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PROVO — Now that BYU has capped off a second consecutive strong football season, collectively totaling 21 wins, let's examine the reasons for the startling turnaround after three subpar years.
As always in these instances, most of the credit belongs to the coaches drawing up the game plans and the players executing them. Coach Kalani Sitake and quarterback Jaren Hall — along with several others — are largely responsible for the 10 wins this season, but don't overlook the one person perfectly content to toil the background
Tom Holmoe is the one constant in the athletic department dating back to 2004, when he became associate athletic director after working as an NFL and college football coach for more than a decade. Serving as athletic director the last 16 years, the first person in BYU history to oversee all men's and women's sports, Holmoe has impacted the entire department to the point of creating a lasting legacy.
"It's not possible to overstate what he has done," said Rondo Fehlberg, who spent four years as the BYU athletic director.
Never was Holmoe's excellence more on display than last football season, otherwise known as the most chaotic — and arguably most rewarding — year in program history. Once the pandemic gutted a competitive and enticing schedule, incredibly Holmoe managed to string together 11 games virtually on the fly.
In an era in which games are scheduled years in advance, the former BYU defensive back tapped into his array of connections that enabled the Cougars to enjoy a breakout 11-1 season after two identical mediocre 7-6 records that followed a 4-9 campaign. More remarkably, BYU was the only program in the west not to cancel the season in late summer due to COVID fears before reversing course to play a limited number of games starting in the fall.
Creating full schedules out of nothing was nothing new for Holmoe, who was tasked with finding opponents the last decade once BYU became an independent. His most recent accomplishments include leading BYU into the Big 12 and pumping more money into the football to keep Sitake signed through the 2027 season.
"He has connections," Fehlberg said during an interview on The Zone Sports Network. "He's respected by his peers across the nation. Everybody likes Tom Holmoe.
"It's very, very hard to find somebody in sport that you cannot find someone very quickly who's willing to criticize him and trash him. Tom is one of the very few exceptions. You can't find anybody critical of Tom Holmoe. In fact, the criticism of Tom is nobody is that nice, nobody is that calm, nobody's that stable."
But don't be confused by outward appearances. Holmoe has a competitive streak deep enough to allow him to last seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
During that time, he played on three teams that won the Super Bowl. Upon retiring he served as a graduate assistant at BYU and alternated the next two decades coaching at Stanford, with the 49ers and then at Cal.
Done with coaching in 2001, he came back to work in the BYU athletic department with a goal of becoming the athletic director. Within three years, during which BYU football bottomed out with three consecutive losing seasons amid numerous issues off the field, Holmoe was promoted to his current position.
Along the way, he's worked behind the scenes while championing the accomplishments of all the men's and women's sports. Maybe because he's already had his competitive day in the sun, Holmoe defers any credit.
"You need somebody who doesn't need the spotlight and is quite happy not to have the spotlight," Fehlberg said. "That's the perfect personality (for the job) — that's Tom, but is sort of steady and sort of willing to stay in the background and yet has extraordinary relationships, connections everywhere, both laterally and vertically."