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Analysis: Jeff Grimes delivered on his promise to build a great offense at BYU

Probable NFL first-round draft pick Zach Wilson, other Cougar stars benefitted greatly from offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes’ three-year stint in Provo

Jeff Grimes speaks during the press conference introducing him as the new Offensive Coordinator for the BYU football program in Provo South on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. Adam Fondren, Deseret News

Quarterback Zach Wilson, receiver Dax Milne and left tackle Brady Christensen aren’t the only builders of BYU’s outstanding offense in 2020 who are moving on.

The primary architect of the offense’s three-year turnaround from one of the worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision to one of the best, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, will become the new OC at Baylor of the Big 12.

It is a good move for the 52-year-old Grimes, who gets back to his home state of Texas — he was born in Garland and played for UTEP from 1987-90 — and is reunited with Bears head coach Dave Aranda, who also has Utah ties. Aranda was a Southern Utah (2008) and Utah State (2012) defensive coordinator before stops at Wisconsin and LSU.

Grimes and Aranda worked together at LSU in 2016 and 2017, where Aranda was the highest-paid defensive coordinator and Grimes the highest-paid offensive line coach in the country. It was a surprise in some circles that BYU coach Kalani Sitake was able to come up with the cash to get Grimes to Provo for a second time.

So losing Grimes to Baylor should come as no shocker for the Cougars, especially after BYU finished No. 3 in scoring offense with a 43.5 point per game average and Grimes was a finalist for the Broyles Award.

With Grimes calling the bulk of the plays to utilize the talents of Wilson, Milne, receivers Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u, freshman tight end Isaac Rex and running backs Lopini Katoa and Tyler Allgeier, not to mention a deep and experienced offensive line, he helped construct, the Cougars rose to No. 7 in the land in total offense, averaging 522.2 yards per game.

In at least eight of 11-1 BYU’s games, Wilson and company watched the fourth quarter from the sidelines as Sitake called off the dogs. Grimes’ offense was that good.

Grimes clearly wants to be a head coach some day, and an OC job at a Power Five school is obviously a better launching point for that than one at BYU.

As his ascension to a likely first-round pick in April’s NFL draft unfolded this past season, Wilson often credited Grimes and quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick for his success.

“When I met you, I was just a kid with a football and a dream,” Wilson wrote on Twitter in a message to ‘Coach Grimey.’ “Your direction and leadership helped me grow and mature into the man and player that I am today.”

Speaking of Roderick, he’s seemingly the no-brainer choice to succeed Grimes at BYU — providing he doesn’t follow him to Waco. Also, Roderick could be looked at by his longtime friend and new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian to join that staff in Austin.

Grimes was largely responsible for bringing offensive line coach Eric Mateos to BYU, after Ryan Pugh left to become OC at Troy, so Mateos to Baylor in a similar role is obviously possible.

For the Cougars, it won’t be the first time they’ve watched Grimes move on for a higher-paying job in the Big 12. He developed BYU’s offensive line from 2004-06 under Bronco Mendenhall before leaving for Colorado — then a Big 12 member — in 2007.

Grimes’ work in Provo this time around was even more impressive. Hired to replace a BYU legend, Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, who was not nearly as successful as an OC as he was as a quarterback for the Cougars, Grimes inherited an offense that ranked No. 123 in the country after the 2017 season.

His first major move was to convince Sitake that the returning quarterbacks, mostly pocket passers with limited mobility, didn’t fit the type of offense he had in mind. So they set about luring Wilson away from Boise State. Three years later, Wilson has declared for the NFL draft and the Cougars are coming off one of the best seasons in school history.

In a 33-minute session with reporters during an introductory news conference on Dec. 16, 2017, at the Cougar Room in LaVell Edwards Stadium, Grimes promised a “great offense” built around “versatile, hard-working players” and “creative play-calling” that would keep defenses guessing.

He delivered.

He made good on his promises so well that Sitake couldn’t keep him in Provo for more than three years.

For BYU fans, the harsh reality is that the program in its current state — and status as a college football independent — is a stepping stone for lower-tier Power Five programs such as Baylor and Arizona, the school that Cougars running backs coach AJ Steward left for last year for the same position.

At Baylor, Grimes faces a similar rebuilding job as he did at BYU as he replaces Larry Fedora, who was fired after just one season. The Bears went 2-7 in 2020 and ranked 118th in total offense (310.2 yards per game) and 100th in scoring offense (23.3 points per game).

On the way to returning BYU’s offense to its glorious past, Grimes helped develop some top-notch offensive linemen, most notably junior left tackle Christensen, a three-year starter who declared for the NFL draft last week.

Christensen could be the first BYU offensive lineman drafted since 2005.

Senior left guard Tristen Hoge, a Notre Dame transfer who also benefitted from Grimes’ tutelage, said Sunday via Instagram he is bypassing the opportunity to return for an “extra year” granted by the NCAA and turning pro.

Senior right tackle/right guard Chandon Herring is doing the same.

What’s next for BYU?

Look for Sitake to promote Roderick, if he’s available. The former BYU receiver and co-OC at Utah (2015-16) called the plays in BYU’s 54-23 win over UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 22 when Grimes and Mateos were unable to make the trip due COVID-19 issues.

Receivers coach Fesi Sitake — the head coach’s cousin — helped Roderick with play-calling duties in Florida and could also be considered a candidate. Fesi Sitake was the OC at Weber State in 2016 and 2017.

Tight ends coach Steve Clark has been an integral part of the offensive staff since Sitake succeeded Mendenhall and has had OC experience at Weber State as well.

If Kalani Sitake looks outside the program, Dixie State head coach Paul Peterson was a candidate in 2017 (when he was Snow College’s head coach) and might be considered again, if he’s interested. Virginia quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, the former BYU QB and QBs coach, could also be on the list.

Coincidentally, BYU and Baylor are scheduled to meet on Oct. 16 in Waco, the schools’ first matchup since 1984. Baylor (and Grimes, presumably) will visit BYU on Sept. 10, 2022.