Dick Harmon: Influential Cecil Samuelson leaves BYU with a personal touch legacy
Samuelson ran an athletic program that was one of about 20 in Division I that operated in the black — didn’t lose money.
The strict code of conduct required of BYU athletes was in place before Samuelson came and will remain now that he’s gone. At times personal, high-profile failures brought headlines under his watch.
But those who know Samuelson tell stories of how he personally met with those who were struggling, how he went to their homes, met with them privately, if not to give counsel, to simply show love and appreciation for them as human beings, coaching those that had stumbled to understand that the world was not lost.
Samuelson took on the MWC and its TV partners, challenging those who had made promises to keep their word. Frustrated, when the time was right, he took bold measures in taking BYU football to risky life as an independent, without conference affiliation.
One would have a tough time finding any period of BYU athletics that has not received as much attention and exposure as witnessed by the past four years with ESPN and BYUtv.
A lifelong Utah man and founding member of the University of Utah’s Crimson Club, Samuelson stepped away from his roots and that of his family and friends in Salt Lake City for an 11-year adventure in Provo.
While some questioned his loyalties, you had only to see his interaction with coaches and players — entering and exiting locker rooms from Dallas to Austin, from South Bend to San Diego — to understand his dedication to his job to lead BYU, specifically its sports decisions and direction.
Survey the scene. One has to admit, he left BYU athletics in a better place than he found it 11 years ago. Holmoe, Rose and Mendenhall have all been successful. Independence, albeit with its challenges, has worked.
“We have stable, successful coaches with the right values and modeling for all involved,” Samuelson told the Deseret News in his final week.
Leading BYU was not an easy assignment. And the last few times I’ve seen him on a field, sideline or portal before or after a game, I’ve teased him about when his release would come — most BYU presidents serve about eight years.
He’d give me that endure-to-the-end smile and go on his way. Now that he's gone on his way, it's up to his replacement to try to preserve his predecessor's legacy.
“Kevin Worthen will be the same president as Samuelson was,” predicted Holmoe.
"He’s smart, a better thinker than 99 percent of those you’ll ever meet, but he’s personal and talks at your level and makes you feel at ease. We went from a 1 to a 1A.”
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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