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BYU's new offense will be a mix of a lot of different ideas, influences — playbook a collaborative effort

New offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes watches action during an intersquad scrimmage in Provo on Friday, March 23, 2018.
New offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes watches action during an intersquad scrimmage in Provo on Friday, March 23, 2018.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — Not long after BYU’s new offensive staff was assembled a few months ago, first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes directed lengthy, painstaking brainstorming sessions with other coaches that lasted deep into the night in an attempt to determine what the new playbook would look like.

Grimes, whose career has taken him all over the country, wanted a collaborative effort in terms of the kinds of plays the Cougars will be running this fall.

More than a decade ago, Grimes coached the offensive line at BYU under then-offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who’s now at Virginia. Grimes has also spent time around innovative offensive minds like Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Matt Canada, who was at LSU last year. He learned from Dirk Koetter, currently the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when they worked together at Boise State and Arizona State, as well as with Mark Helfrich, the former head coach at Oregon who currently is the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears.

Still, Grimes wanted to glean as much as he could from his own staff.

“I give a lot of credit to coach Grimes. He could have easily dropped one of his playbooks on the table from any of the various places he’s been and said, ‘This is what we’re doing,’” said BYU quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick. “Any one of those offenses would have been really good. He could have dropped (Auburn coach) Gus Malzahn’s playbook on the table or the Virginia Tech playbook or the Boise State playbook or any of them. But he made a point that he valued each of our experiences at different places we’ve been.”

Three of BYU’s assistant coaches have experience as play-callers. Roderick is a former co-offensive coordinator at Utah; wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake spent the past two seasons as Weber State’s offensive coordinator; and tight ends coach Steve Clark is a former offensive coordinator at Weber State and Southern Utah and is in his third season at BYU. This is Grimes' first job as an offensive coordinator.

So what are the origins of the new Cougar offense? The short answer is — from a lot of different places.

“Some of it comes from my time at LSU, some of it comes all the way back to my time at Boise State in 2000 and different pieces along the way,” Grimes said. “Some of it doesn’t come from me, it comes from the rest of our staff. It’s a conglomeration of a lot of different ideas.”

The process of developing the playbook was thorough and time-consuming, according to Roderick.

“We were recruiting, but even during recruiting, we were trying to squeeze in a couple of days a week of offense. Once recruiting ended, it was 24-7. We were grinding," said Roderick. "Coach Grimes said, ‘We’re going to go slow and we’re going to have a really in-depth discussion about everything. I want to know the best of what each of you has experienced in your coaching careers.’ It was agonizing. We had a lot of late nights. We spent days talking about what might seem like simple things to some people but we agonized over every word, every detail. He gave everyone a chance to say, ‘When I was coaching at this place, this is how we did this.’ It went around and around. Everybody dropped our egos and we all tried to decide what the best pieces of each offense that we’d coached in and how to get them to fit together. I think we’ve done that. I really think we’re on to something great.”

Roderick has extensive experience overseeing an offense. Three of the seven 10-win seasons in Ute football history have come with him as the play-caller.

BYU is also drawing upon the success at other programs, including Weber State, where Fesi Sitake guided the Wildcats to the No. 18 FCS scoring offense, averaging 33.7 points per game last season.

“There’s some terminology that we’re using that we used at Weber. There are some schemes that we’re using,” Sitake said. “And there’s stuff that we’re not. But I think that’s good because we have something better that came up amongst our collaboration. I’m really happy with how open these coaches have been with certain ideas.”

How does BYU sophomore quarterback Joe Critchlow describe the offense?

“It’s definitely a combination of a lot of things. It’s a well-rounded offense,” he said. “We can attack defenses a lot of different ways in running the ball and throwing the ball. We have a great short game, a great play-action game, a great run game. It’s something that we definitely haven’t mastered up to this point but it’s something that I think is going to turn out to be pretty cool once fall comes around.”

Grimes stated that the new offense also will be predicated on the talent that’s in the program.

“It’s really important that you build an offense around the skill set that you have. You can look at it two ways,” he said. “What is it going to look like long term? And who do you have right now, this year, that will allow you to win this season? We’ll combine both of those things. My goal is to put together the best combination of all of the systems that I’ve been a part of and build a system that’s flexible enough to fit exactly what we have this year.”

BYU has about “80 percent” of the playbook set, Roderick said.

“Playbooks are always evolving a little bit because as you find out about who your best players are and what their skills are, you try to tweak things to match what you do best,” he explained. “Your personnel isn’t the same every year. It’s got to be a little bit adaptable.”

For Fesi Sitake, developing the new BYU playbook “was an unbelievable learning experience. We were successful at Weber State. I know we didn’t have all of the answers, but you feel really good about the things you’re doing. There are a ton of things that we’re doing here that I wish we did at Weber State. It was an awesome learning experience, not only from a schematic standpoint and seeing what plays work better and how to do these plays different ways, but how to formulate an offense. It started with coach Grimes, and he led our conversations. He didn’t let everything stray off. He kept everything centered and focused. I saw how to manage the conversation and how to have an effective meeting with collaboration. It was awesome.”