SALT LAKE CITY — Aaron Roderick, who recently joined BYU’s coaching staff, has been a football coach without a team for the past year. After 18 seasons in the collegiate coaching ranks, he was fired by the Utes — the eighth offensive coordinator to leave or be fired in nine years at Utah — and then dropped out of sight.
Rebuffing potential job offers from other schools, he decided to take a year off to rest, carpool his kids and undertake his own professional development course.
He watched every Pac-12 game during the 2017 season, recording them on TV or watching them via computer. He studied teams whose offenses intrigued him — two full seasons of Toledo’s offensive game video, as well as video of Oklahoma and Northwestern.
“Northwestern quietly wins 10 games every year with some of the worst players in the country,” he says. “They have slow, smart players. I was fascinated by that. They have great coaches. I was interested in how they get so much out of their guys.”
This wasn’t a casual exercise for Roderick. He might watch one play 20 times to understand all that was happening — blocking schemes, quarterback reads, etc. After taking notes, he texted or called coaches to get more details about the execution of the offense and certain plays.
“When you’re working on a staff,” he says, “you watch so much film, but you don’t get to choose what you watch. You have to watch your next opponent. I had a year to study what I wanted to study. I tried to spend several hours each day on it.”
In his own way, he was doing what his former boss, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, continually urges his assistants to do. “He pushed us to increase our knowledge every year,” says Roderick. “He would pay for us to go anywhere we wanted for professional development.”
During his year off, Roderick also undertook a project of self-examination — what he did wrong and right as a coach during the 2015 and 2016 seasons when the Utes finished 6-3 and 5-4 in the Pac-12 standings, respectively, missing a trip to the Pac-12 championship game by one game in the former. Roderick focused largely on Utah’s red-zone offense — the Utes were at the top of the Pac-12 in 2015 and near the bottom in 2016.
“In 2015 we built our red-zone offense around (quarterback) Travis Wilson and (running back) DeVontae Booker and the spread offense,” he explains. "The next year we tried to do the same with Troy Williams — who was not as dynamic of a runner as Travis but a better passer, and Joe Williams, who was fast but not as physical as DeVontae. In retrospect, we didn’t come up with enough ways to highlight what Troy and Joe did best.”
Roderick was the Utes’ co-offensive coordinator two different times — in 2010 and again from 2015-2016. He was demoted after the first stint and fired after the second one after a dozen years on the Utah staff.
Ask him how he feels about this, he says, “At this point it doesn’t do any good to go into that … I had a great run and I probably stayed a little too long, but, yeah, it hurt because I gave it everything I had. But more than anything, we came up short. We had two good chances to win the South (division). I was more disappointed about that than being let go. We had two good chances. We won a lot of games though.”
Roderick says he had opportunities to coach outside the state in 2017. He was contacted by two Pac-12 teams and one Big 12 team “that would’ve panned out if I had stuck with it,” he says. Instead, he opted for the year off, drawing a salary from the balance of his contract with Utah.
“It was a risk because if you stay out of the game sometimes it’s hard to get back in,” he says. “But after 12 years at Utah I was really spent. I put everything I had into that. I needed a break. And I wanted to be with my kids, too.”
After the season, BYU fired offensive coordinator Ty Detmer following a 4-9 season and replaced him with LSU assistant Jeff Grimes. The Cougars hired Roderick as the team’s passing game coordinator. For Roderick, it is a homecoming. He played wide receiver for BYU and then immediately began his coaching career as a graduate assistant there in 1999.
During the past year Roderick attended games and practices at BYU. He was welcomed by BYU coaches and even sat in the back of the room during team meetings just to be around the game. But eventually he stopped the visits to BYU because of the long drive from his home in Salt Lake City and because he didn’t “want to get in anyone’s way.”
Now he’s on the staff officially and says he is eager to work with Grimes. He has followed and studied Grimes’ work over the years.
“I felt like I knew him because he worked with so many people I know,” says Roderick. “I followed his career and all the great places he’s been.”
After Auburn won the 2010 national championship — with Grimes serving as offensive line coach on that team — Roderick and the rest of the Ute staff studied Auburn’s entire season and, among other things, examined how they utilized quarterback Cam Newton in the running game. The Utes mimicked that scheme with Wilson, another tall, physical running quarterback.29 comments on this story
“I’m excited about working with this staff,” says Roderick. “”I’ve known (tight ends coach) Steve Clark for a long time and I respect how hard he’s worked at the game. Nothing has been handed to that guy to stay in it. And I recruited (offensive assistant Fesi Sitake) at SUU and coached him there and watched his coaching career develop.”
After devoting the last year to learning more about the game, Roderick faces the next step: “One of the best things Kyle (Whittingham) used to tell us is that it’s not about what you know; it’s what your players know and can execute. If I can’t teach the players in a systematic way that allows them to execute, then the knowledge is worthless. Kyle always reminded us of that. He’d push us to learn more, but then he’d say, ‘Now can you teach it?’”