As the worst season in modern BYU football history mercifully draws to conclusion, the university and athletic administration must take a hard look at the state of the program.
Obviously, with a string of horrendous performances and embarrassing losses, the program is in a bad place. For many, the situation in coach Kalani Sitake’s second season is dire, in need of a complete overhaul.
But at what cost?
Surely, changes in the coaching staff are only a matter of time. Even offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, the former Heisman Trophy winner who ranks among the program’s legends, can’t be a lock to return for a third season.
“You can’t keep going like they are,” said former longtime BYU assistant coach Norm Chow. “What is the problem – I guess only Kalani and the administration know that.”
But given BYU’s relative limited resources, replacing some of the assistants might amount to nothing more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The point is, the university has no interest in paying the going rate for coaches and staff personnel.
Over the years, BYU has been notorious for not shelling out the cash to get and keep quality football people. Athletic officials were almost to point of bragging about not keeping pace with the ever-increasing salary structure in college football.
With a program that regularly won conference championships and played in attractive bowl games, it was hard to argue with the BYU philosophy. But that was then. This is now.
“Obviously, the stress level is so high they need to be paid. They really need to be taken care of,” said Chow, who also coached at five other programs. “My understanding is they really need to take a hard look at that. I think it is a very, very definite problem they need to address.”
Excluding facilities, which BYU improved significantly improved several years ago, the football program continues to fall behind. The unwillingness to pay already cost the program several assistant coaches in recent years.
When Bronco Mendenhall got a huge raise to coach at Virginia two years ago, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe indicated his school had no intention of coming close to matching the $3.2 million-a-year salary. Mendenhall raided the BYU staff to become his assistant coaches, many of whom doubled their salaries.
Two weeks later, Sitake was hired as a first-time head coach. He then hired several assistants who had never coached at the Division I level, including Detmer. At the time, Sitake was interested in assistants on other staffs, but knew he could not offer enough money.
Sitake had eyed at least one assistant at Utah, where he coached for a decade, but was aware coach Kyle Whittingham had money available to keep the staff as he wished.
“We feel like we’ve got a lot of resources,” said Whittingham, who turned down BYU’s offer to become the head coach in 2004. “I think our administrators give us everything they can. It’s not a case where it’s unlimited and they’re holding back. I think they do exactly what they can for us.”
In a recent interview with 1280-AM and 97.5-FM, Mendenhall said BYU needs to make changes to compete consistently at the Power 5 level. The different, he noted, is startling.
“What I can say now after playing these teams week in and week out is the level of coaching is at a higher level, the level of athletes are at a higher level, the way the game is played is at a higher level, and it happens every single week. It is a more significant challenge than what I think is currently being assessed at BYU and with what I think it might take to do that,” he said.
“But I want that for BYU, and I think they belong but then would have to make some obvious changes to the different support areas to ensure that that could happen, and they could have success at the level we would all want them to.”
To compete at the highest level, Chow estimates a football program needs to pool of $3-4 million for assistant coaches and support staff. At Hawaii, where he was the head coach for four seasons before retiring, Chow said the salary pool was at $1.1 million.
“My understanding is BYU is better than that, but not by much more,” Chow said. “That doesn’t do it.”
Since Chow’s first season in 2012, Hawaii’s combined record is 20-48. At 3-8 this season, Hawaii closes the season this week at home against BYU.