BYU’s new collection of offensive coaches is just how a good Group of Five football program’s staff should look. The only question is why coach Kalani Sitake and athletic director Tom Holmoe, in some order, needed two years to assemble such a group.
As someone who studies this stuff, I wouldn’t judge offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and BYU’s three other incoming assistants (plus Steve Clark, the only holdover) as a Power Five-level staff. That would be asking a lot, considering the program’s current status and the unique culture of the school.
Yet this certainly is an upgrade over the previous staff, because of the outside experience and levels of responsibility that have shaped the careers of Aaron Roderick, Fesi Sitake and Ryan Pugh.
Sitake is Kalani’s cousin. In the context that those two consider themselves brothers, all three of the state’s FBS head coaches now have brothers working for them. If those hirings were mildly biased, so was everything that went into creating Kalani Sitake’s original offensive staff.
The greatest myth of the profession is that being a good player translates to being a good coach. The skills of running with the football or catching it can be taught, what really matters is the knowledge required to develop a scheme and a weekly game plan. That’s what BYU’s 2017 offensive staff lacked, judging by prior credentials — and the results on the field during a 4-9 season.
And that’s why veteran coach Gary Andersen, as an example, will be so valuable in Utah’s defensive meeting room. Ty Detmer needed a stronger staff around him if he was going to thrive in his first college job as BYU’s offensive coordinator. Instead, he was surrounded by good people who love BYU, but clearly were unable to give him the necessary help.
Whatever role Holmoe played in building or authorizing Sitake’s first staff, he should have known better than to do what fans would have done — choosing some of their all-time favorite players and plugging them in as coaches. Even as a former head coach at California, Holmoe overestimated Detmer’s ability to jump into a demanding position with such inexperience around him.
Questions naturally exist about how Grimes will perform in his first shot as a coordinator. Undoubtedly, it will help that Roderick is a former Pac-12 coordinator. Clark and Fesi Sitake held those jobs in the Big Sky Conference, and Sitake made a good impression during Weber State’s recent FCS playoff run.
Everybody should start at the FCS level, as Kyle Whittingham did for six years at Idaho State, and work their way up in the profession. That’s the kind of experience Reno Mahe, Ben Cahoon and Mike Empey were missing.
Having grown up as a coach’s kid, I fully recognize that real people are involved in these transactions, and families are affected. I also know it’s part of the profession, and some fallout of BYU’s disastrous season was inevitable. These were difficult decisions, especially when it meant Cahoon’s being dismissed for the second time in five years. It’s also unfortunate, if understandable, that Detmer didn’t stay as the quarterbacks coach.
Something like this happened once before in this decade, when former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall switched out his entire offensive staff. Robert Anae returned to Provo from Arizona as the coordinator in 2013 and hired Garett Tujague, Guy Holliday, Mark Atuaia and Jason Beck. Those guys did a good job for three seasons together in Provo, and four of them (all except Holliday, who’s now at Utah) also have done nice work under Mendenhall at Virginia, never mind that the Cavaliers failed to score an offensive point in their last two games of 2017.
In any case, before Grimes ever calls a play, I would rank BYU’s 2018 offensive staff as comparable to that group. If BYU had chosen Roderick or Fesi Sitake as the coordinator, that would have been a tougher sell than having them as position coaches. They should be very good in those roles, and they’ll help Grimes.
Pugh, who played for Grimes at Auburn and worked as his graduate assistant at three schools, is coming from Texas-San Antonio, an FBS program. UTSA coach Frank Wilson has proven to be a good judge of coaching talent, based on other jobs his assistants have landed (Mendenhall just hired one of them, former Utah State player Ricky Brumfield).
Kalani Sitake knew significant changes were necessary, and I give him credit for making them. The next issue is how long it will take these offensive coaches to make an impact. It is either good or bad for them that the former staff made improving fairly easy in 2018.
Records for BYU’s offensive coordinators in the Bronco Mendenhall and Kalani Sitake coaching eras:
Robert Anae, 2005-2010 • 56-21.
Brandon Doman, 2011-12 • 18-8.
Anae, 2013-15 • 25-14.
Ty Detmer, 2016-17 • 13-13.