Albuquerque, N.M.• At 7 a.m. each morning, Gavin Fowler schleps into his office inside the BYU football building and turns on a small monitor.
He loads up the practice film from the day before and starts his daily race against time — grading out the linebackers and special teams. He has an hour until the group coaches’ meeting, and with this workload, there can’t be much wasted time.
If this were a normal week, Fowler would only have to focus on the scout team and outside linebackers. But in this bowl season, when nearly all the defensive staff has been fired or moved on and the rest of the coaches are recruiting, graduate assistants and analysts like him have morphed into the de facto staff.
In preparing for SMU, they are the ones cobbling together a game plan, running team meetings and deciding on practice schedules. Unproven and new, they are the unlikely key to whether BYU is ready for this game in New Mexico or not.
“All the guys that remained just had to step in and take over everything really,” said Fowler, an analyst who started in 2019. “The analysts like me, Jan [Jorgensen], Randy Coy and Vince [Feula] each have a position group. Less hands on deck. All the game-planning, all the practice prep is split between all of us working in close coordination with [head coach Kalani Sitake] to make sure we game-plan appropriately.
“It is a good experience.”
Experience, yes. But also pressure, knowing this week could come down to guys who don’t normally run team meetings, much less run a college program for a week.
Sure, bowl season is normally busy for the support staff. The recruiting season is in full swing in December, and the coaching staff is typically on a mad dash trying to do home visits across the country. Very rarely do teams have a full staff on the homestead as their team tries to prepare for an opponent, meaning other staffers have to pick up the slack.
But there is more on the plate of the fresh-faced analysts than most could expect. That is because, even when BYU’s full staff does show up, it is basically half-empty.
It has led to guys like Fowler leading two position meetings every day, something that doesn’t even happen for coaches in the regular season.
And come game day, the support staff will be thrown into coaching positions. Jorgensen will be in the booth where the defensive coordinator normally sits. Fowler, Coy and Feula will all be on the field.
“Everyone is just helping out where they can to make sure the team is ready,” defensive end Tyler Batty said, after recently losing his position coach in the staff changes. “We have been working with Jorgensen. In this time of transition he has been awesome.”
BYU has only one defensive coach, Jernaro Gilford, who was retained and will coach the bowl game. But even he has been in and out of town as he recruits.
He said he is trying to take on a bigger role when he is in town, but he is also relying on the staff to help him out.
“Collectively, myself, Kalani, the analysts and the graduate assistants all are having a part in it,” Gilford said. “To kind of get the game plan in.”
On Saturday, Sitake will still call plays and he said if things go badly he is to blame. He also knows, though, a lot of the work to get that defense prepared wasn’t done by him.
“They have done a great job,” Sitake said. “When you get toward the end of the year, the players know what they are doing. It is actually cool because the players know there is a little more needed from them to work with the analysts and the GAs.”
So when BYU steps onto the field at the University of New Mexico, Fowler and the rest of the support staff will first take a breather, knowing their leg work is done. And then, it will likely morph into stress, seeing how their work holds up.
“With us being a little short-handed, we are going to rely on the players to do well,” Sitake said. “It should be good.”