Please visit here for the full transcript of Holmoe’s interview and to learn more about his experiences at Cal, San Francisco and BYU.
As BYU football prepares to take on the University of California Berkeley Golden Bears, its final competitor of the regular season in a short week and a half, BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe prepares to return to a football field and campus he knows well.
Holmoe is a former head coach for Cal, having coached there from 1996 to 2001 before returning to BYU. This will be the first time in 13 years that he will be returning to the Golden Bears’ home field as he represents the Cougar football team.
Holmoe had a successful football career of his own before he found himself at Cal. After playing for BYU, the San Francisco 49ers drafted him as a defensive back. They won three Super Bowls during Holmoe’s time on the team, from 1983 to 1989.
After his playing career, Holmoe embarked on a coaching career that first had him returning to BYU as a graduate assistant under LaVell Edwards, his college coach, and then rejoining with his former professional coach, Bill Walsh, as a secondary coach at Stanford University. He then returned to the 49ers as a defensive backfield coach. While coaching with the 49ers, the team went on to win another Super Bowl in 1995, giving Holmoe his fourth ring.
Despite his success in the NFL, both as a player and as a coach, Holmoe felt the need for a change in his life.
“I could see, in sense for me, the commitment that you had to make was taking me away from my family,” Holmoe said. “And I could feel that. And in a two-year period of time, I loved the addiction of being a part of that team, but I could sense that I was not at home very much. And I just knew that I needed to go in a different direction. So, I pretty much just walked away from the professional football coaching.”
He found a good balance at Cal. Originally Cal hired Holmoe as the defensive coordinator under Steve Mariucci. After a single season in 1996, Mariucci left Cal, and Holmoe was soon announced as the new head coach. While college football can be nearly as time-consuming as professional football, Holmoe was able to structure the program in a way that still benefitted the players, the program and his family.
However, by the end of his career there the Golden Bears had not achieved the level of success that the University, alumni, fans or even Holmoe had desired. Despite having such a successful football career as both a player and assistant coach, Holmoe retired from coaching with a 16-39 record as a head coach.
“I have really great feelings about Cal,” Holmoe said. “It was a vibrant place, and I was not successful there … but it was a good experience. … There were some good things that happened, but there were some bad things that happened where we weren’t successful on the field. But we did, I think, a good thing with the kids … but coaches are measured on wins and losses. In that regard, I didn’t do well enough to continue on there.”
Since returning to BYU, first as the associate athletic director and then as the athletic director, Holmoe has succeeded in many noteworthy achievements, including the hiring of a new head football coach and men’s basketball coach, as well as initiating and organizing the biggest shift in BYU football history as the Cougars became independent. In addition, BYU has seen many accomplishments in its 21 intercollegiate sports including a men’s basketball team that made a NCAA Sweet Sixteen run in 2011 and a football team that has attended a bowl game for the last nine seasons, with a 10th being likely, and is consistently top rated teams in the Olympic sports.
“I learned a lot from being at Cal and how not to do it,” Holmoe said. “So, I have avoided making mistakes that I made with Cal at BYU. I have a lot of duties (at BYU), but one of my duties is to coach the coaches. … I think they trust me like, ‘Hey, this guy has experience where he knows good and bad.’ So, that’s probably been one of the things that was a great advantage for me was having an experience at Cal where I learned a lot.”
With BYU playing Cal shortly after Thanksgiving, Holmoe’s excited for the matchup. He could not tell exactly how he will feel when he enters the recently updated California Memorial Stadium once again, only that it will be different than any other away game he has been at as BYU’s AD.
“I’ll feel good,” Holmoe said. “I’ll have different feelings. I’ll have different emotions, I’m sure. I get emotional about every game we play. So, going back to a place where I put in a lot of blood, sweat and a lot of tears, it’ll probably be a way different feeling, but I’m looking forward to it.”
It has been 36 years since Holmoe first came to BYU as a non-LDS freshman. In all that time, he has seen both success and failure, but he never felt like it wasn’t worth it.
“I don’t think there’s any coincidences,” Holmoe said. “You can use the word, I might use the word, but I think things happen for reasons. I think we’re put in place. I am a big relationship guy. I believe that relationships help each other. I believe that when we pray, that when we help other people, it’s an answer to our prayer. I just feel that there’s no question that the people I met along my pathway have changed my life.”
BYU will play Cal on Nov. 29 in California. While Holmoe still considers the Bay Area one of his homes, with friends, former colleagues and associates and fans he loves and respects, Cougar and Golden Bear fans will find, for this game at least, Holmoe cheering for and supporting the BYU Cougars.