Gordon Monson: New BYU president’s big brain could help Kalani Sitake win games or pass judgment on him for losing them

C. Shane Reese’s football background can be a useful weapon as the Cougars enter the Big 12 Conference.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) C. Shane Reese will become the new president of Brigham Young University on May 1, 2023.

BYU has a new president and, by all accounts, it looks like he’s a big-time Cougar football fan. Perfect timing as BYU now enters the Big 12. The school will need someone in charge who follows and understands the game, understands its nuances, its needs and practicalities, understands winning and, more importantly in the early going, understands losing.

Transitioning from independence, where there is no championship to win or lose, to a competitive power conference where comparison with other programs will be a weekly endeavor, is bound to present its challenges for a university that has utilized football not just to gain and energize boosters and the money they donate, but to build a reputation, to lift a profile, to draw students and fans.

C. Shane Reese, the new guy, has to have processed all of that. And his processing is now on the verge of going throttle up.

He was announced by church leader Jeffrey Holland as BYU’s incoming president on Tuesday at a school devotional, the move effective on May 1.

Get this: Reese is a BYU vice president and statistics professor, a man who Holland said once turned down a front-office job with the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, that’s the kind of university poo-bah Kalani Sitake can get behind. Even better, Reese headed the school’s Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging, which determined — correctly so — that BYU needed to address and get rid of every kind of racism.

Right on, Brother Reese. President.

Wait, there’s more. He’s previously helped BYU in its attempt to win football games, breaking down statistical information to do so, according to a report in the Deseret News. Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, when he coached in Philadelphia, relied on Reese’s acumen to help the Eagles in chasing victory, analyzing plays, players, coaches’ decisions, strategies.

BYU football coaches, players and fans probably couldn’t be happier with this new appointment.

A university president who is a fan can be a great boon to a football program. Many past BYU presidents have been emotional fans. Merrill Bateman, who was the school’s president from 1996 to 2003, once chased me down walking to his car, which happened to be parked in front of my house for a funeral for a mutual friend at a nearby church, yelling to me, “Hey, Gordon, when are we going to convince you to be a fan of the Cooouuuuuggggaaaarrrrsss?” I swear, that’s how he said it.

Wiping tears away at the loss of my friend, I simply waved and said, “Sorry, not a fan. Just a columnist.”

He didn’t seem to want to accept that response.

But Reese appears to be different. Sounds like his fandom might be planted in the real dirt of numbers and computation, if that dirt is actually real, enough so that an NFL team wanted to hire him away from BYU to better its cause on the field.

Yeah, I know, stats are liars.

Here’s the famous quote, “There are three kinds of lies … lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

A little less untucked is this one, spoken by some smart dude who studies stats: “Many a statistic is false on its face. It gets by only because the magic of numbers brings about a suspension of common sense.”

Tell that to the millions of fans — bettors and non-bettors, alike — and, more significantly, the hundreds of coaches and executives who depend on metrics and analytics, numeric tendencies and computations of all kinds, to make their decisions, decisions that their teams and their own continued employment depend upon.

Not sure if Shane Reese will straight help BYU win football games. I mean the guy, it is said, was once hired at the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Statistical Sciences Division, using his big brain to help establish complex stuff like … I dunno, government missile systems.

But he’s likely to at least grasp BYU’s reasons for winning or losing. And that capability, depending on which way it leans, will either be good news or bad for Sitake and his assistants, an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on who and what the numbers not just favor, but befriend.