BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe talks ESPN contract, Cougars’ future as a football independent, and more

BYU boss backs struggling football coach Kalani Sitake, says it was difficult to release offensive coordinator Ty Detmer

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Tom Holmoe, Athletic Director, Brigham Young University, talks about the new menÕs college basketball showcase featuring BYU, Utah, USU, and Weber State, at Vivint Smart Home Arena, Thursday, July 21, 2016.

Provo • Brigham Young University is not actively looking to place its independent football team into a conference outside one of the five power conferences, athletic director Tom Holmoe said Wednesday during an hourlong roundtable discussion with reporters who cover the school’s athletic program.

“You can ask me that question a thousand times, and that answer is going to be, ‘if that day comes, you are going to know it,’” Holmoe said. “It is the same answer I have always said: We are not looking right now to get into another league.”

Holmoe has said in the past that independence is not sustainable in the long term, but he backed away from that stand a bit at the Marriott Center Annex Wednesday, saying that where the Cougars are now is better than they would be if they were in a Group of Five conference such as the Mountain West.

Answering more than 60 questions, Holmoe discussed everything from the recent release of offensive coordinator and BYU legend Ty Detmer to the school’s contract with ESPN that expires after the 2019 season to his Super Bowl pick — the Patriots.

He also said the football team’s recent 4-9 season never caused him to consider firing second-year coach Kalani Sitake, who went 9-4 in his first year.

“However, changes definitely needed to be made,” Holmoe said.

Asked why Detmer, the former Heisman Trophy winner, wasn’t given a third year to right the offensive ship, Holmoe said that was a question for Sitake.

“It came down to a feeling for Kalani,” Holmoe said, acknowledging that it was Sitake’s call but the coach discussed the matter with him before pulling the trigger.

The athletic director acknowledged that Detmer “might be the most beloved BYU football player ever” and he was “grateful for how he’s handled it.”

Detmer remains under contract to the school through July but is no longer involved with the football program, Holmoe said.

The new staff that Sitake has assembled, led by new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, will be the most highly paid football staff in BYU history, Holmoe said. Sitake made the call to hire Grimes, but Holmoe was on board.

Holmoe also addressed other topics:

• He said BYU has been in recent discussions with Notre Dame for the Irish to make their long-awaited return trip to Provo for the football game they owe BYU. Holmoe said it will probably be settled with a game, and not a cash buyout, but it could take awhile.

• Holmoe said talks with ESPN about extending its contract with BYU are “ongoing all the time” and going well despite the dismal football season. He said serious negotiations for beyond 2019 “will probably happen within the next year.”

• Holmoe said whether or not Nick Emery will return to the basketball team next season “really lies with Nick” and that the school will support him either way. He confirmed that the NCAA investigation into Emery’s receiving potential improper benefits from a BYU booster is ongoing and that BYU contacted the sport’s governing body the same day it became aware of the alleged improprieties. He said the NCAA “put it on the back burner” when Emery withdrew from BYU the day before the season starter.

• Holmoe said he talks frequently with Utah athletic director Chris Hill and is “comfortable” saying that both schools want to continue playing each other in football. “Chris wants to play,” he said.

• Holmoe called the Beehive Classic basketball tournament that pits instate schools “a good thing.”

• Holmoe said BYU will again be a “free agent” for a 2018 bowl game because it does not have a bowl agreement in place. The Cougars will play in the 2019 Hawaii bowl if bowl eligible that year.

• Holmoe said he is not being aggressive in preparing for basketball coach Dave Rose’s retirement. “It is very good where we are at. We’ll discuss it when the time comes. We’re not there yet,” he said. Rose is 60.

• Holmoe, who sits on the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee with MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, said that the MWC’s stance toward BYU has softened considerably since it left the league in 2011. He said he almost got a football series with Air Force last year, but it fell through.