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Heath Schroyer is BYU basketball’s new assistant coach. What does it mean?

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The veteran coach returns to Provo after 16 years away. How will his addition to the staff bolster the Cougars?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio Valley Conference Tournament-Tennessee Martin vs Moorehead State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

After a lengthy search, Heath Schroyer will join the men’s basketball program as an assistant coach, replacing the recently departed Terry Nashif. CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein first broke the news:

The hire represents a homecoming of sorts for Schroyer, who previously served as an assistant in Provo from 1997 to 2001, when Steve Cleveland manned the Cougars’ bench. Current head coach Dave Rose was also an assistant on that staff.

Since leaving BYU, Schroyer has been on an extended journey through the Division I coaching ranks—including stops as the head man at Wyoming, Portland State and Tennessee Martin, and stints as an assistant at Wyoming, Fresno State, UNLV and, most recently, North Carolina State where he was the associate head coach under Mark Gottfried last season.

So, on the surface, the Cougars are getting a known commodity with two decades of experience in the coaching profession. But let’s dig deeper than that. What is Schroyer bringing to the table — and what could that mean for the program next season and beyond? Let’s take a look.

A reputation for defense

Heath Schroyer carries with him, first and foremost, a reputation for building strong defenses — and it’s one that is well-earned.

Schroyer has been the architect of several elite defenses over his career, including at BYU. During his final season in Provo in 2001, he led the Cougars to a Top 20 finish in scoring defense — only four years removed from the worst season in program history, when they finished 289th. For comparison, there were only 305 team in Division I that year. And yes, that is the season that BYU finished 1-25. So the turnaround during Schroyer’s tenure was pretty remarkable.

But he didn’t just do it in Provo. Schroyer has also built Top 50 defenses (as measured by KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings) at three different non-BYU stops — including a strong run where his UNLV teams finished 27th in 2011-12 and 12th in 2012-13.

So Schroyer has demonstrated the ability to architect elite-level defenses, even at mid-major schools. As such, it appears likely that he’ll take over “defensive coordinator” duties from Quincy Lewis, who has helped the Cougars make strides over the past two seasons but never quite found a way to get consistent results. The hope will be that Schroyer — who is known for holding players accountable for their performance on the defensive side of the ball (in a legendarily shrill voice) — can help the Cougars take the next step, while Lewis assumes Nashif’s role as the team’s offensive play-caller, which seems like a more natural fit for his talents.

Expanding the recruiting pipeline

Schroyer has also proven himself to be a strong recruiter, particularly as an assistant. At UNLV, he helped former head coach (and fellow BYU coaching alumnus) Dave Rice build multiple recruiting classes that were ranked among the Top 25 nationally.

Granted, recruiting future Cougars is always a uniquely challenging exercise that doesn’t quite compare with recruiting players at any other school — but then again, Schroyer already knows the drill. After all, he’s done it before in his time rebuilding the program with Cleveland.

Schroyer could also bring a different perspective that’s been missing from BYU’s recruiting efforts in recent years. As a non-LDS coach who is intimately familiar with the school in all its peculiarity, he will be well positioned to make the case for BYU to non-LDS athletes and other who may not necessarily fit the stereotypical Cougar mold.

And as someone who has coached across the country, Schroyer also brings a wealth of relationships with high school and AAU coaches in regions beyond the Intermountain West, which could help the Cougars open new doors to new athletes and expand beyond their current Wasatch Front-centric recruiting pipeline. As a Maryland native who maintains deep ties in the area, he could certainly help BYU make headway in the Mid-Atlantic region’s talent-rich hoops scene.

A steady hand

Obviously Schroyer isn’t new to this. He’s been around the block several times. And while some (myself included) mused that BYU might benefit from getting some new blood into the program by hiring a younger assistant coach, Rose felt the opposite. A source close to the program tells Vanquish The Foe that hiring a candidate with previous collegiate head coaching experience was a priority consideration for Rose throughout the process.

Schroyer has that in spades, with three stints as the head man at different schools. He understands what it takes to run a program, because he’s played every role in doing it — and Rose is betting that his steady hand will be able to help steer BYU’s unexpectedly adrift ship back on course.

Only time will tell if that will be the case, but many of the ingredients for success certainly seem to be present. All things considered, Schroyer may represent the best possible hire that BYU — with all its inherent limitations — could have realistically made.