BYU’s abysmal football season, its first losing season since 2004, claimed its first victim on Monday.
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, the former Heisman Trophy winner who was hired by head coach Kalani Sitake at the urging of athletic director Tom Holmoe two years ago, was “relieved” from his role just two days after the Cougars’ 4-9 season concluded with a 30-20 win over hapless Hawaii.
A short news release from BYU is ambiguous regarding Detmer’s future after two years in the program, so the possibility exists that he could remain on the staff in another position, perhaps quarterbacks coach.
BYU’s coaching contracts are not made public, but it was believed that Detmer had a three-year deal.
“Detmer and all coaches remain under contract on the staff,” the BYU release states. “BYU will immediately begin a search for a new offensive coordinator. The new coordinator will make decisions regarding the offensive staff.”
Detmer released his own statement via his Twitter account Monday evening, saying that “Although I’m disappointed I wont [sic] have the opportunity to turn things around as the OC, I’ll always be grateful to Kalani for giving me the opportunity to return to BYU and coach there.
“I don’t know what the future holds for our family,” Detmer added, “but I’ll always be a Cougar!”
A source with knowledge of the situation said Detmer and BYU’s other assistant coaches were informed of the change Sunday night and several other offensive coaches were fearful that they, too, would not be hired back by the new OC.
Candidates for the position could include former Utah offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick or former Hawaii coach Norm Chow; Both men have been seen around the BYU football offices a lot this past year, and both are considered close friends by Sitake.
Detmer’s dismissal, or demotion, if it comes to that, does not come as a surprise; Sitake grew more and more critical of the offense’s performance as the season worsened, but was careful not to directly criticize Detmer’s play-calling or role in its shortcomings.
Detmer’s hiring two years ago was questioned in some circles because the record-setting former BYU quarterback had never coached above the high school ranks. He was the head coach at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in the San Antonio, Texas, area before returning to BYU.
Detmer tried to return BYU to his passing roots with a pro-style offense that seemed to be outdated and a bad fit for the team’s current personnel.
Several of the offensive assistants also had little or no college coaching experience, including running backs coach Reno Mahe and receivers coach Ben Cahoon, who was brought back after being dismissed by Sitake’s predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall in an offensive purging before the 2013 season.
Injuries also played a factor in the offense’s dismal production as starting quarterback Tanner Mangum and primary backup Beau Hoge both suffered season-ending injuries. Saturday, the Cougars played with their fifth-string quarterback (freshman Joe Critchlow) and were down to their fifth- and sixth-string running backs, Austin Kafentzis and Riley Burt.
But even before Mangum suffered an ankle injury against Utah that caused him to miss the next two games, BYU’s offense struggled. It put up just 20 points against woeful Portland State and failed to cross the 50-yard line against LSU in a 27-0 shutout loss.
The Cougars finished the season ranked No. 118 in total offense (325.2 yards per game) and No. 123 in scoring offense (17.1 points per game). In only four games — against Utah State, San Jose State, UNLV and Hawaii — did the Cougars score more than 20 points.
Detmer’s offense performed reasonably well in 2016, but the Cougars had two current NFL players — quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams — who were able to shine in close games and lead BYU to a 9-4 record.
Speaking before the Hawaii game, Sitake said he knew what needed to be fixed but did not elaborate.
“That will be my job after this week,” he said. “We just need to win more football games, and I think we have an idea of how to get that done.”
Monday, at least the start of that idea was made known.