How BYU’s new offensive coordinator and passing game coordinator plan to keep the engine revving
Aaron Roderick and Fesi Sitake say they won’t make any major changes to a BYU offense that ranked among the best in the nation last season but is replacing Baylor-bound OC Jeff Grimes and NFL-bound QB Zach Wilson
Although it will be missing its primary driver — with superstar quarterback Zach Wilson moving on to the NFL and all — the souped up race car known as the BYU offense should be able to maintain its momentum in 2021, new offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said Tuesday.
“The idea would be that we can just keep rolling and keep improving, but not having to reinvent everything,” Roderick said in a Zoom meeting with reporters the day after he was tabbed by head coach Kalani Sitake to replace OC Jeff Grimes, who left for the same position at Baylor. “I don’t plan on our offense changing very much, if at all.”
Then again, the name might change, Roderick allowed, chuckling.
“I would love to be a top 10 passing offense all the time, like we were this year, but that’s easier said than done. We know we are going to play some really good defenses this year, so we know we got our work cut out for us. … We are a wide-zone team that throws the ball down the field a lot. We are going to continue to have that personality.” — New BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick
Grimes started to call the spread attack, similar to the Air Raid of Mike Leach, the RVO — Reliable-Violent Offense — during his third and final season in Provo as sort of a cousin to the RPO — Run-Pass Option — a lot of schools currently employ.
“It doesn’t have a name yet,” said Roderick, who turned 48 two days before BYU walloped UCF 49-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl to complete an 11-1 season. “Maybe if I can one-up Grimey’s RVO, I will try, but I haven’t pulled that off yet. … In all seriousness, I do believe in the same things that Jeff preached about being reliable and being physical.”
Roderick will retain his duties as quarterbacks coach, while receivers coach Fesi Sitake will keep that as one of his titles after being promoted to Roderick’s old position of passing game coordinator.
“I just feel real fortunate and real blessed to be able to continue to help this offense go,” Sitake said on the same Zoom call. “I don’t think we will skip a beat in terms of the passing game because (Roderick) has been so great about incorporating me in the past.”
Roderick, a former BYU receiver who has 21 years of coaching experience, including 10 as a coordinator, said he and Sitake were heavily involved when Grimes began building the offense three years ago so it already fits his philosophy.
“We have tried to lean on the fact that we coach kids that are reliable and kids that are (big),” he said. “We have some size and some physicality on this team, and we need to use it. … There are little tweaks every year to try to stay one step ahead of your opponents, so we might make minor additions or deletions just based on who our personnel might be, or if we just think there is something missing that can help us get an advantage over a tough schedule that is coming up.”
Both coaches mentioned the offense in 2021 will feature players who have three or four years in the same system, guys such as center James Empey, right tackle Blake Freeland, tight end Isaac Rex, running backs Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa and receivers Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u.
Along with Wilson, underclassmen Brady Christensen and Dax Milne have declared for the NFL draft. Seniors Tristen Hoge, Kieffer Longson and Chandon Herring are also moving on.
Of course, picking a starting quarterback to replace Wilson, who finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting, will be Roderick’s chief chore between now and the scheduled opener Sept. 4 vs. Arizona in Las Vegas. He declined to handicap the derby this early, but said “it would be fair to start with” the two QBs with game experience — Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall — in the discussion. He called the two freshmen — Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and Jacob Conover — really good players who were both very highly recruited.
“So it is going to be tough,” Roderick said.
Grimes’ departure and the promotions from within means BYU has five offensive coaches and four defensive coaches, so head coach Kalani Sitake has another decision to make. Does he hire another offensive coach to keep it at 6-4, or hire a defensive coach to even it out?
“That will be Kalani’s decision,” Roderick said. “I will say that six on offense, four on defense is not common. So I think the hire could go either way. If we get a sixth (offensive) coach, great. If we don’t, we more than got it covered. … It is about winning as a team.”
One thing is certain, said the former Bountiful High product who played at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) before playing for the legendary LaVell Edwards at BYU. The Cougars will continue to throw the ball — a lot.
“I would love to be a top 10 passing offense all the time, like we were this year, but that’s easier said than done,” Roderick said. “We know we are going to play some really good defenses this year, so we know we got our work cut out for us. … We are a wide-zone team that throws the ball down the field a lot. We are going to continue to have that personality.”
Roderick took the time in his news conference Tuesday to point out many of the mentors who helped him get to a place he “really, really loves coaching at,” and said he never entertained the thought of going anywhere else, or following Grimes to Baylor if he was given that chance.
He listed Edwards, Norm Chow, Lance Reynolds, Robbie Bosco, Robert Anae, Gary Andersen, Kyle Whittingham, Andy Ludwig, Kalani Sitake and Grimes as coaches who have had big impacts on his career.