Most sports-minded youngsters growing up in the Salt Lake City bedroom community of Bountiful in the 1980s and early 1990s idolized athletes such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Bo Jackson.
Aaron Roderick looked up to his coaches.
Men such as then-West High basketball coach Clark Godfrey, then-Bountiful High football coach Larry Wall and a neighbor who would eventually play a role in Roderick landing a football scholarship at BYU, former University of Utah basketball coach Lynn Archibald, were instrumental in his development.
“Those men were giants in my world, superheroes,” Roderick, now 48, said last week, a few days after being named offensive coordinator at his alma mater, succeeding Jeff Grimes. “Even then, there was something about coaching that appealed to me, the impact they had on people, the impact they had on me. I thought, ‘Well, that is a noble pursuit, I think I could do that.’”
As a receiver at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) and then BYU, Roderick found himself admiring college coaches at those schools owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints such as Ron Haun, Robert Anae, LaVell Edwards, Lance Reynolds and Norm Chow.
When he first got into coaching, as a graduate assistant at BYU from 1999 to 2001 and then at Snow College (2002) and Southern Utah (2003-04), Roderick almost immediately learned that he loved it, and his reverence for the profession grew even more under the tutelage of mentors such as Edwards, Gary Andersen, Kyle Whittingham, Dennis Erickson, Andy Ludwig and his current boss, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake.
“I can’t think of better people to learn from than those guys,” Roderick said.
That Roderick has risen this high in the profession doesn’t surprise those who know him best. Zach Wilson often credited Roderick, BYU’s passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, this past season for helping develop him into a probable top-five pick in April’s NFL draft.
Roderick’s former players, such as receiver Kenneth Scott, who was recruited to Utah when Roderick worked under Whittingham with the Utes, say he’s one of the best.
“He’s very personable, and he connects with you on a higher level,” Scott said. “And that connection makes you just want to work even harder for him. It is that bond that he builds with you. He learns about your family, he knows what drives you. It makes you want to help him out any way you can.”
When he promoted Roderick in early January, Sitake said it was a “no-brainer” because of what “A-Rod,” as he is called by everyone, has accomplished since joining the staff in 2018.
“He has already done it before,” Sitake said. “He has called plays. It is an easy transition because he was already doing a lot of that work that offensive coordinators do anyway. He is really humble — doesn’t need a lot of attention for it. You saw our offense improve a lot throughout the years after he got here, and the improvement in Zach was big. … A-Rod knows what he is doing. He knows how to develop quarterbacks and to get them to improve. He knows how to work with one individual and specify what they can do to get better. I have a lot of confidence in him.”
As the Cougars open spring football camp on Monday, Roderick plans to draw upon all that experience to make one of the most important decisions of his coaching career. He will choose which of four main quarterbacks on BYU’s roster — Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney, Jacob Conover or Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters — will replace the NFL-bound Wilson as the Cougars’ starting QB in 2021.
“We have a lot of good players to work with, and it is going to be a really tough job for us to decide,” Roderick told the Deseret News in a wide-ranging interview in early February.
Here’s how one of the state’s own got to this point in his career, and what might be next:
BYU snags a Ute — Part I
Although he spent his first few years in Chicago, where his father was an air traffic controller at O’Hare International Airport, Roderick grew up a Utes fan because his father briefly played for the Utes before fracturing his leg.
“My earliest childhood memory is of my mom putting plastic bags over my dad’s broken leg cast before he got into the shower,” he said.
When the young family moved back to Utah, Roderick’s best friend quickly became Chris Godfrey, who would go on to be a three-year starting linebacker for the Utes, and whose father, Clark, happened to be West High’s basketball coach. The first time Roderick and Chris Godfrey played together, “Clark put boxing gloves on us and we just brawled for like an hour,” Roderick said.
That summer, Lynn Archibald introduced himself to Roderick’s mother, Cheryl, at a Little League baseball game and invited him to his basketball camp at the U.
“Coach Archibald showing an interest in me really started me thriving in sports,” Roderick said. “Then I was really fortunate in high school. I played for Larry Wall, who was an unbelievable coach to play for, really knowledgeable. It just kept going.”
Roderick was a three-sport star at Bountiful High, and still encourages young athletes to play as many sports as they can. At BYU, he’s been supportive of Hall’s efforts to play baseball for the Cougars.
At Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, after a church mission to Bogota, Colombia, Roderick broke the Vikings’ single-season kickoff and punt return records.
His longtime neighbor, Archibald, began working as an assistant coach at BYU in 1994, and he took Roderick’s highlights on a VHS tape into the late Edwards’ office one day and made the legendary coach and Chow watch it.
“And that’s how I got recruited to BYU, even though Utah was probably my favorite school growing up,” he said.
At BYU, Roderick caught 24 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns and returned 38 punts for 328 yards in two seasons (1997 and 1998).
“I wasn’t a star, but the reason I got on the field was because my coaches trusted me and I knew what to do,” he said. “I knew the offense. I could play any position that they needed me to play. All that stuff lended itself to me becoming a coach.”
Utes snag a Cougar
Roderick was a graduate assistant at BYU in Edwards’ final seasons. He coached under fellow Ricks College alum Gary Andersen at Southern Utah University in 2003, then was brought to Utah in 2005 by Andersen and Whittingham. He coached receivers only until 2009, was the Utes’ co-offensive coordinator in 2010, receivers coach again in 2011, passing game coordinator in 2012 and 2013, quarterbacks coach in 2014 and co-offensive coordinator again in 2015 and 2016 until his contract wasn’t renewed after the 2016 season.
Roderick accepted jobs at Washington and BYU during his 12-year stint at Utah, but had a change of heart both times and returned to the Hill.
On Dec. 30, 2016, after the Utah offense’s inability to finish in the red zone had become a glaring weakness, Roderick was the scapegoat. Whittingham fired Roderick and running backs coach Dennis Erickson retired.
Remarkably, Roderick is not bitter. Nor does he feel redeemed after his recent success, and promotion, at BYU.
“I don’t even look at that sort of thing,” he said. “I look back on that time and it really just feels like we were winning all the time. I got fired. It didn’t end exactly the way I wanted. But I coached there for 12 years and we won 100-something games. It was great.”
Roderick called his Utah days “a huge blessing in my life” and days he recalls fondly.
“I made a bunch of great friends and had great relationships with the players and coaches, and I still do,” he said. “Really, no hard feelings toward anyone. That’s the honest truth. I don’t think about anything being redemptive. I don’t spend a whole lot of time reflecting on anything negative.”
Scott, who spent six years at Utah (2010-15) after being recruited there out of Fontana, California, by Roderick, says if the firing bothered Roderick at all, he did a good job hiding it.
“His perspective is crazy positive,” Scott said. “To him, it was like, ‘OK, this happened, and now, boom, I have the opportunity to show the world it can’t keep me down.’”
Scott, who now lives in Houston but stays in close contact with Roderick, said he thought about leaving Utah several times during his career, especially after breaking his ankle during fall camp in 2010, but each time Roderick persuaded him to stay and he ended up having a solid career with 1,464 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
“Man, if it wasn’t for coach Rod, I probably would have left Utah,” Scott said. “I will be honest: Coach Roderick was the glue that held everything together for me, as far as one of the reasons why I stayed.”
Scott said Roderick is not just an excellent coach, play-caller and game-planner. He’s also a fantastic recruiter.
When Scott was a freshman at Colony High in Fontana, Roderick showed up to recruit a senior, but noticed the 6-foot-3 speedster making plays all over the field.
“Loyalty is the first thing that comes to mind about coach Rod. I remember him saying, ‘Hey, I am going to come back for you in a couple years,’” Scott said. “And he did that. He came to my house. He’s the reason I committed to Utah on the spot, when I was 16.”
When Scott’s mother, Latricia Banks, contracted lupus, Roderick called or texted her every week to check up on her until she passed away on Dec. 29, 2016, a day before he was fired at Utah, Scott said.
“He treats you like you are family,” Scott said. “He is the most loyal human being I’ve ever met.”
Making the move, but still commuting
Roderick still owns and lives in a home “about a mile from Utah football facilities” on Salt Lake City’s east bench, and makes the 53-minute drive to BYU every working day.
When he played for BYU, Roderick met and married Cougars soccer star Laurel Simpson. She became an assistant coach for the Utes women’s soccer team under coach Rich Manning in 2002, when Roderick was coaching at Snow College.
The couple divorced after having two children, Rachel (now 14) and Quinn (now 11). Laurel received a law degree from BYU in 2004 and now lives in Jeremy Ranch, 15 miles from the kids’ school in Park City.
That’s mainly why Roderick doesn’t want to move to Utah County.
“My kids can stay at my house and I can drive them to school, then just continue on my way to work,” he said. “If I were to live in Provo, I could never have them overnight on a school night. It would just be less convenient for my family. I just commute to work because it is what is best for my kids and my family.”
Rachel is “a good little soccer player” in the eighth grade and Quinn, a sixth grader, “plays basketball and just started playing football for the first time this year and is figuring it out,” Roderick said.
On a recent Saturday, Roderick could be found giving the play-by-play of one of Quinn’s basketball games on the phone to new Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, while also answering the former Utes QB’s questions about Wilson. Roderick says he has talked to every team in the league about the Cougars junior who had a record-setting season in 2020 under his tutelage.
“Brian knows Quinn from when he was little,” Roderick said. “That was a really cool moment for me. I was happy for Brian, he is telling me about getting to the NFL, and I am telling him about a good player, Zach, and he knows my son. It was one of those moments that makes this coaching profession fun.”
Roderick reveals little to this reporter regarding what he tells NFL teams about the product of Draper’s Corner Canyon High, out of respect for the process and Wilson’s privacy. He does say that any criticisms of Wilson’s character or leadership skills are way off target.
“All the feedback I get is that Zach is going to be a first-round pick,” Roderick said. “That’s great. He deserves it.”
From blue to red to blue again. Then what?
Given his love of the profession — hatched more than 30 years ago on the courts and ball fields of Bountiful — does Roderick want to be a head coach some day? He says he has never had that as a “main goal,” but would be open to it if the right opportunity presented itself. Former players and colleagues say he would be good at it.
“I have just sorta spent my whole career — it sounds cliche — trying to be the best coach I can be this week, and just win this game in front of me, or tackle whatever this next hurdle is,” he said. “Whether it is getting the big recruit, or planning for spring ball, or the next game, I have focused my whole career on not looking too far ahead, or what my title is going to be.”
After he was dismissed by Utah, Roderick wasn’t really interested in jumping back into coaching immediately — he was still being paid by Utah, with a year left on his contract — but when Sitake reached out with the offer to be an unpaid consultant at BYU, he took it.
However, as the 2017 season unfolded, BYU’s worst season in decades, Roderick “didn’t really feel like there was a real place for me” and after a month or so he told Sitake the role wasn’t for him and he stopped attending games and practices. Instead, he traveled around the country “to try to become a better coach,” visiting different programs.
He went to the Notre Dame at Miami game the night former Hurricanes coach Erickson and Miami’s national championship team were honored.
“What a great experience,” he said.
In December 2017, after Sitake had dismissed then-OC Ty Detmer and most of the offensive staff, he called and offered Roderick the position as PGC and QBs coach. Roderick was “really close” to taking a Pac-12 job, he said, but in the end thought it would be best for his family if he stayed in Utah.
“Just the chance to come back to BYU intrigued me,” Roderick said. “BYU is a place that has been known for offense, so to try and get that offense to perform again, that was a great opportunity. But more than anything, it had to do with my relationship with Kalani, my belief in him, my friendship and trust in him. It just felt right.”
He took a little ribbing from his former players at Utah, but most of them were just happy for him, Scott said from his home in Houston.
“I thought it was awesome,” Scott said.
As for the rivalry, Roderick said he’s just another of the long line of coaches who have been at both places and enjoyed both places.
“Fans probably won’t like hearing me say this but I never got into picking sides,” he said. “I love the rivalry, but I have been able to go back and forth seamlessly and appreciate the players and coaches on both sides. I did grow up a Ute fan, going to basketball games with the Archibald family, and basketball camps and stuff. And then of course my experience here (at BYU) is well documented. I have had a good run, here, too.”
And he’s got a big decision to make before the opener against Arizona in Las Vegas on Sept. 4.
After all, that’s what coaches do. He’s known that all along.