SALT LAKE CITY — There were no signs he had tried to gouge out his eyes or pull out his hair. There weren't even bags under his eyes from lack of sleep.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe didn't look like a man on the edge. Rather, he appeared to have a plan.
What that plan is, he wouldn't specify, only to note that BYU football isn't dead. Reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. For the past 10 days, Cougar Nation has been awash in skepticism — or at least dismay.
Why didn't BYU do something?
Could the athletic program that dominated both the Mountain West and the Western Athletic conferences be dwindling? Is the home of two Outland Trophy winners, a Doak Walker winner, a Heisman winner and one national football championship be down for the count?
"Things may settle for a little bit," Holmoe said, "but there's opportunities — great opportunities for BYU that did not exist last week."
Holmoe wouldn't get specific, except to say doors are opening.
"I don't want people to think that we're just casually sitting back with a laissez-faire attitude," added Holmoe. "Believe me, there are more people are energized about BYU now than there have been since I've been there. I think that — in meeting today with very high-up officials — we will do what's in the best interest of BYU. We'll make the most out of this situation, but we won't change. We're not going to change. We don't necessarily know exactly what will happen, but hey, Utah didn't know until the day before they got invited."
Oh, yeah. Utah. Remember those guys? If you think football games with the Utes were gut-wrenching, they were nothing compared to last week. Losses to Utah may sting for a year, but the Utes' move to the Pac-10 could smart for eternity.
But if you're looking for confirmation that the move hurt BYU, you won't hear it from Holmoe. Ever since Utah was invited on June 17 to join the Pac-10, BYU has maintained a cool distance. Naturally, the media went to Provo for a reaction, not long after the announcement came.
Isn't that what you do when stars separate or divorce?
You talk to the spurned lover.
But rather than say anything, BYU officials took the Fifth.
The silence ended Friday, when Holmoe shared the podium with Ute coach Kyle Whittingham and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff at a conference of the nation's sports editors. The subject for discussion was the BCS. That led to questions about Utah and whether joining an automatic qualifying conference might actually help the Cougars.
"We'll see," said Holmoe, giving credit to the Utes.
If the Cougars aren't exactly giving Utah a standing ovation, it makes sense. It's not like they have no case of their own. In the last three years, Utah has won eight conference championships in athletics, BYU 25. In football — the sport that stirs the nonalcoholic, decaffeinated drink — BYU has won three of the last five against the Utes. Since Urban Meyer came to Utah for the 2003 and 2004 seasons, the Cougars have won two football titles, Utah three; since he left, BYU leads 2-1.
Suffice it to say, the Cougars have done nicely.
Yet it was the Utes who got the call from the prestigious Pac-10. They had the research emphasis. They had the two BCS bowl wins. And they had entirely no problem playing on Sunday.
BYU had none of the above.
That, however, didn't derail Holmoe. It's a poorly kept secret the Pac-10 wasn't going to call BYU, regardless. A highly conservative university amid all those liberal Left Coasters?
Mouse in the bean dip.
At the same time, Whittingham said on Friday he didn't think the conference expansion craze is finished.
"I don't see it going any direction but that direction," he said.
That could mean BYU may yet join another conference, like the Big 12, which at this point includes just 10 schools. It might mean the Mountain West gains automatic qualifying status, either on its own or in a merger.
"It's a huge challenge to redefine our identity," said Holmoe. In the same breath, he added, "But our identity's not going to change. It doesn't matter if we're in the Pac-10, the Big Ten, the Mountain West Conference or independent; it doesn't matter. We are BYU. We will always be BYU. We will never change. We're NOT in (certain) conferences because of who we are."223 comments on this story
Holmoe hastened to add that BYU doesn't intend to stand down. On the contrary, last week's events ramped up his resolve.
"It's a good check for us right now," Holmoe continued. "There's a lot of work for us to do. ... In this time frame, we have our allegiances. BYU has certain allegiances, and BYU has lived up to them, and now we have opportunities that didn't exist in the past."
Calling in some markers, maybe?
"I'm not saying," he said, "but we're excited about the future."