For the second time in three seasons BYU is in search of a new guiding light on offense. With the release of Ty Detmer from the offensive coordinator position there has been much speculation as to who could be the next play caller for the Cougars. Every day until BYU names a new offensive coordinator Vanquish The Foe will be profiling a specific candidate and what makes them right (or wrong) for the position. Today we take a look at Oklahoma’s wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons.
When it comes to hiring the “right coach” at the college level, there is no exact science that will guarantee success.
In an ideal situation, a team will find a coach that possesses the perfect mix of experience and success, along with a tenacious recruiting track record and maybe even some connection to the program. If you’re a blue blood program you can usually check off most of these boxes. But in BYU’s case, where money limits their candidate pool, the bar is set a little lower.
With two of the last three offensive coordinator hires, Brandon Doman and Ty Detmer, BYU skimped on the experience column and hoped that time on the NFL sideline as a backup would translate to coaching gold. There will be an endless debate online if Ty was given a fair shake (there are a few that still ask the same about Doman) but the results paint a clear picture of failure on both hires.
So if this approach to hiring an offensive coordinator was a bust, should BYU follow the path that lead them to a successful hire with Robert Anae?
If they did use this same approach BYU would almost have an identical candidate in Dennis Simmons, the current wide receivers coach at Oklahoma. When you compare their resumes, they are strikingly similar.
Anae and Simmons are both BYU alumni
It usually helps to have a connection or familiarity with BYU because of the unique nature of the school and just like Robert Anae, Dennis Simmons played college ball in Provo. While Anae was an offensive lineman in the early 80s, Simmons was an outside linebacker for the Cougars in the 90s. It’s also interesting to note that both were on two of the most successful teams in program history, with Anae playing on the 1984 national championship team and Simmons suiting up for the 1996 squad that finished 14-1 and no. 5 in the AP and Coaches polls.
Their experiences with BYU didn’t end there as both of them served as graduate assistants in Provo, where they saw things from a coaches perspective.
Anae and Simmons honed their craft under the tutelage of Mike Leach at P5 programs
There isn’t a more fascinating character and prolific offensive mind in the world of college football than Mike Leach, and both Anae and Simmons were position coaches under the swashbuckling pirate himself. After pit stops at Ricks College, Boise State and UNLV, Robert Anae spent four seasons as the offensive line coach with Mike Leach when he first took the head coaching job at Texas Tech. It was the high-powered offenses of the Red Raiders that drew Tom Holmoe to selecting Anae to take over BYU’s offense in 2005.
Dennis Simmons has a much longer working relationship with Mike Leach, one that has spanned more than 10 years, across two programs. Simmons started at Texas Tech in an administrative role on Leach’s staff, as his “chief of staff” and quality control specialist. After working with the receivers at Texas Tech, he joined up with fellow Texas Tech assistant Lincoln Riley (now head coach at OU) at East Carolina for two seasons before rejoining Leach at Washington State. Simmons is now back with Riley at Oklahoma but it’s clear Dennis (and Lincoln Riley) were heavily influenced by Leach.
Anae didn’t have any experience calling plays when he was hired by BYU and Simmons has yet to cross that bridge in his career
One knock on Simmons that he hasn’t had any experience calling plays and his depth is limited to his position group, but this was the same case for Robert Anae when he was first hired. While Anae did have the title of “run game coordinator” in addition to being the offensive line coach at UNLV in 1998, in his four years at Texas Tech he wasn’t calling the shots. That didn’t stop him from implementing a successful offense in his first six seasons at BYU. While it eventually became commonplace among BYU fans to question his play calling (particularly the draws on 3rd-and-long) the results were much better under Anae than they were under Doman or Detmer.
Dennis Simmons has yet to be charged with play-calling duties but he has the respect of his players and the results to go-along with it. After Oklahoma’s road win over rival Oklahoma State, Heisman front-runner Baker Mayfield mentioned Simmons by name when talking about the Sooner offensive mindset.
"We play with an edge. That edge is good for us. We know how to win on the road, but we know how to battle adversity in a hostile environment. When people doubt us, we play well. The coaches that we have brought in the last few years ... coach (head coach Lincoln) Riley and coach (outside receivers coach Dennis) Simmons have instilled such a mindset that we have been able to carry it out and play for them.''
Simmons is only one of two wide receiver coaches to have coached two different Biletnikoff Award winners in Dede Westbrook and Michael Crabtree. Everywhere he’s gone (Texas Tech, East Carolina, Washington State or Oklahoma) the wide outs have shined.
Similarities to Anae aside, would Simmons consider taking the job?
This remains the key question with Simmons already commanding a salary of $350,000 at one of the premier college football programs in the country. Also, Simmons’ wife is from Texas and was apparently a factor in his decision to leave Pullman for the job in Oklahoma.
The one advantage that BYU would be able to offer is a chance for Simmons to blaze a trail of his own. His entire career he has worked under the shadow of Leach and now rising star Riley. At Oklahoma there are two co-offensive coordinators so the likelihood of him taking over the reigns there seems unlikely, at least in the near future. If Simmons wants to prove himself, BYU could be a perfect springboard to showing the rest of country what he can do when he’s calling the shots. The offense coordinator position at BYU won’t command a handsome salary but the growth potential could be invaluable.
For BYU, this could be an opportunity to bring home a former player and revamp a dormant offense that saw historic lows in 2017. There is definitely a level of risk with Simmons only having experience as a position coach, but that didn’t stop Robert Anae from bringing a fun offense back to Provo in 2005.
In the end if Tom Holmoe wants go back to what worked the first time around, we could see Dennis in the booth (or on the sideline) in 2018.