A week before California’s Troy Taylor and BYU’s Ty Detmer combined for 735 yards passing in rivalry games, walk-on David Yost’s only season of college football ended with his Kent State team going winless in 1989.
The stories of the three offensive coordinators in Utah’s FBS programs show that college football coaches can arrive at important positions from different directions. Taylor and Detmer are only two seasons removed from high school coaching jobs, making them highly unusual cases in the profession. Yost once planned to be a kindergarten teacher, but his coaching career arc is more standard than Taylor’s or Detmer’s, with successful stops in Power 5 programs.
Detmer is entering his second season at BYU. Yet because he’s directing a scheme that will resemble the traditional BYU offense far more than last year’s model, it is fair to classify him with Utah’s Taylor and Utah State’s Yost, who just arrived in the state.
Their work will frame the state’s 2017 season in a convergence that in its own way resembles 2005, when Bronco Mendenhall (BYU), Kyle Whittingham (Utah) and Brent Guy (USU) became first-time head coaches.
Taylor, Detmer and Yost all are in their late 40s, in different stages of their careers and distinguished by their contrasting styles of offensive attacks — from Detmer’s huddling to Yost’s frenetic pace, with Taylor’s approach somewhere in between.
“There’s no genius offense out there,” Detmer said. “I don’t have a better system or better plays than anyone else.”
Even so, these three will do it their own ways this season, at varying speeds.
Taylor is known as a tinkerer, always coming up with new ideas. “You talk about an eclectic, out-of-the-box mindset, he’s got it, times two,” said Aaron Best, formerly Eastern Washington’s offensive line coach and now the Eagles’ coach.
Taylor would visit Best’s office “about 15 times a day,” pass notes in staff meetings and persuade the offensive coaches to do things differently. “Let’s just try it,” he would say.
It usually worked. The Eagles advanced to the FCS semifinals and passed for 5,614 yards in 14 games — almost doubling Utah’s average of 216.7 yards. Taylor effectively used Cooper Kupp, a third-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams, and two other senior receivers.
Taylor will become Utah’s eighth play-caller in the nine seasons since Andy Ludwig left after the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Whittingham hopes Taylor solves the inconsistency that has characterized the offense in the Utes’ Pac-12 era.
The passing system that Taylor took from Folsom High School in California to EWU last season then brought to Utah is unconventional because reading the coverage is not required.
The defense can do “anything,” said EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud, “and there’s a route on that concept that’s going to be good against that coverage. … It didn’t happen often where guys weren’t open.”
Taylor’s “one of the smartest men I’ve ever met, especially with football,” Gubrud said. “The man is brilliant with schemes and stuff like that.”
Age • 49
College • California, passed for 8,126 yards; the Bears went 14-27-3 from 1986 to 1989
NFL • Fourth-round draft pick of NewYork Jets; appeared in seven games over two seasons
Most recent job • Passing game coordinator, Eastern Washington
Quote • “He throws the ball, so that makes it fun.” — Utah receivers coach Guy Holliday
One more thing • In his first full-time coaching job, Taylor was hired by Steve Mariucci at Cal in 1996 then worked as the Bears’ quarterbacks coach under Tom Holmoe, who’s now BYU’s athletic director. Holmoe moved him to tight ends two years later. After another season, Taylor went into high school athletic administration.
BYU’s offensive coordinator always will be a subject of curiosity just because he’s the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner and the quarterback who passed for 15,000 yards in his Cougar career. No one would have known that by watching Detmer’s offense perform in 2016 since he featured running back Jamaal Williams.
BYU failed to pass for 300 yards against any FBS opponent in 2016 for the first time since LaVell Edwards’ passing offense took hold in 1973.
“You hear it from the fans — they want to see the ball in the air,” Detmer said. “You know the legacy that’s here. I was a part of it. I mean, no one likes to throw the ball more than I did. But … we’re going to try to win games, first and foremost. The stats? That doesn’t bother me.”
The passing numbers should increase in 2017, with Tanner Mangum as the quarterback and BYU’s personnel — notably, tight ends such as Moroni Laulu-Pututau and Matt Bushman — resembling the targets from Detmer’s era.
Playing behind Taysom Hill last season, Mangum learned Detmer’s offense that gives the quarterback “a lot to process on each play,” Mangum said. He expects the Cougars to throw considerably more, even if not quite the “70 times a game” that Detmer delivered the ball, as Mangum guessed. Detmer likes to point out that’s a myth. He averaged 43.2 attempts during his Heisman season and only 31.0 passes as a senior.
Age • 49
College • BYU, passed for 15,031 yards from 1988 to 1991; went 29-9-2 as a starter
NFL • Played 14 seasons with six teams; appeared in 54 games with 25 starts
Most recent job • Head coach, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, Austin, Texas
Quote • “We’ll be throwing the rock around.” – BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum on Detmer’s second season as a BYU coach
One more thing • Detmer and BYU receivers coach Ben Cahoon both married women named Kim Herbert, and both Kim Herberts grew up in Utah County.
In contrast to Taylor and Detmer, who left as their schools’ career passing leaders, Yost became a quarterbacking expert without ever playing the position.
He moved from Washington State to Oregon in 2016 for the chance to coach quarterbacks again. Yost succeeded, turning freshman Justin Herbert into one of the Pac-12’s top QBs, but the Ducks’ coaching staff was fired.
That’s how Yost became available to USU coach Matt Wells, who adjusted his operation after personally calling the plays last season when the Aggies offense struggled.
Yost became known at Missouri for developing quarterbacks Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert, and now he’s trying to maximize Kent Myers’ senior season in Logan.
“The quarterback’s going to be asked to do more than anybody else,” Yost said. “Why? Because I coach those guys.”
Herbert thrived at Oregon after becoming the starter in the sixth game. He credits Yost for helping him adjust to college football, emphasizing details and teaching him about reading coverages and learning how to practice. “He’s very knowledgable; he knew what he was talking about,” Herbert said.
Teaching comes naturally to Yost, who initially taught kindergartners and coached middle school football players in Ohio. “The teaching part never changes,” he said. “I don’t think it changes if you’ve got kindergartners or eighth-graders or college football players. … All you’re trying to do is move them along through the process.”
And, like Taylor and Detmer, he’ll be judged by his students’ performances.
Age • 47
College • Kent State, one season as a walk-on tight end and long snapper
Most recent job • Quarterbacks coach, Oregon
Quote • “It was fun to put the offense in the way I envisioned it.” — Yost on USU’s spring practice
One more thing • Yost is 3-0 vs. Utah as an assistant coach, counting victories with Washington State in 2013 and ’14 and with Oregon in 2016. Utah State is not on any of Utah’s future schedules.