperating from a heart attack. "I coached, recruited, and trained life insurance agents," he said.
While back home, I’m betting he ate the chicken fried steak and green beans at the Hubbard City Cafe. The place still has the best Frito pies around, he promised.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.