There are a number of reasons why the standard slipped and those are things we’ve been addressing from maybe the beginning of the season, early in the season, during the middle of the season to this day. – Tom Holmoe
PROVO — BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe calls Ty Detmer perhaps “the most beloved BYU football player ever.”
As such, Holmoe said it was difficult to watch Detmer, the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner, be relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator at the end of an abysmal 4-9 campaign last fall.
During an hour-long, annual question-and-answer session with local media Wednesday, Holmoe addressed Detmer’s status and discussed numerous issues affecting the football program and the athletic department.
Holmoe confirmed that Detmer, whom he considers “a really good friend,” is no longer with the football program, but that he remains under contract with the university for another year.
“I had a couple of opportunities to talk with him in person to see what he’s interested in pursuing,” Holmoe said. “There was talk about the possibility of working with me or the university, particularly with athletics. His main objective is to keep his options open and he’s under contract for a year and wants to see what’s best for him.”
After suffering through the throes of BYU’s losing season, and the first year without a bowl appearance since 2004, head coach Kalani Sitake approached Holmoe about making changes to the coaching staff.
Holmoe said Sitake made the decision to replace Detmer and Holmoe supported him in that decision.
“My style as athletic director at BYU is to hire the head coaches and then the head coaches hire their assistant coaches. I'm certainly there to counsel with the head coaches and I want to be involved,” Holmoe said. “Kalani came to me at the end of the year and said that he felt it was necessary to make a change. We talked about it and my position was to support him in his position as head football coach in what he felt was necessary to do."
BYU’s offense ranked among the worst in the country last season as it dealt with inexperience at key positions and numerous injuries. The Cougars were forced to play four different quarterbacks.
Despite the offense’s epic struggles, Detmer didn’t want to leave the program, Holmoe said.
“He wanted to stay around and see it through. He had plans to make changes to do what he felt he could do and hadn’t gotten done," Holmoe explained. "The conversations with him were great. The way he’s handled it is a class act … From my travels with BYU as the athletic director, he might be the most beloved BYU football player ever. It’s a hard thing … I’m so appreciative of him for the effort he made to come in here and get this thing going. I’m grateful for the way he’s handled it. He’ll always be a huge part of our program for what he’s accomplished and (his) character and the way he acts.”
Bringing back a legendary player like Detmer is fraught with inherent perils, something that both Detmer and Holmoe realized when Detmer was hired prior to the 2016 season.
“It’s risky. We both knew and everybody knew the possibilities,” Holmoe said. “We had addressed that. It’s not personal at all.”
Jeff Grimes, who previously served as the offensive line coach at LSU, was hired in December as the new offensive coordinator and several other coaches have been hired since.
“I was involved but it’s (Sitake’s) decision,” Holmoe said. “(Grimes) was the guy, and I feel really good about Kalani’s choice.”
A 10th assistant will be a running backs coach and that announcement will come “in the very short term,” Holmoe added.
As the season unfolded, Holmoe said he was “certainly concerned” about the where the program was headed.
“That was a year that wasn’t to our standard. You could just see it, you could feel it. It wasn’t the standard of football that the coaches, players and administration and fans were used to,” Holmoe said. “People become accustomed to a certain style and a certain standard. We didn’t reach it last year.
"Changes definitely needed to be made. Those changes are being addressed. It wasn’t just an offensive coordinator change. There are a number of reasons why the standard slipped and those are things we’ve been addressing from maybe the beginning of the season, early in the season, during the middle of the season to this day. We’ll continue to do the things necessary to make it right and bring back that standard of play.”
There was no thought of removing Sitake, Holmoe said, but clearly there are high expectations in place as Sitake enters his third season at the helm. The Cougars posted a 9-4 record in his inaugural campaign.
"His first year was a fairly successful season and his second season wasn't," Holmoe said. "My expectations are to get back to that standard. It's hard to put measures on that. The two of us internally have discussed what we need to have happen but those are things we won't put out publicly. We're going to work together to make sure those things happen."
Holmoe reiterated that independence is sustainable and it is the path BYU will continue to follow for the foreseeable future.
"Right now it's the same answer I've always said," he said. "We are not looking right now to get into another league."
One of the challenges of independence is dealing with the gauntlet of early-season games against Power 5 opponents.
“Those are when you can get the best games,” Holmoe said. “It’s a matter of either getting those games or getting games where people aren’t really going to feel like it’s a good schedule. Our team needs to play a good schedule.”
Next fall, the Cougars open the season at Arizona. That’s followed by a home game against California and road games at Wisconsin and Washington.
Clearly, as an independent, BYU needs to find a way to be nationally relevant. Holmoe would love to see the Cougars accomplish something similar to what Central Florida, of the American Athletic Conference, did this past season.
"They had an undefeated season and grabbed the attention of the media and the fans of college football," Holmoe said. "Certainly that would help BYU. I think that's been proven in the past that it helps to be on the upswing."
BYU is continually striving to position itself for the future and long-term stability and success might mean getting invited to a Power 5 conference. But Holmoe said there’s only so much BYU can do in order to make that happen.
"(The conferences) can do whatever they want. We have to be in a position where it is right, where it is the right time and right strategy for them,” Holmoe said. “We know what we want but the difficult part is making sure someone out there has the same ideas that we do."
But first, the Cougars need to turn things around on the field. Sitake has made a bevy of changes in the program in an attempt to ensure that takes place.
“A lot of times, when coaches make decisions about players or coaches, it comes down to a lot of factors — statistics, measurements, goals achieved or not," Holmoe said. "A lot of time it comes down to a feel and a fit and what they felt needed to happen. That’s really why he made the change. He wanted to see the program go in a different direction. He made that decision over time.”