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SALT LAKE CITY — Two years later, and maybe one year too late, Kalani Sitake has his own staff of assistant coaches for the BYU football team.
Some strings were attached when Sitake got hired two years ago as the head football coach. The deal included having Ty Detmer serve as the offensive coordinator, a move that bottomed out when the BYU legend was fired after an abysmal showing by the offense this past season. Another three offensive assistants were also not retained.
The second time around, the new offensive staff is all on Sitake. It is make-or-break time for the third-year coach, who likely needs the team to rebound from the miserable last season for him to keep his job.
The overhaul started with the decision to hire Jeff Grimes as the new offensive coordinator. A former BYU offensive line coach, Grimes has spent the last 12 years as an assistant coach for the likes of Virginia Tech, Auburn and, most recently, Louisiana State.
Grimes, who will coach at LSU until after its bowl game this week, was impressive during his initial press conference at BYU two weeks ago. Tom Holmoe, the longtime BYU athletic director, declined to speak at the press conference but did acknowledge the Grimes hire was Sitake’s decision.
With Grimes in the fold, BYU announced on Wednesday that former Utah offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick was hired as the passing game coordinator. Weber State offensive coordinator Fesi Sitake and Texas San Antonio offensive line coach Ryan Pugh also were added to the staff, joining holdover Steve Clark.
Roderick worked with Kalani Sitake for more than a decade at Utah as part of Kyle Whittingham’s staff. Whittingham hired both coaches from Southern Utah after getting promoted from defensive coordinator when Urban Meyer took the Florida job.
The knock against Sitake at BYU was that he hired nothing but his friends as the assistants. Similar rumblings already have been voiced with Roderick, but the two have a longtime association with each other rather than a deep friendship.
“We’re not best buddies,” Roderick said.
Nor is the new staff plagued with inexperience. Except for offensive line coach Mike Empey, who had experience with several programs, Sitake’s original offensive staff had not coached extensively at the college level. Empey, receivers coach Ben Cahoon and running backs coach Reno Mahe were not coaching in college at the time they joined BYU’s staff.
Two coaches — Detmer and Mahe — had no previous college experience. For all his playing experience as a college and NFL quarterback, Detmer struggled mightily as an offensive coordinator, leaving Sitake no choice but to make a change two days after the season ended.
Between Roderick and Grimes, BYU now has more than 40 years of coaching experience collectively. In four years calling plays on game days, Roderick’s teams at Utah won a combined 39 games. Grimes has never served as a coordinator, but he has worked for numerous offensive-minded coaches, including Andy Reid and Dirk Koetter, both of whom are currently NFL head coaches.
The flaw with the new staff is it doesn’t have a quarterback coach with playing experience at the position. Roderick has coached quarterbacks but was a receiver at BYU.
Ineffective quarterback play was a major reason the Cougars fell to 4-9 last season. Quarterback injuries torpedoed any continuity at the position, but even when healthy, none of the quarterbacks played well enough consistently.
Former BYU quarterback and coach Robbie Bosco said all of the quarterbacks need to immediately get with Grimes and his staff to study the new offense. To play quarterback at BYU, Bosco said, it is essential to know every coverage scheme.
“We’ve got to get better quarterback play,” he said in an interview with 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone. “It all starts right now.”
A new NCAA rule could allow BYU to add a quarterbacks coach next month. On Jan. 9, all programs will be allowed to hire a 10th assistant coach to use as they see fit. Sitake would be wise to hire a former quarterback with experience coaching the position.