PROVO — Just as he does every year, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe addressed about 200 Cougar fans at the school’s Education Week on Wednesday.
He knows why the fans come.
“This is not a lecture. Some people gave me feedback that they just want to know information, and not hear a spiritual talk,” Holmoe told the audience at the beginning of his speech. “I’ll try to leave some time for some Q-and-A at the end, which is always the most entertaining part of the show.”
True to his word, Holmoe did field questions from the fans. Somewhat surprisingly, there were no questions about the controversy surrounding football coach Bronco Mendenhall’s short-lived “Tradition, Spirit, Honor” jerseys idea.
During the 45-minute presentation, Holmoe was candid, insightful and, at times, humorous.
Holmoe reiterated that he likes BYU’s flexible position as a football independent should the landscape of college football shift again. “Right now, being able to jump is a good spot to be,” he said.
He talked about the personalities and achievements of athletes like Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, Kyle Van Noy, Cody Hoffman and Tyler Haws, and confirmed that former quarterback Jim McMahon is taking classes again, which could pave the way for him to be inducted into the school’s hall of fame.
Here are some of the highlights of Holmoe’s remarks:
— About Ansah, who was selected No. 5 overall in last April’s National Football League draft, Holmoe said, “If you don’t know who Ziggy is, you don’t read the papers. This is an incredible story. He tried out for the basketball team twice. (Basketball coach) Dave Rose cut him twice. Dave hates it when people say that.”
Then, Holmoe joked, “I’m not going to let Bronco off the hook that easily, either. In Ziggy’s senior year, he didn’t start the first part of the year — and he’s the fifth pick of the draft. So you try to identify talent — what’s going on? Let’s just say he’s a late bloomer.”
— Holmoe said the three most talked about Mormon athletes in the world this past year were Ansah; Manti Te’o, who played at Notre Dame and is now in the NFL; and Jabari Parker, the Chicago prep basketball star who’s going to play at Duke this season.
“Probably three of the most prominent LDS athletes in the country are all of ethnicity. I think that’s special. I really do,” Holmoe said. “I think it’s amazing that 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, you wouldn’t have seen LDS athletes that were African-American, Hispanic. Now we have all kinds of fantastic ethnicity in our church. And it’s great for our athletic department.”
— On a couple of occasions, Holmoe referred to Haws, a Cougar guard, as “a special kid.” Haws led the West Coast Conference in scoring just months after returning home from an LDS mission to the Philippines.
“I think it’s a miracle because we have a lot of student-athletes that come back from missions and they’re no good for a year,” Holmoe said. “It’s all right. Their priority is to go on a mission. This year, he’s going to be much better.”
Holmoe added that when Haws was representing Team USA at the World University Games in Russia, his teammates “asked (him) a million questions” because Haws is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The team did a lot together. They were going to go out to a movie,” Holmoe said. “He told them, ‘I’m not going to an R-rated movie. They asked him, ‘Why in the world would you not go to an R-rated movie? They’re really good.’ He said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t know about that, but I’m not going.' They ended up not going, which was a cool thing.”
— Holmoe talked about Van Noy’s dominating performance in last year’s victory over San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl, mentioning that the star linebacker recorded eight tackles, three tackles-for-loss, 1 ½ sacks, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble for a touchdown, returned an interception for a touchdown and blocked a punt.
“I’m getting tired just thinking about that,” Holmoe said. “I’ve played a lot of football. I’ve never — never — in Pop Warner, high school, college or pro, seen an individual do as much in one game as (Van Noy did). I was thinking, ‘What else can you do?’ He could have gotten a safety. We’ll work on that.”
— On BYU’s contract with ESPN, Holmoe said, “Over the past two football seasons, only eight schools — Notre Dame, LSU, Alabama, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Clemson, Ohio State and South Carolina — have played more games on national TV" than BYU.
— For the third year in a row, Holmoe said, "BYU athletics was the No. 1 sports franchise in local radio, more than doubling the listenership of the (Utah) Utes, and 25 percent higher than the Utah Jazz. There’s a lot of people that listen to BYU basketball and football on the radio. That surprises me, because I know the Jazz have a great following.”
— On the possibility of the bigger schools breaking away and forming their own division in college football, and whether BYU will be included, Holmoe said: “We’re probably in a really good spot right now in my mind as an independent because we’re kind of in the middle. You have these conferences that are fighting to get in, and aren’t, and you have these power conferences that are really elite. At some point in time it’s possible, or probable, that they will continue to expand and divide away from the rest. Right now, being able to jump is a good spot to be. There’s nothing to report. Right now, it’s kind of a slow time in the news for conference expansion and conference changes. But it’s always moving. There’s always things going on. But you don’t hear about them, and I don’t hear a lot about them. There are five conferences that are really the powerbrokers, and those commissioners make all of the rules.”
BYU’s chances of inclusion in that so-called "Division 4" depends on performance, Holmoe said.
“The better we do, the better we’re going to get a chance. That’s what it comes down to. We’ve got to be successful on the field. We’re never going to negotiate that in a courtroom.”
What about BYU’s chances with the BCS — given this is the final year of the BCS?
“Win ‘em all, and we’re in. If we win every game this year, we’re in. That’s the route,” Holmoe said. “I’m not trying to be cynical. But if you’ve been around BYU football, one loss isn’t going to do it, especially if you’re not in a conference. That’s how it goes."
— One fan asked about McMahon's status with the university. McMahon, who led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl XX title, and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, did not graduate from BYU, which means he can’t be inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame.
“We were teammates. He’s a dear friend of mine,” Holmoe said. “He didn’t graduate from BYU. Why? In those days, when you finished up you finished up your senior year in December, then from January until April, the NFL had you. You go and work out every week for teams. He was traveling all over the country. We probably have five or six football players that should be in the Hall of Fame that haven’t graduated. I’m not going to name them, or else I’d really be in trouble. I’d have those posses after me. We’re in communication with Jim. Jim is taking classes and he’s on his way.”
— Holmoe called former Cougar track and cross-country All-American Miles Batty “the greatest student-athlete ever to be at BYU” based on his athletic and academic accomplishments combined. “You might be surprised by that, but it’s true.”
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