The associations and contacts he has as a longtime junior college coach will reap tremendous rewards for the football program. —Steve Cleveland, former BYU basketball coach
This is the second in a series of columns analyzing the new faces who are recruiting football players at BYU.
How will Garret Tujague do as a recruiter?
Bronco Mendenhall hired College of the Canyons head football coach Tujague this past January to coach BYU’s offensive line.
This JC strategy may be one of the smartest moves of 2013 for the Cougars.
Tujague is personable, smart, an excellent coach. And he's connected.
In coming seasons, BYU will not turn itself into a haven for junior college football players, but it will need to look there for help. Due to the recent policy change by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints allowing 18-year-olds to serve missions, it will systematically require Mendenhall to design a different strategy to field a football team.
No other football program in America is impacted by this policy change as hard as the Cougars. It essentially changes the dynamics of recruiting and in Tuague, Mendenhall hired a 16-year veteran coach in the California Community College educational system — some 122 junior colleges. It is the largest system of higher education in the world, serving more than 2.4 million students.
Hiring a quality and experienced JC coach at BYU? This was a key ingredient, not only for BYU's offensive line, but recruiting strategies.
“The associations and contacts he has as a longtime junior college coach will reap tremendous rewards for the football program,” said former BYU basketball coach Steve Cleveland, who, as an eight-year coach at Fresno Community College, was the man former BYU president Merrill Bateman hired to turn around a program in 1997 that had just gone through its worst season in school history.
BYU deployed Cleveland from the JC ranks. People questioned it at the time. But it paid dividends immediately, especially in recruiting.
“At the time, BYU wasn’t going to recruit all junior college players, but without signing those players we did at the time, we couldn’t have done what we did,” said Cleveland. “We couldn’t do it recruiting just freshmen.” Cleveland referenced players like Danny Bower, Travis Hansen, Ron Selleaze, Terrill Lyday, Trent Whiting, Brian Dignan, Luiz Lemes and Rafael Araujo.
At the time, Cleveland, in turn, turned to close buddies in the junior college ranks for his staff. They included Dave Rose, John Wardenburg and Heath Schroyer. In time, they won conference titles and got BYU back to the NCAA tournament.
“They (JC players) jump started our program,” said Cleveland, who leaves in a few weeks to be president of the Indianapolis Indiana Mission of the LDS Church.
Because BYU no longer has Ricks College as a feeder school and now faces challenges with the new 18-year-old mission policy, a recruiting jump start already occurred last February after the Tujague hire when BYU signed four JC offensive linemen and a total of six JC athletes in the class of 2013.
“As a junior college coach, you get to know all the high school coaches. You also establish relationships with other JC coaches and they are close,” said Cleveland. “Whenever a JC coach gets a Division I job, other JC coaches rally around him, they want you to succeed. They trust you because you understand their academics and athletics. They respect you, they know you'll take care of their guys. They understand that you once had to drive a van or a bus to games. They are blood brothers of sorts.”
Cleveland said another plus is that JC coaches learn a ton from Division I recruiters. “They learn how it is done, they get coaching tips and recruiting tips. They see some who do it with meticulous detail and others who are sloppy and you see how not to do it.”
Tujague joins former JC coaches Robert Anae and Paul Tidwell on BYU’s staff. Tujague has been voted by his California peers as coach of the year in Southern California several times.
“Relationships pay off over time,” said Cleveland.
“Those are my guys,” said Tujague of JC coaches in California. “They are my cohorts.”
It’s kind of a subculture. Unless you’ve coached JC sports, it is hard to understand what they have to do and work with.
“The most important thing about recruiting is relationships,” said Tujague. “When you have that, when you go in and visit schools where you have relationships for 16 years, when it’s the same coaches, maybe a different school but the same coach, then it translates into building relationships with the kids in recruiting.”
Tujague confirms what Cleveland said about JC coaches celebrating when their own joins the ranks of Divison I schools. He’s already received numerous calls, text messages and conversations from JC coaches from all over the country, especially in California. They pledge their support and want him to succeed as part of their merry band.
“I’m very anxious to get started and already have my plans. I’ve got some territory to cover, but its all familiar ground to me and I think basically the key is persistence and relationships.”
Tujague has been assigned to recruit Southern California, areas in Los Angeles all the way to San Luis Obispo. “I’m doing Ventura County, but not Orange County. My expertise is in Riverside County because I coached at the College of Redlands, Ventura County, Los Angeles County and the high desert (Bakersfield), where I have some really good contacts. I know every one of those head coaches, I know all of them very well.”
Tujague said he loved every minute of his time as a junior college football coach — its been more than a decade and a half of his life for the former teammate of Ty Detmer.
“But I’ll tell you what, this is the best job in the world and those junior college coaches understand that. They tell me whatever I need, they’ll help me, they’ll tell me the kids they are recruiting and give me the cell phone numbers of their coaches so I can get involved and up to speed.”
How good of a recruiter can Tujague be?
Stay tuned, we’ll all find out how his network breaks it down.
Next: A new NCAA rule that allows an on-campus only recruiting coordinator gave BYU an interesting young, but experienced, outsider.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].