BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe held a full class Thursday morning during Education Week to speak about the athletic program and the teams at BYU. When speaking about the teams and players, Holmoe used the model of Dallin H. Oaks’ recent General Conference address, “Good, Better, Best.”
“We should be good every year,” Holmoe said. “Whether we’re better or are our very best depends on a lot of intangibles. The best teams are when players and coaches care about each other.”
Holmoe, who is entering his eighth season as athletic director, has led those programs through several changes over the past two years, including a conference change for almost every sports team to the West Coast Conference, a disaffiliation from the Mountain West Conference, an independent status for the football team and the negotiation of a national ESPN contract that made the Cougars the No. 6 most nationally watched football team in the country last season.
Holmoe spoke about recruiting, and mentioned some of the BYU greats in both football and basketball, especially their journey from being unheralded arrivals to Provo to unprecedented success to eventual unlimited national exposure.
The first was Steve Young, who was the very last player to be recruited on the 1979 BYU football team. Coach LaVell Edwards received a call from a small school in Greenwich, Conn., about an athlete he said the Cougars should take a look at. The 6’2” quarterback was mainly used in a running offense but had ties to BYU through his father, Grit, who played for the Cougars, Steve’s notable ancestor — Brigham Young.
No one could have predicted the success Steve Young enjoyed at BYU, as he went on to set an NCAA single-season record in completion percentage with 71.3 percent. With Young under center, the Cougars set another NCAA record, averaging 584.2 yards per game on offense. Young won the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the nation’s top quarterback, and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Young went on to be a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, in which he won three Super Bowls and went to seven Pro Bowls.
The second player Holmoe talked about was Ty Detmer, who had set all kinds of records in a tiny high school in Southern Texas.
“When Ty Detmer got here, he weighed, fully clothed, 145 pounds,” Holmoe said. “No one here could possibly say he was going to be any good. They told LaVell he was little, he was unknown and he wasn’t LDS. But Lavell said ‘Let’s take him.'”
Detmer started for the Cougars during the 1990 season and has been said to have had one of the greatest single seasons for a quarterback in NCAA college football history. He finished the season with 41 touchdown passes and more than 40 NCAA records. It also marked the year in which the Cougars upset the No. 1 team in the country, the Miami Hurricanes. Detmer was awarded the Heisman Trophy after that season, becoming the first and only Cougar to ever win the award. Detmer was named to the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Holmoe also talked about quarterback Jake Heaps, who started for the Cougars most of his freshman year in 2010 and the first five games of 2011 before being replaced by current starter Riley Nelson. Heaps struggled in the Cougars’ offense and has since transferred to the University of Kansas.
“I love Jake Heaps,” Holmoe said. “He is one of ours. He could have gone anywhere in the country, and he gave up a ton to come to BYU, but it just didn’t work out for him. He could be the highest recruit that we ever had and I fully expect him to do well at Kansas and to be in the NFL one day.”
Holmoe’s conversation then switched to basketball, and naturally, to 2010-2011’s national sensation Jimmer Fredette.
“Jimmer was not a highly recruited kid,” Holmoe said. “Vermont was the big one. Niagara, Sienna. He had an incredible record and was legendary in northern New York. He became who he was because it was hard. Ty (Detmer) and Jimmer are very similar. They were both once-in-a-generation players.”
Obviously, Fredette’s accomplishments need no rehashing, due to the proximity and national exposure he received, winning every major NCAA sports award after the season leading the Cougars’ to an appearance in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981, when another generation player, Danny Ainge, led the Cougars.
“The point I’m trying to make is that recruiting is a crapshoot,” Holmoe said. “We don’t know until they get there how they’re going to be. But BYU has always got good players and people.”
Holmoe finished his discussion speaking about the ESPN contract and scheduling with BCS schools for the football team. He mentioned the series with Boise State, Notre Dame, Utah State, Hawaii and the talks that are continuing with Wisconsin.
Holmoe also talked about the hopeful continuation of the important in-state rivalry with Utah. “I have a good relationship with Utah’s athletic director, Chris Hill,” Holmoe said. “He’s trying to do it, but it’s hard. Some people don’t understand how good that rivalry was. We had to do a contract for the first time ever to play them. I’m optimistic. We just have to be as good as we can to reach all of our dreams.”