PROVO — The transfer of knowledge is an amazing process in college football, especially at BYU when it comes to hiring offensive coordinators.
Back in the day, LaVell Edwards’ staff was relatively stable through the years. He had a process and a cadre of teachers who simply rolled out the scheme, tweaked it and laid it on players in a consistent manner.
That hasn’t been the case of late. And it has shown. Will the impending offensive coordinator hire by Kalani Sitake in the coming days break the trend? We shall see.
Former NFL and BYU quarterback John Beck has become kind of a Yoda of football science since he retired from the game, and his insight is both valuable and enlightening. In an interview with Ben Criddle on ESPN 960 this week, Beck broached the topic with aplomb and candor.
On almost every NFL and college team, said Beck, when an offensive coordinator is hired, he brings in assistants he has worked with, guys who have experience with the system he will install. This, he continued, saves the new coordinator from having to teach a new staff what he’s doing at the same time the staff is teaching the scheme to players.
“When Bronco left BYU for Virginia, almost every staff member he hired were at BYU with him," Beck said. "This allowed him to get a fast start to implementing his defensive and offensive systems.”
When hired as BYU’s head coach, Mendenhall reflected in his 2012 book “Running into the Wind": “You realize that your resources are severely limited, despite all the promises you were given. For one, most of those with whom you will be working directly, you didn’t hire. It’s the former guys' employees you’ll be reshaping into a new entity.”
Mendenhall chose Texas Tech offensive line coach Robert Anae as his offensive coordinator. In his first game in that role, a home game against Boston College, Anae ran the same formation over and over again in a 20-3 loss, the start of a 6-6 season.
“It was a coordinator trying to teach a staff who was trying to learn themselves and teach players at the same time,” said Beck in the interview. “It’s been that way at BYU for a long time.”
When Anae came in, he was the only coach from Texas Tech and (there) he was the O-line coach. He wasn’t working with the QBs or wideouts, he worked with the O-line, run game and blocking schemes.
“Suddenly, he was a play-caller. He had to fill spots around him and those guys had to learn the offense. Brandon Doman had to learn the offense at the same time as I did," Beck said.
Then, Doman became the coordinator and had to teach coaches he brought in (like QB coach Jason Beck).
When Anae left and came back from Arizona, he didn’t bring any of Arizona’s offensive staff — he absorbed some, hired others, guys like Mark Atuaia, and began the teaching process for both coaches and players again.
“Unfortunately with Ty (Detmer), it was the same situation,” said Beck. “BYU is a difficult place to get coaches in the assistants' role. They are not coordinators who come to BYU and bring people with them.”
This may be an opportunity for Sitake to make a decision on a coordinator and break the mold and bring with him staff members, at least one, two, three or four, who are familiar with his system and can hit the ground running with implementation.
On the other hand, maybe the new guy likes relationships and wants to keep current staff, sprinkled with others, who can teach his science on the fly.
Regardless, it is imperative BYU’s staff and players operate with far more “tacit” experience than they’ve had the last decade.
That tacit word is a fancy term I learned from Mendenhall’s behavioral scientist and former BYU offensive lineman in the early '70s, Paul Gustavson, who has consulted with Fortune 500 companies.
Gustavson's definition of tacit know-how? “Complex skills that are highly developed yet little understood by the people who use them. It resists codification. It includes expertise and artistry. This is a quarterback moving through play without conscious thought, his body instinctively reading and responding to visual cues on the field.”
Yeah, let’s go with that, Sitake must hire tacit know-how.