PROVO — As BYU coach Kalani Sitake searches for a new offensive coordinator to replace Ty Detmer, who was relieved of his duties last Monday, there's no doubt it's a hiring that will have big implications for the program, which is coming off an abysmal 4-9 campaign.
If Sitake wants to bring in someone with play-calling experience at the college level, who didn’t play for the Cougars and who has a longstanding relationship with several members of the current staff, then maybe he looks to Snow College head coach Paul Peterson.
Peterson’s sixth-ranked 8-1 Badgers will face No. 10 Blinn College in the El Toro Bowl in Yuma, Arizona, Saturday. He oversees an offense that averages 50.9 points and 536 yards of offense per game.
The Deseret News interviewed Peterson Thursday afternoon while he was driving from San Diego to Yuma with his two team captains for a press conference.
When asked about the BYU job, Peterson expressed considerable interest.
“There are so many things you can’t control. Yeah, of course I would love the opportunity to be there and with the experiences I’ve had hopefully add value to the BYU program, if that was an option,” Peterson said. “Kalani’s got a big job ahead of him trying to find someone who’s going to be a good fit. I’m really flattered to be considered among all the options that he has. It would be a great opportunity for my family and for myself.”
At this point, Peterson said BYU has not contacted him about the opening but he has communicated with coaches on the staff, both recently and throughout the season, because he’s friends with many of them.
Peterson and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki were teammates at Snow. When Peterson was on Southern Utah’s staff with BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb and tight ends coach Steve Clark, Tuiaki confided in Peterson that he had an opportunity to take a graduate assistant position at Utah. Peterson encouraged Tuiaki to take it. He did.
Sitake was a teammate of Peterson’s older brother, quarterback Charlie Peterson. Paul played against running backs coach Reno Mahe in high school when they were at Bingham and Brighton, respectively. Peterson and BYU wide receivers coach Ben Cahoon became friends when they played in the Canadian Football League. And offensive line coach Mike Empey was the head coach at Snow in 1999.
“I’m pretty familiar with the staff over there, for sure,” Peterson said. “When I was with Ed at SUU, I was the quarterbacks coach, passing game coordinator and recruiting coordinator. Steve Clark and I had a really good relationship. I really enjoyed working with him. If he needed a pass play, I was able to help him out. I got a taste of play-calling at SUU.”
Peterson left SUU for Sacramento State, where he spent five seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Under his direction, the Hornets set or tied nine school single-season records, including points (458), points per game (38.2), touchdowns (60) and total yards (5,780).
“When the opportunity came at Sac State, I felt it would be great to move on and I had some ideas I wanted to instill and install,” he said. “I had a great experience. I had a great quarterback that broke every passing record they have there."
How does Peterson describe the offense he runs at Snow?
“Our offense is super-fun. We’ve got a great quarterback in Shane Johnson. He does a great job with his arm and his feet,” he said. “We’re up-tempo, spread, no-huddle and we try to go as fast as we can and get the defense off-balance. We’re 50-50 run and pass. With our quarterback being able to run the football, it allows us to score a lot of points.”
With all of his connections with BYU’s staff, Peterson keeps a close eye on what happens in Provo. Was he surprised that BYU relieved Detmer of his OC duties?
“Nothing surprises me in this profession anymore. It’s crazy with guys getting let go and these monster contracts some coaches are getting. The way social media and the boosters as fans are able to dictate certain things, it makes the profession hard,” Peterson said.
“Ty is a phenomenal person. He handled getting let go with class. I’m sure there’s frustration on his part but that goes with the territory in college football right now. BYU had their struggles offensively and playing a bunch of different quarterbacks, getting that consistency is huge. I don’t know that you can pin the blame on just one person. That’s the tough part about the profession. But if the head coach feels he needs to make changes to get the program back where it needs to be, then he’s got to do that.”
As a player, Peterson quarterbacked Boston College to a 12-2 record and was the team MVP in 2004. He ended his Eagles' career No. 2 in school history in passing percentage and led Boston College to two bowl victories. Peterson was a teammate of QB Matt Ryan, who was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008 and was the league’s MVP in 2016 when he led the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl LI.
Peterson’s coaching career actually began at BYU as a graduate assistant in 2006. He worked with and learned from offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman. It was quarterback John Beck’s senior season and the Cougars finished nationally ranked with an 11-2 record.
“It was awesome. I learned a ton from coach Anae. It was my first experience with a program outside of being a player,” Peterson recalled. “I was in the game-planning meetings. I really appreciate coach Anae and how he kept the game plan really simple. The personnel knew exactly what they were supposed to do no matter the coverage and he emphasized executing at a high level.
"That’s something I’ve tried to take away from that — keeping it simple, giving the quarterback simple successes so we can score a lot of points. I love the culture in Provo. I enjoyed being there.”
What will it take for BYU to return to winning again?
“In my opinion, it’s a couple of tweaks here and there,” Peterson said. “BYU football with Kalani’s leadership is right where it needs to be. You get some of those players healthy and you get the ball rolling your way in a couple of those games and you’re playing in a bowl game.”
Peterson said Sitake’s hiring of a new offensive coordinator is “critical."
"You’ve got to find someone who’s a good fit and is going to challenge their athletes to perform at a higher level," he said. "You’ve got to score more points. The last couple of years the defense had some success but you’ve got to score more points. It’s got to be a guy that’s the right fit and can help develop the quarterbacks.
"The talent is there and they’ll always continue to get that with how good of a recruiter Kalani is. It’s being patient and getting the buy-in from everyone. It’s up to what Kalani wants. Does he want a ball-control offense that grinds it out or is he going to try to go up-tempo and try to put the defense on the field for more plays a game? It's a philosophy thing, too.”
Is Sitake interested in hiring someone with play-calling experience, albeit at a lower level of college football, and someone who has a good relationship with current members of the staff? If so, maybe Peterson is a serious candidate for BYU’s open offensive coordinator position.