Early in the fall semester of 1989, Brigham Young University freshman Shane Reese thought maybe he’d made a mistake when he enrolled.
Before making a final decision to leave the school, his Latter-day Saint bishop back home, Clyde Worthen, asked Reese to go see his brother, BYU law professor Kevin Worthen.
Worthen told Reese he was sure that if he gave BYU a chance, he would find it a welcoming and wonderful place.
Reese chose to stay, a decision he would make a second time as a BYU statistics professor when the Philadelphia Eagles offered him a job in the NFL.
Now, almost 34 years after that life-changing conversation, Reese, 52, is about to succeed Worthen, 66, as BYU president. “Whoosh, Kevin,” the chant after every made free throw at BYU basketball games, is about to become “Whoosh, Shane.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced the change, effective May 1, during campus devotional on Tuesday morning at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
Reese will become BYU’s 14th president and lead the school into the Big 12 Conference on July 1 and into its 150th year in 2024. (BYU turns 150 in 2025.)
Elder Holland had been announced as the devotional speaker, but when he stood at the podium he said it would be a devotional with a twist. He said that President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and chair of the BYU board of trustees, had sent him to conduct some business.
He said Worthen will serve through April. Reese will take the reins of the 34,000-student school on May 1, Worthen’s ninth anniversary as president.
“There is nothing magical about nine years, but two fellows named Oaks and Holland both served in that position for nine years to the day,” Elder Holland said to laughter, referring to himself and President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, each of whom is a past BYU president. (See a full list at the bottom of this story.)
Worthen wept openly during a spontaneous standing ovation from an estimated audience of 15,732, which Elder Holland called “an incredible turnout.”
“We could have done the ‘Whoosh, Kevin,’” Elder Holland said then, prompting more laughter.
“Kevin is a man of God and a remarkable university president and a dear friend,” said Elder Holland, a member of the BYU board of trustees. “He has been recognized as such across the nation. His skill and accomplishment have greatly enhanced the stature of the university. We love him dearly.”
BYU is the flagship university of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors four universities and a college. The church subsidizes student tuition by an annual amount in the hundreds of millions of dollars. BYU’s board of trustees is led by the church’s First Presidency and includes several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other general church officers.
Elder Holland said it was noteworthy that Reese, like Worthen, is a homegrown president who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at BYU in statistics. Worthen earned bachelor’s and law degrees at BYU.
Reese has served as academic vice president since June 2019. During that time, he directed the BYU Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging, which found that the university needed to root out individual and systemic racism. The committee offered 26 recommendations, and Reese and others have begun to implement them.
BYU opened an Office of Belonging last fall to meet one of the recommendations.
Reese also helped Worthen and the rest of the president’s committee guide BYU through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reese’s appointment is an indication he has earned deep trust from church leaders, the university administration and faculty while serving as the academic vice president. He has delivered five major addresses in that position, four during the annual University Conference for faculty and staff and one BYU devotional.
He said in an interview after the devotional that he intends to maintain the course set by Worthen. He said he will maintain Worthen’s emphasis on experiential learning, also known as inspiring learning, which allows undergraduates to do graduate-style research with professors.
“That’s clearly going to continue for us as a university,” Reese said in the interview.
He said BYU has a clearer sense of mission than most institutions of higher education, and referred multiple times to late church President Spencer W. Kimball’s “Second Century Address” at BYU in 1975. President Kimball said BYU has a dual heritage to teach secular knowledge alongside “vital and revealed truths that have been sent to us from heaven.”
He said that double heritage requires BYU faculty and administrators to be “bilingual.”
“I just am thrilled about this kind of dual heritage that President Kimball talks about in the second century address, trying to have our campus community be bilingual,” Reese said. “I just love that vision. And so for me, I just see so much more opportunity than really issues or challenges ahead for us.”
The church commissioner of education, Elder Clark G. Gilbert, under Elder Holland’s direction, had begun with Worthen a review of BYU’s progress toward President Kimball’s second century goals.
“We feel like we’ve got a lot of things left to do, with respect to President Kimball’s vision for the university,” Reese said.
Of the three previous BYU presidents, two were General Authority Seventies of the church — Elder Merrill J. Bateman and Elder Cecil O. Samuelson. During their 18 years in office, many wondered if the BYU president always would be a church general authority, an international position.
But Worthen was an Area Seventy, a regional position, when he was named the university’s president. He was released from that church position in 2021.
Reese serves as first counselor in the presidency of the Mapleton Utah North Stake, which oversees a dozen congregations south of Provo.
Elder Holland revealed the fact Reese once turned down a front office position with the Philadelphia Eagles to remain at BYU. Reese said after the devotional that the offer came in about 2006, when the then-Eagles coach — and now two-time Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs coach — Andy Reid called him.
The first time Reid called him, Reese didn’t believe it was Reid and hung up on him, Reese said in an interview.
“I’m always doing statistical analysis on athletics,” he said. “It is part of the thing that makes me most — that’s when I get geeked out, right, is when I get the opportunity to do some statistical analysis, and certainly sports is one area that I get really excited about.”
He also has mapped solar storms and whale mating grounds, published a study about NASCAR and provided statistical analysis for the U.S. Olympic volleyball team.
Reese served as dean of the BYU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences from 2017–2019 while an award-winning, publishing faculty member in BYU’s Statistics Department.
“I am told a statistician can have his head in an oven and his feet in an ice cube and say that on average he feels just about right,” Elder Holland said jokingly. “Over the next several years, Shane, you will have plenty of fires to put out and cold-blooded decisions to make, so you should be ecstatic all the time.”
Reese earned a doctoral degree in statistics at Texas A&M University. Before returning to BYU, Reese worked in the Computer, Computational, and Statistical Sciences Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
At Los Alamos, Reese used statistical models to predict the safety of aging nuclear weapons.
Reese received BYU’s Young Scholar Award in 2004 and the BYU Karl G. Maser Excellence in Teaching Award in 2010.
At BYU, he earned recognition for his work on football analytics and other statistical models.
Reese uses statistics to attempt to predict the score of every BYU football game, Sister Peggy Worthen said during the devotional.
Kevin Worthen helped BYU navigate the difficult road of independence in college football, playing without a conference affiliation, while the rest of its sports competed in the West Coast Conference.
Last year, the BYU community celebrated when the Big 12 invited all Cougar sports to join the Power 5 conference, bringing new opportunity and legitimacy to the school’s athletic program.
Now Reese will lead the way. Elder Holland said he hoped Worthen will return to the BYU law school, where Worthen was a professor prior to taking over the presidency in 2014.
Reese said he will inherit a “phenomenal” cabinet from Worthen.
“When I look around the table at President’s Council, I see people — and you heard this from President Worthen today — who are incredibly mission-focused, who are locked in and who are amazingly unified in trying to achieve really what I would say is the vision of President Kimball in the second century address,” Reese said. “I love that. While we have sat in council together, we have discussed some of these seminal addresses, and each time you get to see the vision that these individuals have for their organizations. It’s an amazing group. I love being a part of them.”
Elder Holland said turning down the Eagles was the second-best attribute that recommended Reese. He introduced Reese’s wife, Sister Wendy Wood Reese, as the first. Elder Holland called her witty and endearing, and he said marrying her was the best thing Reese ever did.
“You are going to love her the way you love Peggy Worthen,” Elder Holland said. “They are the devoted parents of Madi, Brittany and Bryon, all of whom are BYU students or graduates thereof.”
“BYU’s motto is ‘Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve,’” Sister Reese said. “We look forward to serving and learning alongside each of you. BYU is truly the Lord’s university. I love BYU, I love the Lord , I love the church and I love the education here at BYU.”
Reese was born in Logan, Utah, on Feb. 9, 1971, he told the Deseret News. He was raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico and served as a Latter-day Saint missionary in the Taiwan Taipei Mission from 1990-1992.
“Wendy and I pledge our best efforts to build on the progress of President and Sister Worthen,” Reese said.
Tuesday’s announcement marks the third consecutive time that a new BYU president has been named during a March devotional assembly.
BYU presidents are regularly introduced by Latter-day Saint leaders on the board of trustees.
President Henry B. Eyring, then first counselor in the First Presidency of the church, announced Worthen as BYU’s new president in March 2014, and President Gordon B. Hinckley, the church president, announced Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, a General Authority Seventy, as BYU president in March 2003.
Elder Holland said BYU will hold an inauguration for Reese in the future. For the past two presidents announced in March, inaugurations happened during the following fall semester.
Past presidents and principals of Brigham Young Academy/University
- Warren N. Dusenberry, Jan. 1876 – April 1876
- Karl G. Maeser, Aug. 1876 – Jan. 1892
- Benjamin Cluff, Jan. 1892 – Dec. 1903 (BYA became BYU in Oct. 1903)
- George H. Brimhall, April 1904 – July 1921
- Franklin S. Harris, July 1921 – June 1945
- Howard S. McDonald, July 1945 – Oct. 1949
- Ernest L. Wilkinson, February 1951 – July 1971
- Dallin H. Oaks, Aug. 1971 – Aug. 1980
- Jeffrey R. Holland, Sept. 1980 – April 1989
- Rex E. Lee, July 1989 – Dec. 1995
- Merrill J. Bateman, Jan. 1996 – April 2003
- Cecil O. Samuelson, Jr., May 2003 – April 2014
- Kevin J Worthen, May 2014 – April 2023
- Shane Reese, May 2023 -
This story will be updated.