One year from potentially being in a similar situation, Kalani Sitake had no choice but to dismiss the legendary Ty Detmer as the BYU offensive coordinator.
Following the worst season in the modern history of BYU football, changes were necessary in order for the coaching staff to maintain even the slightest credibility. To Sitake’s credit, he recognized the need and wasted no time in removing Detmer two days after the 4-9 season ended.
“You could see that it was going to happen,” former BYU quarterback and offensive coordinator Brandon Doman in an interview with 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone. “I thought potentially they might have made a few other changes, maybe some supporting roles around Ty.
Sitake is now on the clock, knowing a repeat of this season would likely lead to his dismissal. Facing the enormous pressure of a make-or-break situation, the second-year head coach deserves the right to surround himself with his choice of assistants.
This is a dark time for BYU football, letting go one of the most popular players in program history. Perhaps more than any player, Detmer practically approaches sainthood for all the goodwill he accumulated over the last 30 years.
To make it worse, he has to rank among the most gentlemanly coaches ever to grace the sidelines. Never once did he cop an attitude despite all the public scrutiny. To put it succinctly, he is an outstanding person.
“I can’t say any more emphatically, they don’t come any better than Ty Detmer,” said Norm Chow, who coached Detmer at BYU.
Detmer’s quick fall from grace after only two seasons is a minor blow to his legacy, which is highlighted by winning the Heisman Trophy in 1990 as BYU’s record-setting quarterback. The situation is particularly hard on a fan base that yearned for the fairy tale story of an all-time great returning to his alma mater and transferring his success as a player to a coach.
Instead, under Detmer’s leadership, BYU’s offense was a mess this season. The offense, which lacked any form of creativity, failed to eclipse 20 points in nine games.
Detractors of Sitake’s decision point to the amount of injuries that certainly had a negative impact on BYU’s abysmal production. Any team that loses its top two quarterbacks to injury likely will struggle even with the brightest offensive mind calling the plays.
“I thought he deserved more time,” said Chow.
But the problems run much deeper than Tanner Mangum and Beau Hoge going down with injuries. Mangum, for whatever season, struggled mightily under Detmer’s tutelage.
Right from the start, the former Elite 11 quarterback was out of sync and never came close to matching the success he had two years ago as freshman under offensive coordinator Robert Anae. In the season-opener, before the siege of injuries hit, the offense scored only two touchdowns against Portland State, which finished 0-11 and gave up an average of 45 points over the other 10 games.
One week later, the Cougars failed to cross the 50-yard line in losing 27-0 to LSU. Three weeks later, the Tigers lost to Troy.
The truth is, as much as hurts to admit it, Detmer’s lack of college coaching experience did not warrant joining Sitake’s staff as offensive coordinator. Even considering Detmer’s 14-year NFL career spent mostly as a backup, his only experience was for five years as a high school head coach in his native Texas.
“Being a football coach is different than being a player,” said Doman, who followed the same path as Detmer in going from the team’s quarterback to offensive coordinator and being fired after only two seasons.
In losing situations, the demand on the coordinators can be overwhelming. Speaking from experience, Doman had to create a weekly game plan, direct all his coaches and graduate assistants as well as speak with the media and juggle recruiting and deal with parents.
Maybe the on-the-job training proved too much for Detmer.
“I know he came into it reluctantly because of all that,” Doman said, “and it was probably more than he ever anticipated.”