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‘BYU changed my life’: AD Tom Holmoe reflects on 15 years as leader of school’s intercollegiate sports teams

In Q&A with the Deseret News, Cougars’ sports leader talks about his mentors, his hiring decisions, and how we deals with the school’s administration and its board of trustees

Tom Holmoe, athletic director at Brigham Young University, speaks during a press conference announcing a new contract for coach Dave Rose Wednesday, April 6, 2011.
Tom Holmoe, athletic director at Brigham Young University, speaks during a press conference announcing a new contract for coach Dave Rose Wednesday, April 6, 2011.
Kylea Knecht

PROVO — Tom Holmoe has been BYU’s director of athletics since March 1, 2005, meaning that 15 years have passed since the former BYU football player and San Francisco 49ers defensive back was promoted from interim AD to lead the school’s 21 intercollegiate sports teams.

Holmoe, whose first major decision was to hire football coach Bronco Mendenhall and whose last major decision was to hire men’s basketball coach Mark Pope, answered the following questions for the Deseret News for our review of his 15 years at the helm.

Deseret News: When and why did you decide you would like to be in college athletics administration?

Tom Holmoe: I was a pre-med student majoring in zoology at BYU. I never thought about being an athletic director while at BYU. I had a good relationship with Glen Tuckett, who was the AD at BYU, and spoke to him quite a bit, but thought I would go into medicine. When I got drafted in 1982, I figured I would try and play a few years in the NFL and then apply for medical school. After a few years with the 49ers, I decided I wouldn’t go to medical school but would get my master’s degree in athletic administration and go from there. After my seventh year in the NFL, I retired and came to BYU to be a graduate assistant and coach the defensive backs. LaVell (Edwards) asked if I would help coach while Dick Felt (my DB coach at BYU) recovered from a heart attack. After two years of coaching, I was hooked and decided to coach instead of going into athletic administration. Being around Glen Tuckett again at BYU and then Ted Leland at Stanford, as well as John McVey (49ers general management), Carmen Policy (49ers president) and later John Kasser at Cal, I thought I would enjoy doing the jobs they had done with their respective programs, so I came back to BYU and finally got into athletic administration.

DN: Did you ever imagine being BYU’s athletic director for more than 15 years?

TH: I had been in athletics long enough to learn that you can have long-term goals but you better focus on doing the job at hand and work year to year. So no, I couldn’t have imagined I would be at BYU for 15 years as athletic director.

DN: How do you think you’ve done in regard to hiring/firing coaches, which many say is an AD’s biggest job?

TH: People will have their various opinions on that. My focus is on hiring the best person with the right fit for BYU, then doing all we can to help them be successful.

DN: A lot of people judge an athletic department’s success on how well football and men’s basketball fare. In your opinion, how have those sports done under your watch?

TH: I believe it’s important to have a well-rounded athletic program; however, I fully understand the importance of having successful football and basketball teams. They are critical to the overall success of the other programs. I’ve truly enjoyed the many exciting and challenging situations I’ve had working with all BYU’s head coaches. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the very best in the profession throughout the past 15 years.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe meets with the media at his semiannual press conference Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in Provo, Utah.
Mark A. Philbrick/BYU

DN: Your predecessors, Val Hale and Rondo Fehlberg, have said the BYU AD job is more difficult than most because he has to deal with an added layer of administration, the board of trustees. What has been your experience in that regard?

TH: I knew — fairly well — the internal workings of BYU’s administration having been an athlete for five years, a coach for two and the director of athletic development for a couple of years before being named athletic director. I accepted the job knowing it was different than Cal, Stanford or the 49ers, but I also knew there are unique opportunities at BYU that don’t exist at other universities. I had excellent counsel from a few good friends at BYU saying that if I ran the athletic department in alignment with the leaders of the university and the church, I would have a good chance at success. If not, I would likely fail. The board of trustees allows me incredible autonomy, but I certainly know exactly who the board of directors are! They are wonderfully supportive, and I know they are only a phone call away if I need them. As long as they keep showing up at our football and basketball games, we’re in good shape.

DN: When you reflect on your time at BYU, what comes to mind, and who are the people most responsible for your success?

TH: BYU changed my life. It was very challenging. The football, academics and social aspects challenged me like I’d never been challenged. Fortunately, I was blessed to be surrounded by a lot of wonderful people who were with me through this incredible time of growth — teammates, classmates, coaches, faculty, administrators and many supporters in the community. I often consider what my life would have been like had I decided to attend another school than BYU. I’ve learned a lot at BYU, and I’m still learning. As a student, great men like LaVell Edwards, Dr. Joe Wood (faculty) and President Jeffery Holland were perfect examples to me. They each had big roles on campus but showed me it wasn’t about their title or position, but about loving and serving others. I was a small fish in a big pond at BYU but each of them made me feel like they truly cared about me — and loved me. How could I not try to follow their example?