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The Arkansas State Red Wolves football team represents Arkansas State University in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) college football competition. The team was originally founded in 1911, and, since 2001, Arkansas State has competed as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The team is currently coached by Blake Anderson. Until 2008, the team's name was the Arkansas State Indians.
The school itself was founded in 1909, and, two years later, Arkansas State fielded its first football team. In 1918, the team was temporarily disbanded due to the First World War. Arkansas State played without conference affiliation until 1929 when it joined the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference. From 1937 until 1953, Arkansas State competed as a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). After the 1941 season the football program was interrupted due to World War II and did not resume until the 1945 season. The school left the AIC in 1950 and would remain independent of conference affiliation for the next 12 years.
During the 1950s under coach Forrest England, ASU emerged as a bit of a regional football power, appearing in four post-season bowl games from 1951 to 1953. The Indians compiled a 48-22-9 record under England. The Indians played in two different bowls at the end of the 1951 season, winning the Refrigerator Bowl and losing the Tangerine Bowl (now known as the Capitol One Bowl). The Indians lost the 1952 Refrigerator Bowl and tied the 1953 Tangerine Bowl.
In 1953, Arkansas State moved to the NCAA, and played as a member of the College Division through 1972. The early part of this era was characterized by mediocre records under several short-term head coaches. In 1962 head coach King Block departed for Nebraska where he was to serve as defensive line coach.
Bennie Ellender was promoted from defensive backs coach to head coach, replacing Block in 1963 just prior to ASU joining the Southland Conference. Ellender would serve for 8 seasons compiling a 52-20-4 record culminating in an undefeated 11-0 College Division National Championship year in 1970. This championship season included a victory over Central Missouri State University in the Pecan Bowl, the Indians 3rd consecutive bowl appearance under Ellender and 3rd straight Southland Conference championship. Ellender departed after the 1970 season to accept the head football coach position at his alma mater Tulane.
n 1973, under head coach Bill Davidson, the Indians were reassigned to NCAA Division II. They remained in this classification for one year before being promoted to Division I. Arkansas State recorded an undefeated season (going 11-0) in Division I in 1975 and was one of only two undefeated Division I football teams that year. Arkansas State ia one of only four institutions to have gone undefeated and not win a National Championship at the Division I-A (now Division I FBS) level. Since Arkansas State was a member of the Southland Conference, and the league did not have a bowl game tie-in, Arkansas State was not selected for post-season play despite being undefeated. As a result of this inequity, the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana was created (though ASU has never played in the game). Davidson retired after the 1978 season due to health problems. Davidson compiled a 51-32-1 record during his tenure.
During the 1980s, under head coach Larry Lacewell, Arkansas State played in the NCAA Division I-AA (now Division I FCS) compiling a 69-58-4 record and making four appearances in the playoffs, including a loss in the national championship game in 1986 to Georgia Southern, 48-21. After the 1986 season Arkansas State left the Southland Conference and became a I-AA Independent. Lacewell left ASU in 1989 after 11 season to accept an offer to be Johnny Majors' defensive coordinator at Tennessee.
Lacewell's departure came as the decision was being reached for Arkansas State to pursue entry into what is now Division I FBS.