Arizona football: Fifth-year senior Chris Merrill expects 2nd career start Saturday

UA fifth-year senior Chris Merrill, center, has made just 10 tackles in his career but is expected to play significant snaps in Saturday's opener.


Robert Anae lives in a campus-area hotel, a small-but-functional place that will do the job until his family relocates from Utah and their new house is ready.

But moving is a mere formality: The Arizona Wildcats' new assistant coach says he's already home.

"The town is great, the people are great. The players I have - man, I look forward to coming to work every day," Anae said. "Everything Coach (Mike) Stoops is doing here, it's exciting. It's all great for me to be a part of."

Arizona's tumultuous off- season received a major boost in January when Anae, the longtime offensive coordinator at BYU and a spread offense legend, joined the staff as offensive line coach and run game coordinator.

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell will still call the plays this fall, but Anae will have a major say in the scheme. The veteran assistant has already simplified the Wildcats' blocking assignments, making it easier for the five new starters on the offensive line.

Players are noticing a difference in their new coach. Former offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh was intense, both in practices and during games.

Anae is "a little bit more of a Zen guy," Stoops said.

"He's a little more philosophical, but they both get their points across," he said.

Center Kyle Quinn calls Anae "old school," and for good reason. He's in his 25th year of coaching, all of them at the college level.

The Star talked to Anae about his new job, redefined role and unique perspective:

On rebuilding the Wildcats' offensive line, which returns no starters from 2010: "This is a great opportunity - I'm starting new here, and so is our offensive line. There's a lot to look forward to on both sides, coaching and playing."

On Arizona's young talent: Bedenbaugh "was very excited for the group coming in because he spent a lot of time recruiting them.

"This young group coming up, he was looking forward to coaching them. I am too."

On his role as the run game coordinator: "The real-time play-calling is your coordinator's responsibility, but all the game plans and things we put into it is a staff effort. We look forward to the process and the opportunity to put a very exciting football team on the field."

On recruiting Hawaii, a recent UA hotbed: "That's a good thing: There are alums there in the state of Hawaii. There are guys out of my high school that played here. That's been established. We just look to build on it, get better and stronger."

On working for Stoops: "Shoot, Coach Stoops has been great to work with. He knows football, so if he sees a young player, he can easily coach him up on a certain technique because he knows; he's been around it. He cares about the kids, he cares about coaching, and he cares about people. That part has been very, very good to be around."

On being called "Zen": "I don't know if it's that simple, but I do know we have a group of guys that care about football. How much they put into it, how much they show it and put into each other; that part of it is good to be around."

Injury update

Stoops said after Wednesday's practice he expects backup running back Greg Nwoko to miss about seven months after suffering an ACL injury in spring practice this week. Stoops said Nwoko injured his left ACL when he went to make a cut to avoid a tackler. Stoops anticipates Nwoko's return will be at some point during the 2011 season. Nwoko used his redshirt season in 2008.

The Robert Anae File

Age: 52

Hometown: Lai'e, Hawaii

Playing experience: BYU (1981-84)

Personal: Married to Liane; they have two sons, Famika and Max, and a daughter, Penny.

Coaching experience: New offensive line coach/run game coordinator at Arizona; offensive coordinator, inside receivers coach at BYU (2005-10); OL coach at Texas Tech (2000-04); OL coach/run game coordinator, UNLV (1998); OL coach, UNLV (1997); OL coach, Boise State (1996); OL coach, Ricks College (1992-95); OL graduate assistant, BYU (1990-91); OL line coach, Hawaii (1986-87)

Recruiting responsibilities: Hawaii; Utah; Simi Valley, Calif.

Did you know? Anae graduated from BYU in 1986, earned a master's degree in sociology from Hawaii in 1990 and received a Ph.D. from BYU in 1999. He is the first-ever UA football coach to own a doctoral degree.