New Utah State University football coach Mick Dennehy was the first speaker at Monday's season-opening Big Five Huddle coaches and media get-together at Green Street.
Dennehy said he wasn't sure about the protocol for speaking at the Huddle, but he said right off the bat what most of the state's five big-school coaches were feeling.
"Suffice it to say," said Dennehy, "golf has gotten old."
In other words, it's time for some football.
At least practices.
BYU has been under way since last week because of an early date with Florida State, but the other schools all get into things this week, and their newcomers will have all reported by Tuesday or so with two-a-days coming up quickly.
BYU has closed practices to the public this year, USU doesn't really know yet what it has with a lot of newcomers and "substantially different terminology," said Dennehy. Utah has that tops-in-the-Mountain West rating that Ron McBride says he doesn't care about until it materializes in November; Weber State has the best linebackers coach Jerry Graybeal says he's ever had anywhere.
And Southern Utah coach C. Ray Gregory has senior quarterback Matt Cannon of Salt Lake's Highland High, whom T-Bird backers call the most exciting player in the state. Gregory almost begged the media to come and cover this guy. "He does everything but dress in a phone booth and wear an 'S' on his chest," Gregory said. "I'm the only one holding him back keeping him from throwing 1,300 yards. He's a 1,000/1,000 guy, and that's not easy."
Meanwhile, McBride was in his usual start-of-the-season heaven and making light of BYU coach LaVell Edwards. "We go to Vegas (last week for Mountain West Conference meetings), and he's got a Hawaii floral shirt that you can see from here to the next building. I thought he owned the hotel (the Four Seasons) rather than just being a guest. He's got a gold chain and gold earrings."
"It really was a nice-looking shirt," retorted Edwards in his turn at the podium. "Him commenting on my dress is like Clinton commenting on ethics."
Edwards added that McBride's quick synopsis of his team was "in 10 years the best I've ever heard him go through the team."
Moving on, McBride added that when his cab pulled up to the swanky Four Seasons, he told the cabbie to wait because he was sure that's not where the football coaches were staying. "There must be two hotels with the same name," McBride said. Then he walked to the registration desk and was told he was in "the penthouse," so he decided, "Oh, yeah, I guess I'll go," though he said he worried about turning in the receipts to the university. (The Mountain West had actually swung a nice early-in-the-week, 120-degrees-in-the-shade-time-of-year rate, so McBride didn't have to feel guilty.)
SOUTHERN UTAH, opens Sept. 9 with Fort Lewis, 8-3 and ranked 24th in final 1999 ESPN I-AA coaches' poll: Cannon holds the NCAA single-season record for rushing yards by a QB (1,553). "He'll carry us," says Gregory. Cannon will operate behind a line "with a lot of vowels — that's a good thing," Gregory adds. It's a senior team (16) with 36 newcomers and a tough schedule including Utah State and San Jose State.
WEBER STATE, opens Aug. 31 hosting Western State (Colo.), 4-7 in 1999: Coach Jerry Graybeal returns an outstanding linebacking corps with Brad Rekuc returning from a suspension to make it even stronger, and there's an all-conference safety. The line has been shored up. Kicker Mike Minnoch is back. The strength of the offense is the line, with all five returning starters, plus veteran quarterback Cole Cooper (1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns), who needs to find a running back.
UTAH STATE, opens Sept. 2 at Texas Tech, 4-7 in 1999: Concerns for the new coaching staff are at wide receiver and depth, says Dennehy. "It's the first time since I've coached in Division I or I-AA that I've expected newcomers to play," said Dennehy, planning on using five or six freshmen and three or four JCs. He says he's been primarily a throwing coach but has learned the value of balancing in the run. USU's strength, says Dennehy, is that no one knows what to expect from the Aggies, even the Aggies.
UTAH, opens hosting Arizona Sept. 2, 9-3, MWC tri-champs in 1999: Double-days start Friday for the MWC's No. 1-rated team that has the Pre-season Player of the Year in receiver/returner Stevonne Smith and veterans at every spot. McBride says TE Andy Kassotis will play after an unsure time with injuries, and he said JC-transfer running back Dameon Hunter has completed his summer school work and was expected to report Monday night. That makes more competition for D'Shaun Crockett as he attempts to replace the graduated Mike Anderson.
BYU, opens Aug. 26 at Florida State, 8-4, MWC tri-champs in 1999: Everybody wants to know about QBs. Says Edwards, "In football, you start over every so often, and we have three quarterbacks, and I like all three. Whether we'll go with more than one, or when we'll name a starter, I don't know yet. That is the least of my concerns." Running back depends upon the health of Luke Staley and Kalani Sitake, but Edwards likes JC newcomer Brian McDonald, too. In the secondary, two JC newcomers could help. "It's going to be big-time for us getting these guys," Edwards says of corners Danny Phillips and Derrus Wilson, who have yet to practice but have graduated and just need transcripts transferred.