LAS VEGAS — Tom Holmoe will never forget the phone call.

BYU’s athletic director, now in his 19th year, was told by Steve Hatchell, president and chief executive officer of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame, that he was receiving the prestigious John L. Toner Award at this year’s induction ceremony in Las Vegas.

The award is for excellence in athletic administration and dedication to college football. That pretty much sums up Holmoe’s life, as he’s been involved in the game for more than 45 years as a college and professional player, coach and administrator.

Holmoe has been to plenty of these ceremonies before, but not as an honoree. He was there to see the likes of Ty Detmer and others inducted. But Tuesday night was for him and dozens of others who were celebrated at a dinner at the ARIA Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

“I’m humbled by the honor because I have known many of the past recipients, and they are good friends of mine,” Holmoe said. “So I have been able to be inspired by them and watched them through the years, emulated what they have done.”

Past recipients include Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick, North Carolina State’s Deborah Yow and Kentucky’s Mitch Barnhart.

Before Holmoe accepted his award at a black-tie gala dinner, he sat down with the Deseret News in Las Vegas to answer questions on an array of topics related to BYU sports, like the past BYU football season that saw the Cougars go 5-7 in their first year in the Big 12 and fail to make it to a bowl game for the first time since 2017.

Here are Holmoe’s responses to some of those questions; some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Deseret News: What is your overall assessment of the Cougars’ football season in light of your July prediction that BYU would finish better than 11th in the Big 12?

Tom Holmoe: We almost did (laughs). We tied for 11th. Our expectations at BYU are very high. I knew that coming from an independent schedule to a Big 12 schedule would be a tough position. I have had the opportunity to coach in the Pac-10, before it was the Pac-12, at both Stanford and Cal, and I know what Autonomy Five conferences look and feel like.

I knew some of the pitfalls that could present themselves, and one of them was going to be depth. It has been a conversation I have had with a lot of fans lately that we always have a pretty good (first team), good group of starters. And when we can stay healthy, we are going to be pretty good with that.

I think we started out well. It was a little bit of a different schedule. We played some of the tougher teams later on.

But when we had some people get nicked up and were out of competition, our depth was clearly not where it should be. And that is something that we know we gotta get better at.

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There were some other things that we learned about ourselves that we might not have planned on, because of the challenges of Autonomy Five. And I guess the good thing is, you learn from that.

You see things that your team reacts to differently than you thought they would, whatever the issue might be. And you have to adapt, and adapt on the run. You try to turn and change, but some of those things take an offseason, or another season, to do.

So we are smack dab in the middle of trying to improve and get better and meet the expectations that we have set for ourselves.

DN: Kalani Sitake is making some coaching changes. What is your assessment of the job he did in 2023 and is he on the hot seat or can you give him a vote of confidence?

TH: No, no (he’s not on the hot seat). I have been with Kalani for a number of years now. I have known him for a longer time than that, before he was at BYU. I have worked with him almost every day. We talk.

So I know as well as anybody some of the issues at hand. I know how they came about. A lot of people don’t see that. We don’t reveal and communicate all the issues. It would be a disaster if we did that. I am most impressed with the way he has handled so many of them.

Some of them are difficult challenges that come up for the first time, that he has never dealt with.

I like to keep myself as a resource for him. We trust each other with our communication and how we talk about things.

So I think that when we went to the Big 12, he too is like me. He’s been in the Pac-12. He’s been at those competitions. And when he was at Utah he saw how difficult it was, and then transitioned, and at the University of Utah they had a program that got strong, and he was a part of that building process.

And then he went to Oregon State for a little bit with Gary Andersen and he saw that part.

The experiences that he’s had, the two of us can always compare notes and talk about things. We seem to be closely on the same page on most things, and that is the most important thing. As long as we can see eye to eye on issues, we will be fine.

DN: Speaking of coaches, is there any chance that BYU will rename South Field after longtime women’s soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood, whose teams have played in two of the last three College Cups?

TH: I would say that when she is no longer the coach, that that would probably be a logical thing. There is one place at BYU named after a coach, that was named when he was still alive, and that was LaVell Edwards Stadium.

And I think that in the world of college athletics, it is pretty difficult to name things after living people, because of things that could happen. 

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The policy at BYU is not to do that. That was an exception to the rule when LaVell Edwards Stadium was named. And that was before I got here, so I wasn’t involved in it. But I think that if you want to ask me about Jen, I would say she has had an illustrious career, but she still has plenty of years left. She shows no signs of slowing down or changing the direction that that team is going.

DN: Why is LaVell Edwards Stadium getting a new grass surface, and what other athletic facilities are due for upgrades?

TH: Grass wears out. It gets old on competitive fields. Maybe not at your house. I have never changed my grass in 22 years. Just keep cutting it.

But for competitive fields, it is amazing how much time, energy and manpower they put into those fields.

But this one was a little bit older and it wasn’t really up for what we had ready for it.

But I think in the future we will cut that life down a little bit just to avoid anything that might happen. We are going to replace that field, and replace our practice fields. So they are ready to be replaced, too. So we will get new grass on them.

As far as other (upgrades), we have made some changes at different facilities. There are some things coming up (that) we are looking at. I don’t really want to say too much about them until they come out. But they are upgrades and capital projects … coming to facilities that will be helpful to our teams.

DN: Regarding the 2024 football schedule, it looks like you recently added a trip to SMU, so that means you will have two nonconference road games. Is there a chance that you will buy out the at-Wyoming game and get another home game?

TH: No. It is too short of notice. The thing that is so difficult about it is you have to get games way, way out ahead in football. That was very difficult because we added them a few years ago as an independent.

When we went into the Big 12, we started looking at those games, and that really wasn’t something that we were looking to do.

Right now, there is talk this year in the CFP about strength of schedule. And there is going to be (more). We just got out of some Big 12 meetings, and that was one of the things we talked about, in the future, was strength of schedule.

And is it to our advantage or not as individual members of our conference — how are you going to schedule in the nonconference? And there is not a policy in the Big 12 conference about level other than there is a policy that you have to play at least one A5 school.

So Wyoming is on the schedule. The deal was a home and away. We got them at home and now we go on the road and we will do that. They are very good, absolutely. That will be a tough game.

DN: You haven’t spoken publicly since Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Arizona State were added to the Big 12. Have you been in favor of rival Utah joining?

TH: Yes. Yes. I think they are an athletic program that has been in a relationship with BYU for 100 years, even more. Though some of our fans don’t like it, a lot of fans think it is great.

For someone who has played in it and coached in it and now administered in that game, it is a great game, one of the most competitive games.

BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar (49) knocks down a pass by Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) as BYU and Utah play.
BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar (49) knocks down a pass by Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer as BYU and Utah play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Next year BYU and Utah will once again be conference mates, something BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is very happy about. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

And to be in those, it is unreal. I think some fans on both sides make it very difficult, and I think that is what some people are worried about, is those fans, not the games.

My responsibility is not for those outlier fans. It is for the people that are playing in the games who love the games. They are competitive and it is as fun of a game to play in as you can imagine.

And being in the Big 12, which is a competitive A5 conference, with conference realignment, you are looking to do everything you possibly can to strengthen your conference. So why you would not make a deliberate move that you knew could strengthen your conference for some other reason that I don’t agree with or understand? I don’t get that. People have debated it and talked about it, but it is not my concern.

DN: Finally, what is it like to be an athletic director in these crazy times and how are you holding up?

TH: It is different. I can’t say that it is mainly just athletics anymore. As an athletic director, the world is changing. I think there are a lot of people, and you look at COVID, and how that came upon people, everybody had to change.

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The key word was pivot. I think now on the heels of that, from COVID to NIL to transfer portal and collectives, and realignment and all those things, you have to be nimble.

And I could say, “Wow, this is hard. Woe is me.” And we wouldn’t get any better. We would just kinda be stuck.

For me, I haven’t seen any of these things (happening) in advance any more than anybody else. We are all in the same boat. We are all learning. I think that it has been fun for me to be a part of the Big 12 right now with a group of ADs, some of whom I have known for a long time. And others that are new friends to me, that we have been able to kind of go through it together.

There are some rules and legislation in the Big 12 that give you ways to do things, and policies that are (clear-cut). That has helped. I think change is part of life. Change is part of athletics. Change is a part of BYU. I am in the middle of it, so I am going to do the best I can to put us in a positive position.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe walks on the field at Arrowhead Stadium prior to a game with Missouri in Kansas City.
BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe, walks on the field at Arrowhead Stadium prior to a game with Missouri in Kansas City Missouri Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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