Eye On The Y is The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly newsletter on BYU athletics. Subscribe here.
The last time BYU had a head men’s basketball coaching opening, it was pretty apparent to most people close to the program that eight-year assistant Dave Rose would get the job to replace Steve Cleveland, who was moving on to Fresno State after a 9-21 season in Provo.
That wasn’t true in 1997, when BYU brass began an exhaustive search to fill a vacancy created when Roger Reid was fired seven games into the 1996-97 season and Tony Ingle became interim coach. Very few people predicted that Cleveland, then a relatively unknown coach at Fresno City College, would get the job.
“When President Merrill J. Bateman introduced Steve Cleveland as the new Brigham Young University basketball coach at the conclusion of the March 11 devotional, an audible wave of surprise swept through the Marriott Center,” future Athletic Director Val Hale wrote for BYU Magazine. “Fifteen minutes later, athletic director Rondo Fehlberg stood before cameras and microphones at a press conference and stunned media and basketball fans throughout the state with his announcement that Cleveland would become the Cougars’ new coach.”
According to a story in the Deseret News, most people were expecting University of Utah assistant Jeff Judkins (now BYU’s women’s basketball coach), Jim Harrick, Ken Wagner or Fred Trenkle to get the job.
Which brings us to April, 2019.
Will BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and deputy AD Brian Santiago go with the safe and expected choice — Utah Valley coach Mark Pope — or surprise almost everyone with a name such as Mark Madsen, Alex Jensen, Kevin Young or Barret Peery?
We told you in this newsletter last week that the job is Pope’s, if he wants it, and we’re sticking to that claim. One source told us that Pope “blew away and mesmerized” Holmoe and Santiago in an interview last week with his preparedness level and vision for the program.
Many have asked why it is taking so long. Sources tell us that Holmoe and Santiago have interviewed more than a half-dozen candidates — add BYU assistant Quincy Lewis and Wasatch Academy coach David Evans to the list of candidates mentioned above who have gotten face time with the athletic department’s leaders in the past week or so — and want to make sure that every viable candidate gets an ample opportunity to present his vision for the future of BYU basketball.
Look for an announcement to be made middle of next week — but unlike March 11, 1997, don’t expect it to be a surprise.
With spring football practices at BYU having wrapped up a week ago, it has been a fairly slow week for BYU sports news. However, any time is a good time for stories on the BYU football team, and here are a few we’ve delivered in the past seven days:
• BYU Pro Day was smaller than usual, as only six former Cougars went through all the drills and measurements in front of more than 30 representatives of NFL, CFL and AAF clubs.
• BYU coaches put an emphasis on building depth throughout most of the 15 spring practices.
• Receivers coach Fesi Sitake is looking for a few good receivers and wants a go-to guy to emerge, instead of the by-committee approach that was used last year.
• BYU’s defense was pushed around in the spring scrimmage on March 23, but a lot of frontline players didn’t participate and Ilaisa Tuiaki’s defense is expected to be stout by the time the season rolls around on Aug. 29.
Pro Day was kind of a dud because the Cougars’ two top prospects for the NFL, Sione Takitaki and Corbin Kaufusi, were mostly observers. Here’s why Kaufusi, who had three surgeries after the final regular season game, sat this one out:
“I was putting up pretty decent numbers, but I know I could do so much better given another week or two, or three weeks,So you don’t want to give the impression that you are good, when you know you can be great. You don’t want to look mediocre when you know you got a lot more in you. So that was the final decision.”
• BYU’s women’s golf team placed fourth at a tournament in Argyle, Texas, on Tuesday and will now set its sights on the West Coast Conference championships on April 18. Rose Huang tied for sixth overall in Texas, while Naomi Soifua and Allysha Mae Mateo tied for eighth.
• Despite a gut-busting 8-6 loss to a Utah team Tuesday that had lost nine-straight games, BYU’s No. 24-ranked baseball team is 21-6, tied for the second-best start through 27 games in program history. The Cougars are 7-2 in WCC play and tied with LMU atop the league standings. BYU travels to San Diego this weekend for a three-game series against the Toreros (19-10, 4-5 WCC).
• Libby Sugg went 4 for 4 at the plate and drove in three runs as BYU’s softball team walloped Southern Utah 13-4 in Cedar City on Wednesday. The Cougars had 18 hits and Arissa Paulson picked up her sixth win of the season. The Cougars open WCC play on Friday at LMU in Los Angeles.
• BYU’s No. 4-ranked men’s track team and No. 24-ranked women’s track team will compete in the Sun Angel Classic in Tempe, Ariz., on Friday and Saturday. Last week, Erica Birk-Jarvis broke her fourth school record in the last three months by finishing the women’s 5000-meter run with a time of 15 minutes, 38.12 seconds. She’s also the school record-holder in the indoor mile, indoor 3000-meters and indoor distance medley relay.
• BYU’s No. 17-ranked gymnastics team will compete in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional on Friday at 1 p.m. MDT in the Maravich Center at LSU. Utah, Minnesota and Arkansas are also in the regional. BYU placed third in the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference championships after scoring a 195.750.
• BYU’s men’s tennis team climbed nine spots to No. 33 in the latest ITA/Oracle Collegiate Tennis rankings. Sean Hill moved up to No. 96 in singles and is 17-1 this season. Hill and Jeffrey Hsu are the No. 42-ranked doubles duo in the country and are 10-3. The Cougars are 16-3, 5-1 in WCC matches, after knocking off No. 24 San Diego lsat weekend in Provo. The Cougars host San Francisco on Friday.