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SALT LAKE CITY — As a longtime basketball coach, Steve Cleveland did not figure to have a strong pulse on the current state of the BYU football program. But he does, diagnosing the origin of the problems that are plaguing the Cougars.
In short, the issues plunge far deeper than changing offensive coordinators can solve. This program, Cleveland surmised after numerous conversations with active football coaches, needs more accountability and transparency, from the athletic department down to the coaches and players.
"I don’t know specifically, but the sources that I have and the people that I’ve talked to just said there are some things that need to get cleaned up there," said Cleveland, BYU’s basketball coach for eight years. "Guys need to understand where they are and who they are. It’s not like that doesn’t go on year in and year out at BYU. You’re going to have it; young people are going to make mistakes.
"Just watching that football team play, it just seemed really undisciplined at times," Cleveland said in an interview with 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone. "I’ve got three or four good friends in the football business that are head coaches right now. All of them watch film on this team and they just felt like there wasn’t the execution, there didn’t seem to be preparation, (and) that was very unlike BYU. I’m not pointing fingers, I’m just telling you what those that I know (said)."
Obviously, after going 4-9, the product on the field was awful this season.
The historically awful offense led to Ty Detmer losing his job as offensive coordinator after only two seasons. Two weeks after the move, coach Kalani Sitake still had not named a new coordinator.
As might be expected in these situations, the problems also extended beyond the football field. To Cleveland’s point, Sitake was disciplining players as late as the last game of the season at Hawaii. Earlier in the season, running back Ula Tolutau was suspended after being charged with marijuana possession. Including with athletic director Tom Holmoe, BYU needs to reinforce the standards of the football program with the players and then hold them accountable.
"The fact is just looking at the overall big picture, the culture is not good there right now at a lot of different levels," Cleveland said. "You start with the coaches, and I think those are the things that need to get fixed. Kalani felt like (changing coordinators) was the first thing he wanted to do. My personal opinion is I’m not so sure that was the main issue. I think the bigger issue is there’s a culture there from head coach down, there needs to be some changes made."
Despite legendary credentials as a player, Detmer assumed control of the offense without any college coaching experience. Exacerbated by a series of injuries and ineffective play, the former Heisman Trophy winner was left to frequently change game plans in hope that something would click. For some, Detmer was made the easy scapegoat for a host of problems. Fair or not, coordinators often go first in this business.
Recognizing that his job is likely on the line, Sitake has been conducting a thorough search to find the best candidate to replace Detmer. The new coordinator, who could make several changes to the offensive staff, faces an enormous responsibility to fix all the problems.
"They need to pick somebody that has come from a strong culture, that understands accountability, understands exactly what we’re going to expect out of these players," Cleveland said. "Because throughout the year there were issues and you can’t have those issues, especially at BYU. You don’t want to make a mistake on this offensive coordinator. I’m not a football guy, but I think this is way more than an offensive coordinator issue. I just think throughout the program there needs to be more accountability."