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BYU’s search for an Offensive Coordinator: Roderick could be more than just a “buddy hire”

Aaron Roderick has more to offer than close ties to Kalani Sitake

Aaron Roderick

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 former Utah offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick.

The 2013 offseason was a busy one for BYU Football.

Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman and the rest of his staff were relieved of their duties and old friend Robert Anae was asked to come back to Provo where he could retake the post he held from 2006-2010. After a couple of seasons learning under Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Bronco Mendenhall wanted him to bring an uptempo attack to Provo.

As part of the rebuild of BYU’s offensive staff, it was announced that Aaron Roderick would be one of the assistant coaches. The press release is still posted on BYU’s website. It even has a Honor Code appropriate photo of Aaron with a clean shaven look, which stands in stark contrast to the long hair and beard he usually sported while on the sidelines at Utah.

It was supposed to be a homecoming for the former wide receiver, but instead of joining the offensive staff, he backtracked and decided to stick around in Salt Lake City, where he would continue to coach alongside his friend Kalani Sitake.

It’s this connection to BYU’s head coach that could bring Roderick back to his alma mater. It's also the reason why many Cougar fans want Kalani to look into other candidates.

The two started coaching together at Southern Utah in 2003 where they were both on the offensive staff, with Aaron leading the way as the offensive coordinator. In 2005, they both left Cedar City for Salt Lake City where Kalani coached the linebackers and Aaron coached the receivers. They were there for the next nine seasons until Kalani departed for Oregon State to team up with Gary Andersen. Roderick stayed in Utah were he got his second shot at a co-offensive coordinator position he shared with offensive line coach Jim Harding. All told, Kalani and Aaron spent 12 seasons on the same staff.

More recently, Roderick has been spotted on BYU's practice field during fall camp. He might have been there as an unofficial offensive consultant at most or more likely just a friendly visit. Either way, it shows that the two coaches are still close and that Kalani might turn to Roderick to help rebuild his offensive staff.

The mention of Roderick as the OC often elicits a negative reaction among Cougar fans either because he flaked out the job offer in 2013 or the fact that he would be seen as a "buddy hire", someone that might not have the best resume but gets a pass because he's friends with the head coach. BYU is in desperate need of an experienced play-caller, and Roderick's up-and-down career at Utah might not indicate the level of success that would qualify him for the job.

Looking at his time at Utah one might wonder, "He was promoted to the co-offensive coordinator position only to get demoted one year later, re-promoted again and then fired. Is that the guy we want?"

While that kind of trajectory doesn't look great on paper, more details might help give context for his experience at Utah.

In Roderick’s first season as co-offensive coordinator in 2010, he was paired up with Dave Schramm, who had the OC position all to himself in 2009. The offense laid waste to a majority of their schedule (they dropped 68 points on Iowa State) but struggled against their quality opponents in TCU, Notre Dame and Boise State. A poor performance in their bowl game where they only scored three points and an impending move to the Pac-12 Conference might have motivated Kyle Whittingham to shake things up.

Oddly enough, Utah brought in Norm Chow to take over the offense. It was a puzzling choice because Chow was being pushed out at UCLA after a disappointing three-year stint with the Bruins. Either way, Roderick was demoted back to coach the receivers to make way for the once great offensive mind in Chow, who ended up leaving after one year to take over as the head coach at Hawaii.

From there, Kyle Whittingham decided to promote QB coach Brian Johnson to take over the reigns while Roderick added “passing game coordinator” to his title. 2012 was a bust as the Utes went 5-7, prompting more change on the offensive staff. In 2013, they brought in Dennis Erickson, who just like Norm Chow, would have been a real sexy hire twenty years earlier. He and Brian Johnson shared co-offensive coordinator duties until 2014 when they brought in recently-fired Dave Christensen who, guess what, only lasted one year.

It wasn’t until 2015 that Roderick was once again named as the co-offensive coordinator and play-caller alongside offensive line coach Jim Harding. In the two seasons as co-offensive coordinator, the Utes had one of the best rushing offenses in the conference. But in the 2016 season, they struggled in the red zone where they only converted on 77.8 percent of red zone possessions, ranking them 106th in the country in that category. At the end of the season, Roderick was fired.

A few quick takeaways from what was obviously a very odd stretch.

  1. Never at any point was Roderick given full control of the offense. In his last two seasons he was the play-caller but he was still a co-coordinator with Jim Harding.
  2. Utah mad a slew of terrible hires to the offensive staff. As mentioned Norm Chow was failing as the OC at UCLA before he was hired at Utah. Then there was Dennis Erickson who was fired at Arizona State followed by Dave Christensen who was, you guessed it, fired by Wyoming. If Utah had any success on offense it wasn’t because of these hires, but it was in spite of them.
  3. In Roderick’s last two years as co-coordinator, there were some bright spots (outside of the red zone struggles); specifically, the play of Devin Booker and Joe Williams, who were absolute studs, was a highlight.

With context, his career at Utah is doesn’t look too bad. With lots of different hires and turnover, it was probably difficult for Aaron to establish himself and his own offensive philosophy. If he were given the opportunity and autonomy, he could have the chance to do things his own way. What that looks like is entirely unknown, but we most likely didn’t get to see it at Utah.

At the end of the day, he has a lot of the qualities that BYU is looking for in an offensive coordinator, including play calling experience, recruiting inroads and an understanding of the culture / Honor Code. It might not be the “home run” hire that fans are looking for, but it also won’t be just a “buddy hire” without merit.