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Tom Holmoe talks shop at Education Week. Here’s what he had to say about BYU Athletics

Wednesday’s annual address included comments about Mark Pope’s future, the All-In Campaign, transfer portal issues, and oh yeah, what BYU’s official color is

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BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe watches an interview wrap up during BYU football media day at the BYU Broadcasting Building.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe watches an interview wrap-up during BYU football media day at the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe dished out his usual assortment of witty one-liners and even choked up a bit when discussing legendary football coach LaVell Edwards during his annual Education Week address on the state of Cougar sports Wednesday morning in Provo.

What Holmoe didn’t do was answer a lot of questions, or deliver much in the way of news to an audience of about 350 at the Tanner Building on campus.

In the past, Holmoe would give a 10-15 minute introduction, highlighting the program’s achievements from the past season, then jump into a question-and-answer period with the audience for the remaining 45 minutes.

It was the opposite Wednesday, as the 16-year AD spoke about the pandemic-plagued 2020-21 season for the first 41 minutes, then answered a few questions at the end. At that, the first couple of “questions” came from Jon McBride, BYU’s associate athletic director for communications and media strategy.

After his slide presentation and before turning to McBride for topics to discuss, Holmoe apologized to the audience for the controlled nature of the event, which is usually a highlight of Ed Week and a rollicking, no-holds barred free-for-all between the popular AD and ardent BYU athletics supporters.

Likening BYU’s response to some current events going on with the NCAA and the college sports landscape to closed-door meetings between church leaders, Holmoe said when “sensitive things are happening, you just can’t say much.”

“I love that guy. If he ever takes a job at Duke or North Carolina, I would be the happiest guy in the world. I really would. Because I love that kid, and I want him to be successful. But he’s here now, and we’re going to ride that pony the best we can.” — BYU AD Tom Holmoe on Cougars basketball coach Mark Pope

Acknowledging that he usually puts out “a morsel (of news) here or there” during his hourlong presentation, he cautioned the audience that wouldn’t be happening this time.

Bringing up the topic of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC and how that might alter the landscape, and how that might affect BYU, Holmoe said there was nothing he could say in the way of news that would leave people thinking they came away with something earth-shattering to pass on to their friends.

“Anything that I would say would be pure speculation,” he said.

He then assured the crowd that BYU is doing “everything we possibly could be doing” to get the school in the best position moving forward, and left it at that.

More from Holmoe’s Education Week address:

Keeping Mark Pope at BYU?

When Holmoe did begin fielding questions, he was asked how he was going to keep successful second-year basketball coach Mark Pope from taking a bigger job.

“I love that guy,” Holmoe said. “If he ever takes a job at Duke or North Carolina, I would be the happiest guy in the world. I really would. Because I love that kid, and I want him to be successful. But he’s here now, and we’re going to ride that pony the best we can.”

Navy or Royal — which is it?

Asked point-blank why BYU seems to be alternating between navy blue and royal blue and what the school’s “official” color is, Holmoe said it is both, pretty much.

“You heard it from me, the official color is … blue,” he said, drawing laughter.

Transfer portal problems

Reminded by McBride to talk about the transfer portal and the NCAA’s new rule allowing one-time transfers without penalty, Holmoe said there are now “free agents all over the place” and keeping track of them all is difficult.

He said in college basketball last year, four of 10 players transferred. He called it “generational” and said that’s the way Generation Z kids have been brought up and athletic departments “better change” to adjust with them.

“If you can’t change, you can’t coach, you can’t teach,” he said.

Holmoe noted this generation won’t run through a wall for you. “They want to run up to the wall with you and together figure out a way to get through the wall,” he said. “It is about relationships, and if you don’t connect with them (they transfer).”

Grooming standards and BYU athletes

After a man named Ted asked a loaded question about if BYU would ever alter the grooming standards in its honor code to allow long hair, beards, etc., and teach correct principles and let folks govern themselves, Holmoe asked McBride if there was an opening for Ted in the athletics department. He said he agreed with Ted’s assertion but didn’t directly answer the question.

Closing the Power Five money gap

Holmoe acknowledged that a wide financial gap exists between Power Five programs’ revenue and BYU’s revenue, and said there’s not a list of 10 wealthy BYU benefactors he can turn to at any time to close it.

“We try everything we can to close the gap,” he said. “It would be nice to be on an even playing field as far as economics are concerned. But we are not there. … We fight, claw, scratch, and then wherever we are, we are always going to keep fighting to get to that point.”

Holmoe said only “a dozen or so schools in the country make money on athletics,” and in most years BYU is one of them.

On Bronco’s return on Oct. 30

Reminded that Bronco Mendenhall brings his Virginia Cavaliers to Provo on Oct. 30, Holmoe said he expects BYU fans to give the former Cougars coach and the half-dozen or so assistants on his staff with BYU ties a warm welcome.

He said he will text Mendenhall or former assistants Mark Atuaia or Kelly Poppinga after seeing UVA highlights and congratulate them on their success.

“That’s Cougar Nation,” he said. “Is Bronco part of Cougar Nation? Yeah!”

“It would be fun to beat him, though,” a fan said, drawing the biggest laughter of the day.

On why BYU plays P5 teams

Asked why BYU football plays a difficult schedule every year, Holmoe said it is because the program’s mantra is to play against the best teams it can, and coaches are on board. 

“There is no financial issue about scheduling. We will go anywhere, play anybody. That’s a cool thing,” he said. “We try to spread it around, go to a lot of different places.”

Thanking the fans

Holmoe opened his presentation by thanking fans for their generous contributions when he started the “All-In” campaign last year to address the $20 million shortfall the athletic department was expecting due to cancellations brought on by the pandemic.

“The response was quick and immediate and very generous,” he said.

The AD said the campaign had raised $15,246,900 with donations from all 50 states and countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Japan, China and Austria.

Utahns led the way with 3,700 donations, followed by California (405), Idaho (308), Texas (258) and Arizona (245).

Quick NIL tidbits

Holmoe said the NIL deal that many BYU football players signed with Built Bar last week garnered 96 million impressions on social media. He showed a slide of the various national college football writers commenting favorably on the deal, especially how it provides a way for walk-ons to get the equivalent of their tuition paid.

Moving forward, Holmoe said a goal of BYU’s Built4Life program is to have a CEO mentor for every BYU football player who wants one.

Navigating the pandemic

Holmoe wasn’t asked about fears that some BYU football players have chosen not to get vaccinated. He did say that fans will definitely return to LES this fall, but didn’t go in to any possible restrictions, such as mask-wearing mandates or vaccination requirements.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that our kids are healthy, and they stay healthy,” he said.

The non-Latter-day Saint head coach

Holmoe highlighted all of BYU’s team and individual national championships Wednesday, but spent some extra time talking about women’s cross-country coach Diljeet Taylor, and how it came to be that a woman who is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became head coach at BYU.

The school has had non-Latter-day Saint head coaches in the past, but Taylor is the first one in nearly 40 years. Holmoe said it has always been a “practice” to hire Latter-day Saint head coaches, but not a “policy.” He said Taylor is in the top 2% of coaches ever at BYU in terms of working with athletes to accomplish both athletic and life goals. That’s high praise.

“She has been a dynamite hire,” he said.