“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
This is a question that most of us have encountered during a job interview, first date or moment of deep personal introspection. Your potential employer or significant other may ask this question in order to gauge how much thought you have invested in your future, and if they see themselves as part of your concocted projection. You ask yourself this question because you know at some point someone will ask you and you don’t want to be stuck saying something unimpressive.
Usually, there are a few different versions of the answer that are presented. There is the wildly optimistic answer where dream jobs are discovered, true love is realized, personal achievements are unlimited and fame and fortune is achieved through a mix of hard work, natural ingenuity and good fortune. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the pessimistic answer in which little progress is made (if any at all) and the only spec of optimism is that you have survived, but only to dread having to think about what will happen in the following five years.
Somewhere in between these two answers is reality, the healthy mix of ups and downs that are so entirely unpredictable that even the most advanced scientists and mathematicians have yet to find an accurate method of prognostication.
In short, predicting the future is pretty gosh dang hard and in most cases impossible.
Impossible as it may be, nothing is going to stop us from taking a stab at what the future will hold for the football program at BYU.
When applying this “where do you see ourself in five years” question to BYU Football program, the same thoughts of wild optimism and profound pessimism are abundant. After perusing Twitter, the fountain of hot takes, I was able to find people who said in five years that BYU will win a national championship and others who think football at BYU will cease to exist. In between these two outlandish outcomes there is a Texas-sized space and within that massive amount of real estate lays a small, one-acre plot where reality lives. It’s not going to be exact but let’s see if we can find it.
The curious thing about predicting the future with BYU Football is how much relative certainty already exists. Thanks to the large majority of Cougars making the choice to serve two-year missions, it can be assumed that large number of those in the recent 2017 recruiting class will still be part of the program. Also, thanks to BYU’s independent scheduling, we know that the schedule will progressively get tougher with a variety of P5 opponents leading up to the 2022 season that sees the Cougars facing off against Stanford, Oregon, Utah, Baylor, USF and Boise State.
So what are the areas of possible uncertainty? Let’s explore each aspect of the program.
After making a change at the head coaching position in 2016, it’s hard to say that in the year 2022 BYU will be headed up by anyone other than Kalani Sitake. We’ve only had one season under the new regime, and it was relatively successful. Couple this initial nine-win campaign with a renewed emphasis on recruiting, the likelihood of Sitake leading the team to a place where athletic director Tom Holmoe would need to make a change is slim to none. It’s also doubtful that Kalani would leave BYU on his own terms to lead a P5 program that could offer better compensation. Over the course of the last year, he made it abundantly clear that BYU is his home and he wants to be the Polynesian version of LaVell Edwards.
With Kalani locked in for the long haul, where does that leave the rest of the coaching staff? In an era where dozens of head coaches are fired every season, the waves of change reverberate throughout the country with some coaches joining up with old comrades and others looking for an upgrade in salary. If there is one thing I can guarantee, it is that the staff will look different in 2022.
Let’s start with the most obvious candidate for departure in assistant head coach Ed Lamb. The BYU graduate did a masterful job with the special teams this last year, and it’s been mentioned many times how valuable his input and assistance has been for the relatively young (and extremely inexperienced) staff. He’ll probably stick around for a couple more years, but I fully expect a P5 program to bring him on as an assistant or for him to possibly land a G5 head coaching position. He did a great job pumping life into the SUU football team and someone down the road will remember that.
What other changes will be made in the next five years? In a move to try and save his job, Gary Anderson will hire Ilaisa Tuiaki back to Oregon State where he will retain his title as defensive coordinator. Steve Kaufusi will retire after his sons Corbin and Devin graduate, and coming in to take his spot will be former defensive lineman and current director of football operations Russell Tialavea. Gernaro GIlford will do a stellar job bolstering BYU’s secondary and will get an attractive offer to coach somewhere else. The offensive staff will remain mostly intact with the exception being the departure of Steve Clark who will take a job at Utah State, making him one of the few coaches to be employed by every division one football team in the state of Utah.
One of the coaches that wasn’t mentioned above is offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. When the former Heisman Trophy winner was hired there were, once again, two extreme schools of thought surrounding the former quarterback. One was that Ty was going to have a lot of success at BYU, in fact it would be too much success as he would eventually find himself showered with better offers to be a head coach or high profile OC. The other extreme take was that Ty’s lack of experience coaching and calling plays at the college level would be exposed and after two or three years he would be back hunting on his ranch in Texas.
I don’t see either of these two things happening, and you can choose to see that as a good thing or a bad thing. For one, the BYU offense will be better in the coming years than it was in 2016. By 2022 the offense will look nothing like the Go Fast Go Hard unit that Detmer inherited when we arrived on campus but will be a balanced attack that’s more deliberate and relies on strength up front. After two years of Mangum magic (yes, Tanner will stick around for 2018) and a gap year with Kody Wilstead or Jaren Hall, Ty will be able to coach up prized recruit Tanner Mckee. Some will even speculate that in the 2022 season McKee could be a dark-horse Heisman candidate, after putting up solid numbers throwing to his favorite TE targets Dallin Holker and Bentley Hanshaw.
While the offense will continue to grow, it will never reach the expected peak of excellence that many in Provo have placed before Detmer. The passing attack will be good, but for some it will never be good enough, which will have more to do with the difficult schedule and less to do with Detmer’s abilities as a coach. If BYU were to play a fluffy Mountain West conference schedule then yes, the offense would appear to be just like the “good ole days” but with the likes of USC, Tennessee and Washington on the schedule it will be a much tougher task.
While the blue-haired BYU faithful will continue to argue about the offense (they always have and always will) the Cougar defense will continue to grow. Having a defensive-minded head coach usually means the program will take that to be their strength and it will be the same in this case. After years of bringing in defensive recruits (including once Utah commit Gabe Reid), the front seven for BYU will be a forced to be reckoned with, particularly the defensive line. The adjustment from 3-4 to 4-3 was a little bit of an adventure in year one, but after five more seasons the d-line will boast enviable depth.
The main challenge on defense will be keeping pace with the evolving passing attacks of the future. More teams will look to use every square inch of the field and challenge players in space, similar to what West Virginia did to BYU in 2016. The continued exploration and integration of advanced analytics will only make these offenses better and it will be tough for anyone to stop them.
After making a light facelift to the indoor practice faculty and another expansion of the Student Athlete Building in 2019, BYU will announce a serious renovation to LaVell Edwards Stadium at the end of the 2021 season. To be clear, it won’t be an expansion but rather a renovation that actually decreases the attendance by 2,000 and will look to give fans better in-stadium experience. The east and west side stands will look completely different, with each side essentially splitting into two decks (as opposed to one continuous section of seats) getting fans on the top deck closer to the field and making it louder than ever on the field.
Don’t worry, there is one thing that will stay the same. BYU will still have a natural grass field. That ain’t changing.
CONFERENCE / TV DEAL / BOWL GAME
In 2022 BYU will still be independent and they will still have a majority of their games broadcast on ESPN, but with one small shift. After already scheduling a slew of Pac-12 opponents, BYU was able to negotiate a partnership with the conference thanks to new Pac-12 commissioner Jamie Zaninovich (friend of BYU from his days working with the WCC). The deal states that the Pac-12 will guarantee BYU four opponents each year with at least one home game, one road game, one neutral site game in Las Vegas. The deal feels somewhat uncertain with other major TV deals about to expire in the coming years, but it’s a good step in the right direction for BYU.
With the demise of the San Diego Chargers comes the end of an era for the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls, but it does open up games at other fair weather venues in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. In 2022, BYU commits to future games at both the newly-minted Hollywood Bowl (to be played at the Rams / Chargers stadium, not the actual Hollywood Bowl) and the Las Vegas Bowl, which has been bumped up to a New Years Eve game (not NY6) thanks to the new, high-profile venue.
Whenever you make a prediction about something happening in the future, you have to be prepared to be wrong. However, informed as these opinions might be about the years to come, they are still shots in the dark.
If you would like to take your shot in the dark, tell us what you think BYU Football will look like in the next five years in the comments section below.