SALT LAKE CITY — As BYU officials search for a new offensive coordinator to replace Ty Detmer, let’s hope this time they have come to their senses.
They should’ve known better before they called Detmer two years ago and hired him as offensive coordinator. They should’ve known it might come to this embarrassing situation in which they must dismiss a beloved local legend.
This is the third time they’ve made the same mistake. Who’s next, Steve Young?
There’s a certain mystery about what makes a good coach, but these two things are pretty certain: Experience is required and credentials as a player are vastly overrated, if not irrelevant.
Ty Detmer earned a reputation as a brainy quarterback during his 14-year NFL career. For better or worse, he spent much of his career tutoring the latest Quarterback of the Future to come out of the draft. He was already coaching, in a way.
One magazine referred to him as the Green Bay Packers’ Einstein when he was playing for that team. All this notwithstanding, he was not prepared to be an offensive coordinator at the FBS level. His entire coaching experience consisted of six years at a small (900 enrollment) private school in Texas — St. Andrew's Episcopal School. He took over an 0-10 team and, during the next six years, his teams produced records of 0-10, 3-7, 3-6, 4-5, 5-3, 8-1. In other words, he — and his team — improved annually.
In big-time college football he didn't have the luxury of on-the-job training.
You can hardly name a successful coach in the college or professional ranks who made the jump that Detmer made. They all paid their dues working their way up the coaching ladder, usually at a number of different schools or franchises to obtain a broad-based football education.
Bill Belichick was an assistant coach for 11 years and five teams before he was promoted to a coordinator’s job. He began as a “special assistant” — whatever that is — and a year later he was a special teams coach. He wasn’t even the special teams coach — he was an assistant to the special teams coach.
Vince Lombardi labored for 15 years as a high school coach and assistant college coach before he became a coordinator.
Gary Patterson worked 14 years as an assistant for nine schools before he got a D-I coordinator job. He began as a grad assistant and then was assigned to coach linebackers.
Chris Petersen worked 14 years for five schools during his apprenticeship before becoming a coordinator.
Kyle Whittingham spent 10 years as an assistant at four schools before he got his first FBS coordinator job.
Dabo Swinney apprenticed for 15 years as a college assistant before he became a coordinator. He began as a graduate assistant and then was promoted to receivers coach.
Chip Kelly served a dozen years as an assistant at eight schools before he became a D-I coordinator. He began as a conditioning coach.
And so it goes: Pete Carroll — seven years/five schools as a college assistant; Andy Reid — 17 years as a college and NFL assistant for eight teams, beginning as a grad assistant at BYU; Norm Chow — 16 years as an assistant before becoming BYU’s OC.
Nick Saban — a decade as an assistant for six schools before becoming a defensive coordinator.
Detmer went straight from a (small) high school coach to an FBS coordinator job. Even in the best of times it would’ve been a difficult transition, but then add a decline in talent at BYU and the other challenges the school faces in its struggling program
Apparently, BYU officials were dazzled by Detmer’s Heisman Trophy and his record-setting credentials as BYU’s quarterback, not to mention his legend status with the fan base, but how does that qualify him as a coach? Knowing how to play the game is one thing; knowing how to teach it is another.
It’s an acquired skill. A great quarterback does not (necessarily) make a great coach, especially one with little experience. BYU should know this from firsthand experience.
Since 2003, the Cougars have tried three of their former quarterbacks as offensive coordinators. Robbie Bosco lasted one season, Brandon Doman and Detmer two.
For good measure, there was another example just up the road — the Utes hired their former quarterback, Brian Johnson, as offensive coordinator two weeks before his 25th birthday, with just two years of coaching experience. The results were predictable. After the first season, he was demoted to co-coordinator and after his second season he was demoted to quarterbacks coach, which prompted him to leave the staff.
There is no equating athletic talent to coaching talent. You could argue quite to the contrary. Mike Leach never even played college football. Belichick was a better lacrosse player than a football player, and the best he did at either was to play for Wesleyan University.
The NFL’s Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo didn’t play beyond high school. Chip Kelly rode the bench for New Hampshire. Mike McCarthy, Mike Zimmer and Dan Quinn played at the small-college level. John Harbaugh was a special teams player at Miami Ohio. Besides Steve Spurrier, it would be difficult to name a Heisman winner who became a successful coach.
Finding coaching talent is as difficult as finding quarterback talent. Just ask the Utes, who have hired nine OCs in 13 years.
In their search for Detmer’s replacement, the Cougars should not refer to their list of former BYU All-Americans and quarterbacks.