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BYU’s new football staff: Long on name recognition, short on experience

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BYU’s new football coaching staff is finally complete — it took only six weeks — and now it’s time to size it up.

So what do you think?

A few things jump out at you immediately. If you had to describe the staff in a few words or phrases, this would be a good start:

A homecoming. Eight of the 10 coaches are former BYU players, which must be some sort of record. By comparison, Michigan has one of its former players on its coaching staff, USC has two, Oregon two, Oklahoma one, Utah three (four of their coaches are from BYU). Two more former BYU players are on BYU's four-man support staff. More provicialism: Six of BYU's 10 coaches also coached at BYU earlier in their careers before going elsewhere, and two were actually fired by the school. Now they’re back for a second chance.

Diverse would be another way to describe this staff. They might be the most diverse staff in the country. Seven of the 14 members of the coaching and support staff are Polynesians and two others are black. Oh, and there’s also a Canadian.

Inexperienced would be another way to describe them. Well, maybe that’s not quite right. How about extremely inexperienced? Two of the 10 coaches are coming straight from the high school football ranks, three are coming from FCS schools (Weber State and Southern Utah) and two were out of coaching completely.

Here’s a closer look at the new coaching staff:

• Kalani Sitake (head coach). At 40, this is his first head-coaching job at any level. He’s a former BYU fullback who, like his predecessor, was a defensive coordinator when BYU hired him. He is one of only two Polynesian head coaches in the country.

• Ed Lamb (assistant head coach, special teams, safeties). A former linebacker/defensive end for BYU in the mid-90s, Lamb has been SUU’s head coach the last eight years and won a Big Sky championship last season. He hasn’t coached at the FBS level since he was a graduate assistant at BYU in 2001.

• Ty Detmer (offensive coordinator, quarterback coach) has spent the last five years as head coach at St. Andrews Episcopal School, a private school near Austin, Texas, with an enrollment of nearly 900 — counting grades 5-12. Tuition is $19,000-25,000 annually, which tends to thin the numbers. Even for a former Heisman Trophy winner and long-time NFL quarterback, this is a big jump from coaching a small prep team to matching wits with Division I coaches and talent.

• Ilaisa Tuiaki (defensive coordinator, linebackers) is a former linebacker and fullback for Snow College and Southern Utah who has eight years of FBS coaching experience (Utah State, Utah, Oregon State). This is his first coordinator’s job since serving as OC for Kearns High nine years ago.

• Steve Kaufusi (defensive line), a defensive end for BYU in the late ‘80s, is the lone holdover from the previous staff and has been coaching at the school since 2002. He has two decades of FBS coaching experience.

• Jernaro Gilford (cornerbacks) worked in retail management for about nine years until 2012, when he took a GA position on the football staff at Whittier College and then coached defensive backs at SUU from 2014-15. Before that, the former BYU cornerback coached defensive backs at Westchester (Calif.) High.

• Ben Cahoon (receivers), another former BYU player, brings serious credentials to the job. He holds the career reception record for the Canadian Football League. You don’t do that as a 5-foot-9 receiver without developing great skills. Notwithstanding, his previous coaching stint at BYU lasted just two seasons. He was fired three years ago by Bronco Mendenhall. Cahoon had been working as a sales rep for Arthrex, a sports medicine company, for 2½ years when Sitake, his former BYU teammate, brought him back to coaching at BYU again.

• Steve Clark (tight ends), another former BYU grad assistant, coached the last eight years at Weber State and SUU.

• Reno Mahe (running backs), a former running back for BYU and the Philadelphia Eagles, is undertaking his first college coaching job. His coaching experience consists of working at football camps and serving as wide receiver coach at his alma mater, Brighton High, last fall.

• Mike Empey (offensive line) coached BYU’s tight ends and offensive linemen from 2000-2004, but lost his job when head coach Gary Crowton was fired. According to BYU, he has been working as an operations manager and sales manager at Stryker Corporation for the past five years and also coached football at American Fork High from 2011-14. Empey was a standout lineman for BYU in the early ‘90s, and one of the quarterbacks he protected was Detmer.

Bottom line: This is a staff built for recruiting. Sitake has always been reputed to be a strong recruiter, especially in the Polynesian community, and now he is joined by six other Polynesians to help that effort. If that doesn’t work, Detmer can point to his Heisman Trophy and Ben Cahoon to his CFL records.

The staff is glaringly short on experience, especially at this level, and perhaps lacks some of the technical expertise of their rivals. Maybe all they need is time, but in college football that commodity is in short supply.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com