PROVO — BYU’s men’s rugby players were caught off guard recently when the entire coaching staff resigned abruptly.
Head coach David Smyth and assistant coach Wayne Tarawhiti, who helped lead the Cougars to national championships in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, decided to step down and announced it to their players in a team meeting.
“I was shocked,” said center Jacob McKay.
Meanwhile, the search for a new coaching staff is underway. Smyth had been guiding the Cougar rugby program since 1990.
“Last week, our coaches all called us into a meeting. Only five or six of us showed up because I think everyone’s gone for summer vacation," McKay said. "Coach Smyth said he’s been part of the program for 25-plus years and it’s been good. He said, 'We’ve loved coaching you and teaching you how to become men.' He gave a great speech, I guess. Then he said, ‘Unfortunately, we will be resigning from our positions.’”
Attempts by the Deseret News to contact Smyth were unsuccessful.
In a statement, BYU spokeswoman Natalie Ipson said, “The previous coaching staff left for individual reasons, and we’re in the process of hiring a new coach, but the program itself isn’t changing. Everything will continue as before.”
At BYU, rugby is an extramural sport, which means members of the team do not receive an athletic scholarship, unlike most of those who play NCAA-sanctioned sports such as football and basketball.
The news of the coaching staff’s resignation surprised BYU wing/fullback Nalu Shortland as well.
“I was a little surprised by it because I thought they would have told us sooner,” he said. “But at the same time, I know coach Smyth has been dealing with some health issues in his family, same with coach Wayne. It’s not like it's a bad thing, they are taking time off to spend time with their families.”
Shortland is confident that BYU will find the right coach to replace Smyth.
“I know they’ll choose a good coach. I’m not too worried about that. All the players know how the system works. They can definitely help out the new coach,” Shortland said. “But they’ll pick a good coach. Nothing to worry about there. We’ll definitely miss coach Smyth and coach Wayne, but whoever comes in, I know they’ll be qualified.”