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BYU's Holmoe sees past and present collide in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO — At some point nearly every day, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe reflects on his days with the San Francisco 49ers.

Holmoe was a fourth-round National Football League draft pick out of BYU and enjoyed a seven-year career with the 49ers, winning Super Bowls in 1984, 1988 and 1989.

And this week, his past and present are colliding in an enjoyable way.

“It’s kind of double-duty this week,” Holmoe said.

Not only do the Cougars face Washington Friday (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPN) in the Fight Hunger Bowl, but Monday night also marked the 49ers’ final game at historic Candlestick Park in a contest against the Atlanta Falcons.

“With it being the last game at Candlestick, it has some significance,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of former coaches and teammates. A lot of them came into town for the last game. That brings a little more to it.”

Because he had a bowl-related commitment Monday night, he wasn’t able to attend the last game at the field where he made so many memories.

“I’ve got a bowl function at that time, so I can’t go,” Holmoe said. “But I came back when our women’s soccer team played San Francisco this fall and I made a little trip to Candlestick to say my last goodbyes.”

Since arriving in San Francisco Sunday, Holmoe has reconnected with former teammates, including Keena Turner, who is in his sixth season as the 49ers' vice president of football affairs. In the hotel lobby Sunday night, Holmoe bumped into Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the 49ers, who was here for the Niners’ final game at Candlestick.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” Holmoe said. “It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t know he was here.”

After his playing career, Holmoe spent stints as a coach at both Stanford and California. He’s happy to bring BYU to the San Francisco bowl game.

“I knew it would be fun to come back to the Bay Area and play,” Holmoe said.

On the day that BYU announced it was going independent, back in 2010, Fight Hunger Bowl executive director Gary Cavalli called Holmoe, whom he called his “old friend.” They had worked together at Stanford.

“We booked BYU on the spot,” Cavalli said.

While Holmoe would have loved for the Cougars to play at Candlestick Park, he said AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, is a great venue.

“AT&T Park is a baseball field, but it’s a beautiful place,” Holmoe said, adding that the players are having fun in San Francisco.

“Even after one day, our student-athletes really feel like that it’s a special city,” Holmoe said. “They like being around the energy of the city. That’s one of the things about bowl games — both teams have to deal with distractions that come with that. There are a lot of distractions here. So hopefully they’re focused on beating Washington.”

The Cougars enter the game with an 8-4 record after coach Bronco Mendenhall overhauled his entire offensive coaching staff almost a year ago.

How does Holmoe evaluate the season?

“I thought that there were games that we played extremely well. There were a couple of games where we didn’t play great,” he said. “But it was a tough schedule and we had a couple of injuries on the defensive side that really hurt. Offensively, we did some great things rushing the ball. There were some games this year where we had a balanced attack, so I know we’re capable of some really great things. I thought the offensive staff came together with the offensive players and put together a pretty good season.”

Holmoe said there’s a lot to look forward to with the program.

“There’s good chemistry with this offensive staff. The offensive players and coaches are still coming together to learn this system. It’s a very different system than in past years. With any coaching changes, there’s going to be a learning curve and I think we’re still in that process. But we’ve been able to do some good things. I do think the future is bright.”

While BYU is scheduled to play in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego in 2016 and 2018, the Cougars have not announced any bowl ties for 2014 or 2015.

“I know for next year’s game, we’re working on something new,” Holmoe said. “I can’t say anything about it until it gets done.”

Mendenhall said he’s not concerned about BYU’s postseason destination for next year.

“It’s already in the works. It’s not my place to announce it,” he said. “Tom has that. There’s no worry about if we’ll have one or where we’ll play or anything like that. It’s actually a really good situation. Tom will make that announcement whenever he sees fit.”

While Mendenhall said he and Holmoe don’t spend a lot of time together when they travel to bowl games, he acknowledged that this week must be special for Holmoe.

“I’m sure it’s a great experience for him to reconnect and come back to San Francisco,” Mendenhall said. “I’m sure there are a lot of fond memories.”

Mendenhall said Holmoe works hard to ensure that players and coaches enjoy the bowl experience.

“Tom treats our coaches really, really well. Not only in terms of incentives, but making the bowl experience great for them,” Mendenhall said. “I just express gratitude to him for that. He makes it a meaningful and worthwhile experience to achieve postseason play.”

For Holmoe, being back in San Francisco this week — at least so far — has been memorable.

“I’m loving it,” he said. “It’s great to be here.”