Whether the move becomes a firing or merely a demotion in the end, Ty Detmer’s demise as BYU’s offensive coordinator is not shocking.
When will everyone learn that fan balloting is not the best way to assemble a football coaching staff?
Consider the shelf lives of former quarterbacking stars as offensive coordinators at their old schools in this decade: BYU’s Brandon Doman, two seasons. Utah’s Brian Johnson, one season. Detmer, two seasons.
The possibility existed that Detmer would rise above his lack of experience in his first college job, having basically worked in a coaching role during the bulk of his 14 seasons as an NFL quarterback. That’s what I suggested when he was hired, and I also endorsed his work last year when he maximized the skills of quarterback Taysom Hill and running Jamaal Williams during a 9-4 season. But then it all crumbled, and Detmer’s background proved inadequate.
A lot of circumstances worked against Detmer this season, with quarterbacking injuries and other personnel issues affecting the offense. The best explanation is that Detmer needed a stronger staff around him. Better coaching could have overcome some of those challenges, and that’s why the futures of Detmer and other offensive coaches are in question as Sitake searches for another coordinator.
Monday’s move illustrates that Sitake is in charge of BYU’s football program. The inevitable joke is that he learned well from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who hired six play-callers during the six years when Sitake worked as Whittingham’s defensive coordinator. The fact is that Detmer was BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe’s choice, with the endorsements of Steve Young and others, and now Sitake will find his own guy.
“I was a big proponent of Tom hiring Ty. … I didn’t authorize it; I’m just saying I loved being a part of it,” Young told me last year.
Coming back to BYU took some courage for Detmer, as the school’s beloved Heisman Trophy winner. “I had the expectation coming in, you’re going to be under the microscope,” Detmer said last December.
As Young said, “He knew, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’ve got to do really well.’ ”
And then Detmer failed this season, as judged by the Cougars’ 4-9 record, their No. 118 offensive ranking and, most important, Sitake’s evaluation. Turns out, Detmer needed more credentials than just being Ty Detmer.
So who’s next? Sitake should look at Southern Utah offensive coordinator Justin Walterscheid, who has done a terrific job since October 2015, when — coincidentally enough — he was promoted to replace former BYU coach Gary Crowton in the middle of the season. The Thunderbirds have won two Big Sky Conference championships in three years, under Ed Lamb (now BYU’s assistant head coach) and Demario Warren, and Walterscheid’s offense is among the best in the FCS.
This also is an opportunity for BYU to show some creativity. As I wrote last month, the idea of Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo’s bringing his option offense to Provo seemed crazy two years ago when BYU interviewed him before hiring Sitake. But now something nontraditional might be the Cougars’ solution.
In any case, BYU’s offensive coordinator will determine the makeup of the staff, and that’s where this will get interesting. With the NCAA allowing schools to hire a 10th assistant coach in January, some varied staffing opportunities are available. Detmer would be fine as a quarterback coach, the only questions being whether he want to do that and if his presence would be awkward for the coordinator.
Even when it comes to hiring assistant coaches, BYU’s staffing pool is limited. That explains the lack of outside experience in the offensive meeting room, which definitely hurt Detmer. So the new guy shouldn’t have any issues with Detmer coaching the QBs and becoming more active in recruiting.
Maybe he never would have returned to Provo as merely a QB coach, but that would have been a better starting point for Detmer in the college ranks as a former Texas high school coach. My old-school belief is that everybody should work their up in the profession, such as Whittingham’s spending six years at Idaho State.
Detmer jumped right into a demanding job, and it didn’t work.