Ty Detmer spent his career making decisions in less than three seconds. That’s how long a quarterback is given to read a defense and throw the football before the opposition is in his face.

I think (athletic director) Tom (Holmoe) and (Deputy A.D.) Brian (Santiago) forced me on him a little bit. Obviously, we had a bad year, so as a coach you evaluate your staff and get your own guys in there. I get it. I don’t hold any animosity. I think Kalani does a great job.” — Ty Detmer

Holding the ball for too long can lead to a sack and increase the possibility of injury, just as holding a grievance for too long can paralyze a vibrant life. For Detmer, he doesn’t have time for either.

“There are a lot of things we can’t control, which is a lesson we learn in sports,” Detmer said. “What you can control is your attitude moving forward.”

A tough 2017 schedule and a series of injuries stymied BYU’s offense and frustrated Detmer, who was in his second season as offensive coordinator. The program’s only Heisman Trophy winner had big plans when he was hired with head coach Kalani Sitake in 2015.

On a Monday morning, two years later, with a 4-9 record and an offense ranked No. 123 in scoring, Detmer was dismissed after a face-to-face meeting with Sitake — an emotional encounter the young coach dreaded.

“Of course. He’s one of my favorite players,” Sitake said. “I grew up a BYU fan. That’s always a difficult thing to do and I don’t take it lightly.”

Detmer knew from the start that his hiring was different.

“As a coach, and we’ve all been around it, sometimes you are their guy and sometimes you are not,” Detmer said. “I didn’t know Kalani before. I think (athletic director) Tom (Holmoe) and (Deputy A.D.) Brian (Santiago) forced me on him a little bit. Obviously, we had a bad year, so as a coach you evaluate your staff and get your own guys in there. I get it. I don’t hold any animosity. I think Kalani does a great job.”

Sitake and Detmer shook hands after the meeting on Nov. 27, 2017, and he was gone, soon to be replaced by Aaron Roderick — one of Sitake’s guys. Four years to the day that Elsa first sang Let it Go in theaters, Detmer did just that. The Cougar legend had his reasons to justify holding a grudge, but his San Antonio upbringing prepared him to act differently. As a result, the aftermath has been liberating.

“My parents are both that way. They just never harped on things,” Detmer said. “It was always, ‘Where are we? What do we do? And where do we go from here?’ They kept positive attitudes.

“For me, I have too many great memories (at BYU) and people that I love and respect up there. I will always be grateful for BYU for what they let me do and become. I’m not going to let something fester and hold me back. I chose to move on, enjoy life and BYU is a big part of that.”

The Detmers packed up and moved to Arizona to be near the family of Ty’s wife Kim, where Ty is the head football coach at American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek. Former Cougar quarterback Max Hall is his offensive coordinator.

“Ty’s departure was a masterclass in handling difficult situations with grace and class,” Hall said. “His lack of grudges serves as a great example of how to be a true professional. He still loves BYU and BYU still loves him.”

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While the sting of falling short in 2017 still bugs him, the ability to shake it off and not be defined by the circumstances has allowed Detmer’s disarming, boyish grin to keep smiling in all areas of his life. It also armed him with a tool to teach others.

“You see it with people who get offended by something and leave the Church. The (offense) shouldn’t define you. It shouldn’t determine what your beliefs are and where you go from here. It’s hard to do sometimes, but we can choose where we are headed and how we are getting there.

“I tell our kids that all the time,” Detmer said. “Sure, there were times when it was like, ‘Man, that was tough,’ but when I look back five, six years later, I think ‘I’m probably supposed to be in Arizona.’ This is where I’m supposed to be.”

Circle of life

Detmer’s final home game as BYU’s offensive coordinator was a 16-10 defeat to UMass on Nov. 18, 2017. Five and a half years later, on March 31, he will return. Only this time, instead of wearing a headset on the sideline, he’ll be wearing a royal No. 14 jersey and the ball will be in his hands.

BYU tight end Matt Bushman (89) gets tackled by UMass defenders in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. The Cougars fell 16-10 to the Minutemen, marking the end of Ty Detmer’s run as BYU offensive coordinator. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“It will be fun. I’m sure there will be some butterflies,” Detmer said. “It will be exciting to get back out there with the guys. The arm isn’t like it was, but I threw the ball last week and it felt good so maybe it won’t be as bad as I think.”

Detmer and Hall will quarterback “Team Royal” against “Team Navy” in BYU’s annual Alumni Football Game, which is free to the public (5 p.m. MDT, BYUtv).

Sitake will greet him with a bear hug.

“Ty is one of the best of all time. That doesn’t ever change,” Sitake said. “I love that he will come back and be around us. He’s run out the alumni flag a few times. He sends us his recruits. He’s never shown any bitterness. He’s been first class in everything he has done. I’m just lucky to call him my friend.”

“Ty is one of the best of all time. That doesn’t ever change. I love that he will come back and be around us. He’s run out the alumni flag a few times. He sends us his recruits. He’s never shown any bitterness. He’s been first class in everything he has done. I’m just lucky to call him my friend.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake

Make no mistake about it, Detmer is not just coming to have a good time. He plans to win and he’s expecting Hall to help him.

“I told Max to be ready to go in there,” Detmer said. “We’ll split reps. I don’t have a problem with that. I asked him if he still had the playbook and he said, ‘I’ve got it. I’m bringing it. I’ve got you covered.’”

Hall made headlines in last year’s inaugural game by completing a hail Mary pass to Bryan Kehl on the final play to lead Navy past Royal, 31-27.

“He hasn’t talked a ton about it,” Detmer said of Hall’s big night. “When it first happened, he came back on cloud nine with a big grin for a week or two. A lot of people knew about it. I think he raised the expectations that everybody has for this game — which is not a good thing.”

Practice bodies

Detmer and Hall combined for 26,396 passing yards and 215 touchdowns during their respective careers at BYU. Detmer won college football’s greatest individual prize (Heisman Trophy) and Hall is the winningest quarterback in program history (32). On occasion, they take aim at their own defense at ALA-Queen Creek.

“I think they have a good time with it,” Detmer said with a laugh. “We’re throwing at them and talking smack and telling them, ‘It’s not that hard, boys! It’s not that hard. Just throw it to where they can catch it. It’s not that hard!’”

“I’ve been blessed to be around him daily,” Hall said. “(Ty) has helped me become a better coach and a better person.”

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ALA-Queen Creek went 9-2 last fall and quarterback Drew Cowart, who threw for 2,500 yards and 35 touchdowns his senior season, signed with BYU as a preferred walk-on following his mission. Cowart will be in the Provo MTC and may hear the roar of the crowd when his two coaches, Detmer and Hall, take the field just a few blocks away.

What about Steve Young?

There are three quarterbacks on the “Team Royal” roster, including Detmer, Hall and Matt Berry, but just two on “Team Navy” — John Beck and Brandon Doman. Like the avid hunter he is, Detmer shot down any speculation that Steve Young, the MVP of Super Bowl XXIX, might be a late add to the opposition. However, the words he chose might also be one last salvo to bring him in.

“Steve talks a big game with this and that, but when it comes down to it, he doesn’t want to get out there and embarrass himself,” Detmer said with a laugh. “Something will come up where he can’t make it. He’s always had commitment issues.”

At 55, Detmer believes he is the oldest among the combined alumni rosters — a “father time” honor that can only be lost if Young shows up to play.

No Russell Maryland

Detmer’s greatest moment at LaVell Edwards Stadium was defeating No. 1 Miami 28-21 on Sept. 8, 1990. He threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns, all while dodging soon-to-be NFL star Russell Maryland and the Hurricanes’ defense.

The good news for Detmer is no former Miami players will be on the field March 31.

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“That’s the great part. I don’t have to scramble,” Detmer said. “The hamstrings won’t take it. I can just stand there and throw it a little bit. I’ll have some pregame jitters, but hopefully we can get a couple completions early and go from there.”

Detmer has been back to BYU many times since that blue Monday in 2017, although never like this. As he once again marches “Team Royal” up and down Edwards Stadium, he will do so as more than a Heisman winner — but also as an example of how the right perspective during a disappointing moment can still keep you in the game.

When the rush of bad news came, Detmer didn’t need three seconds to make his decision. The direction to go was already in his sights because his parents, Sonny and Betty, put it there years before.

Hunter Lee Phillips, from Wheelersberg, Ohio, left, is photographed with bobcats by Ty Detmer, on Detmer’s T14 Ranch Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, near Freer, Texas. | Edward A. Ornelas

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com. 

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