2012 college football preview: Ben Cahoon working as hard as ever in new career

Published: Saturday, Aug. 25 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Ben Cahoon enters his second year as BYU's receivers coach.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Ben Cahoon enters his second year as BYU's receivers coach. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

PROVO — After retiring from the Canadian Football League, where he managed to have the most productive career by a receiver in that league's history, you'd think Ben Cahoon would coast into retirement.

But aside from the beating his body took every week, he hasn't slowed down at all.

Cahoon enters his second year as BYU's receivers coach. Where he used to catch a hundred passes a day and nurse bumps and bruises, he's now shifted all that energy into his coaching career. He's one of the first staff members to arrive to work at BYU and one of the last to leave.

A quiet, confident and studious guy, Cahoon has always been a smooth, consistent man. He is steady, dependable and motivated. An avid golfer, he'd fit right in a foursome with Rickie Fowler. He also has a smile that would fit under a wide-brimmed hat in one of those rugged cowboy movies.

He definitely would have looked more cowboy than Kevin Costner in "Open Range."

Getting his second wind on another career isn't tough; it's an adjustment. For Cahoon, it is still pedal to the metal at a hundred miles an hour.

Cahoon learned early in life, as a somewhat short receiver, that to make up the difference, he had to work harder and longer.

When he interviewed for the coaching job at BYU, there were dozens of qualified applicants. In order to make the right impression, he had to go above and beyond.

After all, his future boss slept in his office at Oregon State as a graduate assistant, paid his dues, started from scratch. Cahoon knew he didn't come from that background as a coach. He had to compensate. He had to prove his worth.

Cahoon made cards with pictures of every BYU player and memorized their names. He studied BYU game films so he could quickly answer questions and respond to inquiries about the Cougars when he met with head coach Bronco Mendenhall. He made a list of things he might bring to the table and other ideas BYU might consider.

Cahoon made a pledge to himself — and anyone who'd listen — that he would work harder than anybody else as a coach. Just like he's always done.

He got the job.

His wife, Kim, said when her husband hung up his uniform as the CFL's all-time leading receiver, he never had a chance to enjoy retirement, lounge around or ponder the question, "What now?"

"He was hired as the BYU receivers coach about one week after he announced his retirement and he has never looked back," Kim said.

She often asks Ben if he misses playing every week. "He always says 'no.' I think it's been harder on me than it has on him, frankly. I miss watching him play and I definitely miss the players' hours versus coaching hours. Adjusting to the long hours and long days has probably been the hardest part for both of us."

As a player, his season lasted about six months out of the year and he was home by 3 p.m. most days. As a coach, Cahoon works 12-hour days year-round with very little down time.

Said Kim, "We feel so incredibly blessed, though. To be able to start a second career at age 39, doing something you have a passion for is a dream."

Cahoon hasn't blinked an eye over leaving his CFL days. "I milked it for about all it was worth and got out. Not many professional athletes can say they don't miss the game, but I don't. It ran its course," said the CFL's two-time Most Outstanding Canadian Award winner.

He is more comfortable coaching now than he was his first year. Knowing his schedule, understanding his workload and an increased understanding of Brandon Doman's offense has made things easier.

"I think I'm a more effective teacher. I have a lot of room to grow there and it's important to me to continue to be a great teacher."

Cahoon said knowing more about BYU's offense has made him a better communicator to the players, and he's got some talent in Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo and JD Falslev, which also helps.

"I feel so fortunate to come into this new career and just dive in. I'm very, very blessed to be able to make the transition from player to coach.

"You learn a lot. I played probably 250 professional games, all of them I had to get up for physically, mentally and with schemes and plans. I learned a lot of lessons on how to manage legs during an 18-game season and how to go through a practice to keep healthy. Hopefully it's brought a perspective to this staff," Cahoon said.

Whether people believe the CFL is legitimate or not, it is professional football and a player either performs or he is out. Cahoon lasted 13 years.

"The CFL has outstanding coaches who have been head coaches or coordinators in the NFL. Being around that for years and years, seeing how organizations work and things get done on a team, I think that perspective is valuable."

Some have wondered if Mendenhall's cautious and conservative approach to physical play early in fall camp would lead to poor tackling in games. Cahoon said such an approach isn't just wise, but necessary. It's how the pros do it.

"You are working with finely tuned athletes. You can either treat them like thoroughbreds or run them into the ground. The team that is the freshest is the one that has the most energy and is able to execute on game day. There is a reason the NFL practices that way, because they are the best in the industry. It is time-proven and has evolved over the years."

Cahoon said BYU's staff had a lot of exposure this past year to NFL teams and he's excited to see many of the things they learned implemented.

BYU's players have responded to Cahoon and his style. But he says he isn't in it to be liked.

"I love the guys I coach. I genuinely love the guys in my room and I believe in them. I think we have a great chemistry in that room and there is respect. I'm out to figure out what makes them tick, and to get them to work hard."

Cahoon said he loves it when his players make plays. "As a parent, you live vicariously through your kids when they do something and I'm doing the same with these players when they make plays. I get chills. I get happy for them and I want to celebrate with them."

Cahoon said he feels lucky to get the BYU job because there were many who stood in line and asked for it. "They would have cut off their right arm for a chance to coach Division I football. I am very fortunate and I thank Bronco Mendenhall for giving me this chance. "

Some folks know Cahoon is married to the daughter of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. That could add a little pressure. Fathers are always mindful of the men in the lives of their daughters.

But Herbert is a huge Cahoon fan. There is little that Cahoon does that he isn't proud of and eager to expound on. It was that way during the CFL days and it's the same today.

"Ben has learned that it's just as hard to teach other people how to catch a football — maybe even harder," said the governor. "He has thrown himself into the work of a coach with the same kind of commitment, work ethic and dedication he exhibited as an over-achieving player. He wants to be the best coach he can be. There is clearly a correlation to his dedication as a player. He spends long hours to make the most of his players. He gets up early and finishes late studying film, looking at layouts and player strengths. He has never worked so hard, and he's a hard worker."

Has Cahoon got his second wind?

The governor affirms, he certainly has.

email: dharmon@desnews.com twitter: Harmonwrites

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