He and I align so tightly in terms of who we are as people. —BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, on offensive line coach Ryan Pugh
PROVO — For first-year BYU offensive line coach Ryan Pugh, life has been a whirlwind the past few months.
Not only did he leave his position as the O-line coach at UT-San Antonio to come to Provo, but he and his wife, Cathey Lee, also moved to the area and bought a house. Then she gave birth to a baby daughter, the couple’s first child, a few weeks ago during spring practices.
“A lot of changes,” said Pugh, a 29-year-old native of Hoover, Alabama. “We’re starting to settle in now and get a feel for things. By the time we’re settled in, I’ll be out on the road, recruiting.”
BYU’s hiring of Jeff Grimes as its offensive coordinator in December set in motion many changes in the Cougar football program — and for Pugh as well.
When Grimes asked Pugh if he wanted to join the staff at BYU, there wasn’t much hesitation on Pugh’s part.
“He and I spent some time talking about the opportunity more than anything, making sure it’s the right fit for my family and the best thing to do for my career, too,” Pugh said. “There wasn’t any hesitation in the opportunity to get back working with him and being in Provo and living here. I had heard how much of an impact Provo had made on him during his first stop here. I knew kind of what I was getting into before I got here. It’s been nothing but great since I’ve been here.”
Reunited at BYU, Pugh and Grimes share a connection that goes back to the days when Grimes was the offensive line coach at Auburn and Pugh played for him. They won a national championship together with the Tigers in 2010. Pugh was a three-time All-SEC selection, earning All-America honors as a senior, and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy.
Grimes sees a lot of himself in Pugh.
“Probably more than he’d like to admit. But he and I align so tightly in terms of who we are as people. As a player, I saw a guy who was passionate about the game, tough, hard working — not the most talented guy,” Grimes said, "but had enough talent to be a really good player and became a great player, a four-year starter on a great team in a great league because he worked really hard at it and he’s really smart.
"Those are the same things that make him a great coach. His passion for the game and the way he sees the game are very much in line with the way I see it. Part of that might not be of his choosing. He’s been influenced along the way. He has a lot of great input for me as well.”
Pugh said his relationship with Grimes feels natural.
“We’ve worked together forever since I’ve been in coaching. It’s been good to get back with him. I spent two years at UTSA while he was still at LSU. We talked almost every day, even when we were apart. We’re very close,” said Pugh. “There are different ways you could describe our relationship — mentor, father figure, coach. You can use all those if you want. Most of all, I look up to him as a person and how he conducts his life.
"He goes about leading our offensive staff. As a coach, you try to emulate him in everything he’s done over the years. The thing that’s great is, he challenges us to be the best we can be as coaches every day. He asks us to do that to him. The good thing that’s going on with our staff is, we build on one another and that we’re able to know this offense and coach it.”
With Grimes’ extensive experience as an O-line coach, he works closely with Pugh.
“I’m coach Pugh’s (graduate assistant),” Grimes said with a smile. “So I’m there to help wherever I can. Typically during a lot of the individual drills, I would say about half the time I’m working with the offensive line. The other half of the time I might be working with a specific position or wandering around watching certain positions and adding coaching points as I see fit and watching the entire operation.”
Pugh said coaching under Grimes is a lot like playing for him.
“He and I had a good relationship when I played. That offensive line group he coached the first two years at Auburn were different than any I’ve been around just because four of the five of us had played so many games together. It’s kind of weird to see a group that goes three years and only has one guy miss one game. That was the special bond that we had.
"We used to joke with (Grimes) that we didn’t need him in practice, we just needed to make sure we go in the right direction. He challenged us to be better, even when we had played that many games. We weren’t great players, we were really good college players. But we loved to play the game the right way.”
BYU’s players can attest to the high level of accountability that Grimes demands.
“The first experience that we had was that this guy has the authority. You hear his voice and you have to listen. He’s a serious guy,” tight end Matt Bushman said of Grimes. “He’s a great guy outside of practice. He cares about us. But once we step on the football field, he demands perfect plays.
"If we don’t do it right, if we have a false start, that player is out for that play. He’s got to get his mind right and once he’s ready he can go back in. (Grimes) has that authority and he has the experience.”
For Pugh, coaching at BYU isn’t the only new development in his life. Now, he’s learning all about fatherhood, too.
“There’s definitely learning to do. You can study whatever you want but until you’re doing that, it’s kind of like coaching,” he said. “The only way to be a good coach is to coach. You can’t be a great coach by just watching somebody else do it. That’s like parenthood. You can watch others do it but when it’s your child you learn about it for yourself. It’s good that I’ve got a good wife that keeps me in line.”
Frequently during spring practices, Pugh’s wife would show up to watch while pushing their young daughter around in a stroller.
“We don’t miss practice,” Pugh said, laughing. “My wife’s been great. The baby and mom are doing well and trying to get some sleep. It’s an exciting time in our family, being here with such great people and being in a great community to raise a family. It’s been awesome.”