As we inch closer to the football season with each passing day, Vanquish the Foe will be here to give you in-depth analysis in our new series State of the Program. Once a week we’ll take a closer look at a specific aspect of BYU’s football program (including everything from recruiting to attendance trends) and evaluate where the program currently stands and where they might be heading. This week we’ll take a look at BYU’s revamped coaching staff.
It’s not even worth bringing up how many days there are until the next BYU football game because they are many. We sifted through the deeply unsatisfying appetizer that was spring football before the endless summer football fast. For now, we starve until we get to nibble on fall camp. That time and space between now and then will ultimately feel short once we’ve endured it but for now we trudge along.
While we’re stuck clawing at scraps of “insider” information that consists of Twitter videos of off-season workouts and cheap rumors perpetuated by that one person who is “very connected” in the program, the revamped coaching staff is hard at work as they prepare to lay a new foundation for the coming season. This fresh crop of coaches, that curiously makes the entire staff younger yet more experienced, is tasked with a rebuild that will require more urgency than what might be considered comfortable.
That urgency, however, might come natural for a group of coaches that will want to use this opportunity to work their way up the coaching ranks. The previous offensive regime was largely made up of former BYU greats that kind of wandered into coaching. Ben Cahoon was a record-setting receiver in the CFL before retiring to the coaching profession. After getting let go from BYU in 2013, he didn’t coach again until returning to Provo in 2016. Reno Mahe worked at BYU football camps after his NFL career, but didn’t get his first job coaching at the college level until he was at BYU. The same went for Ty Detmer, who jumped straight for high school coach to Division one offensive coordinator.
There is no doubt that all of these coaches are great men and will still be forever respected for their contributions on the field, but for Detmer, Mahe and Cahoon coaching college football didn’t ever seem like their calling in life. They approached their job in a professional manner, but for them it probably wasn’t the only thing. Someone who is dead set on coaching college football doesn’t take two years off or wander into some other profession. The guys who want to succeed in this business become nomads that don’t limit themselves to jobs at their alma mater. They start off with the low-paying gigs in Moscow, Idaho and El Paso, Texas trying to earn their keep and work up from there.
This is the key difference with the new members of BYU’s coaching staff. They’re at BYU because they have something to prove, not because it fell into their lap and it was a good follow-up to a career in the pros. Instead of seeing coaching as something of an afterthought, they see this as their livelihood and opportunity to establish a legacy.
For over two decades, Jeff Grimes has been working as an offensive line coach and finally has the opportunity to prove that he can be the man in charge. He’s learned from some of the game’s greatest minds, from Gus Malzahn to Matt Canada, but it’s here at BYU that he gets to take that next step. Instead of consulting on play calls, he’ll be building the playbook and calling the shots. Grimes wasn’t content to just ride out the rest of his career as an offensive line coach and he’ll be working hard to make sure it was the right choice.
Aaron Roderick spent the majority of his career in Salt Lake City and had a decent run that was muddled by a swirl of staff changes. Because of how things ended at Utah, Roderick needs to make an impact if he wants to get another shot as a coordinator, which seems to be his goal. BYU’s recent QB struggles will provide a challenging task right off the bat for a coach that wants to prove being fired was a mistake on the part of his former employer.
Fesi Sitake was a coach on one of the best FCS teams in the country but now he needs to show that he can do it on the big stage. In one of the most impressive performances of 2017, the Wildcats were able to put up 28 points on a dominant James Madison defense that didn’t give up more than 14 points the rest of the year. Can he bring some of that same magic to BYU? An improvement to the wide receiving corps could boost his profile beyond the Wasatch Front.
Similar to Sitake, Preston Hadley will be making the jump from Weber State. At his pro day, Hadley talked about his desire to coach and has been focused on that career path ever since, including a stop at Santa Ana College before his time in Ogden.
AJ Steward and Ryan Pugh are program outsiders that need this to be a positive step in their young careers unless they want to go back to roughing it in Conference USA. Both of them played at P5 programs (Pugh at LSU and Steward at Kansas). As wonderful a place BYU can be, it’s probably not where they plan on staying for long. Their infusion of youth, energy and a need to succeed at this level should prove wonders for BYU.
Unlike the former offensive coaches, if things go south you better believe every single one of these new guys will find another coaching gig, because coaching college football is what they do. It’s a part of their identity and that’s what BYU desperately needs right now. They need coaches that want to go onto bigger and better things and know that a successful BYU offense is their springboard.
And for their sake, they will need things at BYU improve quickly.
The runway for this new group looks relatively short because another disastrous season could lead to a full changing of the guard. They can’t expect to have a grace period where they take a full season to “work out the kinks”, which might seem unfair but it’s the deal they signed up for. No one ever thought that Kalani Sitake could be on the hot seat after his 9-4 inaugural campaign, but losing to UMass — among other things — will really change a program.
For now, we’ll have to wait until fall camp to really start to understand where the team is headed, but we can have some reassurance that the new hires are anxious to prove themselves and maintain their job security.