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Analysis: New Northern Colorado football coach Ed Lamb’s smarts and integrity will be missed at BYU, but it was time to move on

Coach Kalani Sitake’s right-hand man was the brains behind BYU’s operation and will thrive in Greeley, Colorado.

SHARE Analysis: New Northern Colorado football coach Ed Lamb’s smarts and integrity will be missed at BYU, but it was time to move on
BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb coaches during game against Wyoming on Dec. 21, 2016.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU

In his seven years assisting BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake in Provo, former SUU head coach Ed Lamb developed a well-deserved reputation as the brains behind the operation.

Lamb had a calm, calculated presence in practices and on the sidelines, even as the emotional and fiery Sitake danced, led cheers and motivated players as fiercely as he could next to his right-hand man.

When the Cougars open the Big 12 era on Sept. 2 against Sam Houston, however, Lamb won’t be in Sitake’s ear at LaVell Edwards Stadium. He will be coaching in a game at Abilene Christian, having accepted the vacant head coaching position at Northern Colorado on Tuesday.

“First and foremost, Ed is a tremendous person, a great husband and father, with an incredible family. He is a successful and experienced head coach who knows how to establish a culture and lead a football program. Ed has played a significant role in developing our program and the operating systems we use to run our program.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.

Lamb will be missed in Provo.

But the time had come for the former BYU player to move on, after also-departed defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki resigned on Nov. 27 less than 24 hours after the Cougars downed Stanford 35-26 to wrap up a disappointing regular season with a 7-5 record.

There is plenty of blame to go around after BYU’s defense fell short of expectations in 2022, and Lamb took his share of it. Injuries, and a general lack of talent and speed also played significant roles.

As special teams coordinator, safeties coach and assistant head coach, Lamb had a lot on his plate in Provo, and he performed those tasks admirably — until October rolled around and the aforementioned issues caught up to Cougars in losses to Notre Dame, Arkansas, Liberty and East Carolina that were heavily pinned on the defense’s ineptitude.

That stated, Lamb should thrive in Greeley, and turn around a program that was coached by former NFL star receiver Ed McCaffrey and won just six games the past two seasons. He did that at SUU in Cedar City before joining Sitake’s staff when Bronco Mendenhall moved on to Virginia, and he will do that in the Big Sky Conference as well.

Sitake acknowledged in a Northern Colorado news release on Tuesday night that he is losing an outstanding coach, and a big part of BYU’s success in 2020 and 2021 when the Cougars went 21-4 and finished in the top 25 both seasons.

“First and foremost, Ed is a tremendous person, a great husband and father, with an incredible family. He is a successful and experienced head coach who knows how to establish a culture and lead a football program,” Sitake said. “Ed has played a significant role in developing our program and the operating systems we use to run our program. As a coach, he has expertise coaching all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. So he is uniquely prepared to mentor his coaching staff and players to be successful.”

Also Tuesday, it was reported by ESPN’s Pete Thamel that first-year BYU defensive graduate assistant DJ Williams, a former USU player, will join Lamb in Greeley as the Bears’ cornerbacks coach.

What becomes of BYU’s defensive staff now? News broke Sunday that former BYU LB and current Boise State assistant coach Kelly Poppinga is joining Sitake’s staff, perhaps as defensive coordinator to fill Tuiaki’s role.

And it is no secret that Sitake is pursuing Weber State head coach Jay Hill, maybe as a replacement for Lamb. If BYU can get Hill to leave WSU, just as they got Lamb to leave SUU in 2016, it will be a major get for a Big 12-bound program that needs a lift as it prepares for the Dec. 17 New Mexico Bowl against SMU.

Sitake said Monday that the new defensive coordinator will be able to build his own defensive staff, meaning the jobs of safeties coach Preston Hadley, linebackers coach Kevin Clune and cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford could be in jeopardy, too.

Also Monday, Sitake said he is “working on filling out our staff” and will be using graduate assistants and analysts to help out between now and the bowl game. 

“This is a time of year where there is a lot of movement in the world of college football and coaching,” Sitake said. “So we will adjust.”

Lamb has found success every place he’s been and relies heavily on analytics and research to find that success. He’s got his work cut out for him at UNC, which has a payday game at Washington State on its schedule on Sept. 16, 2023.

“Kudos to Northern Colorado for hiring Ed Lamb,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in the UNC release. “He’s a leader on the field and a great developer of young men off the field. His personal character is a strength that will build this team into a highly competitive unit and grow boys into men.”

Before coaching at SUU, Lamb was an assistant on now-Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff at the University of San Diego for three seasons when the Toreros won three league championships.

The native of Pleasanton, California, played for legendary BYU coach LaVell Edwards from 1994-96. He was a member of the 1996 Cougars team that went 14-1 and won the Cotton Bowl.

“It was evident through our process coach Lamb was the man to lead UNC football,” said UNC athletic director Darren Dunn. “He is a man of high character who is a proven winner, tireless recruiter, and developer of young men. He’s won championships as a head coach at the FCS level and has worked alongside and learned from some of the best coaches in football.”

Cougars on the air

17th annual New Mexico Bowl

BYU (7-5) vs. SMU (7-5)

Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. MST

University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico

TV: ABC

Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM