Most BYU football fans remember the Cougars’ hard-hitting, drive-stopping, third-ranked defense last season. On the other hand, they also probably remember the offense that lagged desperately behind the powerful Cougar defense.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall sought to close the gap by releasing his entire offensive staff and bringing back former offensive coordinator, Robert Anae.
After leaving BYU, Anae left to coach the offensive line and be the run game coordinator at the University of Arizona. There he learned more of the spread offense from head coach Rich Rodriguez. Mixed with the knowledge he gained at Texas Tech prior to his first stint at BYU, Anae’s experience at Arizona will be valuable to BYU’s new offensive mantra: “Go fast, go hard.”
“I came back with the motive to prove something,” Anae said.
Anae had one simple objective when putting together his offense staff: have them coach the way he wants them to coach. Rather than keep any coaches from the previous staff under Brandon Doman, he brought in former BYU quarterback Jason Beck as the quarterback coach, former BYU running back Mark Atuaia as running back coach, Garett Tujague as the offensive line coach and Guy Holliday to coach the receivers.
“We went through the recruit process and I didn’t have an agenda and Bronco didn’t have an agenda,” Anae said. “The only agenda I brought to the deal was, ‘Can these guys coach hard and fast?’ The staff was formed with that in mind. Go fast and go hard.”
Ranked seventh in the nation last season, Arizona is known for its prolific and fast offense. Anae plans to bring some of the Wildcats’ offensive strategies to the Cougars.
“My experience was that you can actually coordinate an offense with an effort base. My previous experience as a player and a coach has been all execution-based. It was all assignment and technique,” Anae said. “We’ve got these concepts. I go to Arizona and I was the only new guy in that room. That philosophy had been developing for 20 some odd years. I’ll be darned. I walked right into a deal where it’s an effort-based offense system. I was blown away.”
Quarterback coach Jason Beck brings years of coaching experience to perhaps the team’s most vital position. In 2008, he was an offensive intern for LSU under Les Miles. From 2009-11, Beck was the quarterback coach at Weber State, and in 2012, he led Simon Fraser in British Columbia to a No. 1 offensive ranking as the team’s offensive coordinator. After graduating from BYU in 2006, he is excited to be back on campus.
“I don’t look at (coaching) as a job. It’s something I enjoy doing. Something I look forward to showing up to every day,” Beck said. “I guess the tough part is when your guy fails, doesn’t play well or do well in the classroom. When he has a challenge he struggles with, that’s probably the toughest part.”
Mark Atuaia, also a former Cougar, is the new running back coach. He was a running back for BYU in the ’90s and was part of the Cotton Bowl-winning team in 1997. He has no prior coaching experience, but is inheriting a talented group of running backs to help ease him into the coaching role.
“Let me tell you this man, where much is given much is required,” Atuaia said. “I understand that deal with my running back group. My predecessors built a good stable of running backs. I’m going to ensure that we’re motivated and high-energy and we’re doing the things that coach Anae and Coach Mendenhall want us to do.”
Despite the depth at the running back position and the players’ specific skill sets, Atuaia has a vision and a plan to refine the Cougars’ running game, making the running backs more complete players.
“The easiest part of coming into to college from high school is running the ball,” Atuaia said. “Great runners innately have that skill. You can wake up in the morning and take ’em to the stadium, give them the ball and say, ‘Brother, run the ball’ and dude’s gonna run it. The great ones all have that. However, when you don’t have the ball, those are things you need to improve on.”
Guy Holliday, the receivers coach, brings a certain intensity to the unit.
“When you cross that line I’m not going to let you cheat the game,” Holliday said.
Like Atuaia, he wants his receivers to become more complete players, in the pass and run game.
“Being physical and understanding the run game is as important as the pass game. Just being a complete football player. Just because you aren’t throwing the ball, a receiver can’t take a play off,” Holliday said. “Great players make great plays on both ends. When you score, nobody cares if it’s a receiver catching a ball or a running back making a 50-yard-run. Well you can’t make a 50-yard-run if you aren’t engaged down the field. We’ve got to have a team concept.”
Garett Tujague has the difficult task of improving an offensive line that was average, at best, last season. He comes with six years of head coaching experience at the College of the Canyons, a Football Championship Subdivision school, in California.
Tujague wants his offensive lineman to play with a “hard edge” this season to help them be more of a force to be reckoned with.
“I think a lot of it has to do with instilling a value of worth,” Tujague said. “As a position coach your job is to get to know and understand 20 of your players and what makes them tick and what makes them work harder and what makes them work not as hard, being able to understand who they are and what talents they have.”
If it’s up to Anae and his new crew, the Cougars will return to their former glory days and once again make BYU an offensive powerhouse. It’ll all come down to going fast and going hard.