PROVO — If Lee Cummard has been anything, it's been a BYU loyalist all his life.
He demonstrated it when he committed and signed with the Cougars after being named Arizona’s Player of the Year out of Mesa. Ditto for when he led BYU to three conference championships and was named the MWC Player of the Year one of those years. He proved his allegiance when he returned from a professional career overseas and became a graduate assistant on Dave Rose's staff, a position he held the past two seasons.
A grad assistant does a lot of grunt work, breaking down film, preparing game plans, picking up pieces and leftovers, proving worth and dedication. Cummard passed the grade on all fronts. If you line up the candidates interviewed, taking a chance on Cummard made sense, and he already had a desk.
So, it was no surprise he was added as a full-time assistant last week to replace Heath Schroyer, after his one-year stopover in Provo between jobs at North Carolina State and McNeese State. But Schroyer’s impact was obvious this past season.
In the minds of some, BYU should have sought out a proven coach with plenty of experience. A guy with a tinge of gray hair who’d been through the battles of recruiting and strategy sessions; someone with myriad contacts to find talent in the junior colleges ranks.
I could see that.
Diversity is also an important consideration when it comes to coaching hires at the college and professional levels. It would have been nice to see BYU hire an African-American with a solid track record, a guy like fired Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson, who was hired in early April by Cal. Wilson knows recruiting in California inside and out.
What BYU gets in Cummard, a former player and graduate assistant, is continuity. Hires like Schroyer come, work and go. Their impact is valued but their departures are almost assured.
You make those hires, feel good, begin something, then start over.
Cummard’s hire brings passion and knowledge of the school and its mission, restrictions, honor code and ever-tightening academic watermarks.
What Rose needs is a kick-butt player development coach who works extensively enhancing players' abilities, setting workout targets on the court and in the weight room. I don’t know if Cummard is that guy, but since he played in Europe, he knows workouts in that league supersede American style by far.
I think Quincy Lewis could be given a bigger voice and a longer leash. On staffs, you have wingmen, counselors, and those with bad- or good-cop roles. Rose needs his Schroyer-less staff to have clear-cut responsibilities that elevate his program.
Cummard’s experience in Europe, his eagerness to work camps, summer tournaments, evaluate players, and sell BYU because he’s lived it, has great value at this particular time. If he doesn’t have the fire I think he’s talked about, that’s another story. But I think he does.
There are some who are caught up in recruiting boards, reminding everyone of “gets” and “failures," star rankings and talent BYU has to get. True, 80 percent of the battle is recruiting. But there is recruiting, and then there is recruiting to BYU.
The Cougars are going against top-25 teams who are increasingly working in the shadows of NCAA rules as evidenced by recent FBI reports. Contacts with AAU coaches tied to shoe companies, the flow of money, and the questionable relationships and deals have affected storied programs, and we haven’t seen the end of it.
This makes it tougher for schools who play it straight to compete for talent. Something has to change. At present, there is just too much money involved and the funnel of operations that takes recruits to the doorsteps of the elite has never been more efficient.
BYU isn’t going to wield that money funnel.
What I’ve learned the past three years is it doesn’t matter who BYU’s recruiters are as much as what guidelines, admission requirements and “fit” are applied. It is the great “filter” utilized by a school that is becoming ever-so selective in who competes for entrance into an institution that has high application standards.
That is the reality for any so-called shiny coach desired by the masses to take up a BYU coaching whistle. And it’s getting harder.
So, to me, a hire like Cummard makes perfect sense. He says he feels the fire. Let him take a turn and see if he can burn it up.
He’s loyal. And he gets it.