Unbridled optimism abounds in college football at this time every year, as coaches gleefully boast about the latest recruiting class that is beaming with talent.
Forget that history shows several incoming players will never have an impact on the program. Every team, they will tell us, got better with this group.
For BYU, it better come to pass. And it needs to happen quickly.
Coming off an historically miserable 4-9 season, BYU is banking on three ways to restore its program to respectability. To get there, the Cougars need internal improvement from returning players, have at least some newcomers make solid contributions and benefit from much better coaching.
For now, count on the coaching as the safest bet. Expecting too much from freshmen or players fresh off of church missions does not equal job security.
Recognizing the prior staff’s collective lack of experience, BYU invested heavily in overhauling the coaching staff on offense. Coach Kalani Sitake brought in several coaches with extensive experience, led by overall offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and former Utah coordinator Aaron Roderick, who will serve as the passing game coordinator.
Given the offensive ineptitude last season, Sitake was forced to make several changes. Unfortunately for the departing coaches, they did not get the time to work through the issues. About the time those assistant coaches had finally gained the valuable experience they sorely lacked, most of them never got the chance to benefit from it.
Shortly after the last game, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer was fired after only two years on the job. Within one month, the same fate befell offensive assistants Mike Empey, Ben Cahoon and Reno Mahe, each of whom also lasted two seasons.
For Detmer and Mahe, we hardly knew you. BYU hired both knowing neither lacked any college coaching experience and then were quick to dismiss them with the program went south in a hurry.
“You just move forward with life,” Mahe said in an interview with 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone. “For the most part, you just learn from the lessons that are all thrown your way and you just move forward.”
Both Detmer and Mahe, who was replaced as running backs coach by six-year coaching veteran AJ Steward, would have liked to stay on at BYU. In retrospect, it seems silly to expect such inexperienced coaches to achieve success over a relatively brief time period.
Mahe admits the job was an eye-opener, especially with the time demands. But he scoffs at the notion Detmer was outmatched.
“I think Ty had plenty of experience,” Mahe said. “The knowledge he had of the game was second to none. Maybe there are certain nuances of college level football that we didn’t have experience on. Those were things we have learned in the last two years that, given the chance, I think we could have applied moving forward, but that ship has sailed, which is fine.
“You just kind of move on with your life. I still think there’s a lot of coaching left on some of the guys who aren’t there anymore. I’m excited to see where they go and what they do moving forward.”
Grateful for the opportunity to work at his alma mater, Mahe is not looking to get back into coaching immediately. For now, he is content spending time with his family and carrying out typical dad responsibilities.
Even with all the experience the new staff has, it won’t matter much without major improvement at the quarterback position. Injuries and ineffectiveness were the primary culprits that resulted in an offense that ranked among the worst in college football.
Several players will get a shot to win the starting job when spring practice starts next month.
“You’ve got to have healthy quarterbacks,” Mahe said. “It was hard having to go through a lot of injured quarterbacks. It’s not the only thing you can blame it on but it was something you can blame things on. Health is a huge issue. If those guys can stay healthy, it makes it easier on the coaches.”