PROVO — The replacement for BYU offensive line coach Ryan Pugh is going to be a fun quote bucket.
Eric Mateos may have just arrived from Texas State, with previous stops at LSU and Arkansas, but he’s media savvy, slick as a politician, funny, subtle and street smart, and he knows how to play the humble street preacher card in front of a crowd.
The early take? He is sincere, likable, dedicated and hungry and a guy worth watching.
Earlier this week, in his first appearance in front of the media army that gathered around BYU’s initial spring practice, you got the feeling Mateos was pumping the brakes on his act, that at any time he’d let slip a run of one-liners. But as a rookie, people may have mistaken that for not being serious about his coaching craft.
I liked the guy immediately. He’s like the cousin you just have to have at the campout, a guy you wait to hear from after an event, be it a celebrated wedding or an accident. He’s got a little John Candy in him and I bet his team room will be a hoot once he establishes his authority, draws up the respective thresholds and yells at some guys to establish his bona fides as a hardcore SEC zealot.
After the session — since he’d already appeared on TV and radio and conducted print interviews since arriving the second week of February — I asked if media demands like this were unique for him. “Not at Texas State, but at Arkansas and LSU, I did a lot of interviews." And, he said, real low key, “I did get my bachelor’s degree in public relations.”
Mateos was in control of all the levers and buttons minutes before. He also has a master’s degree in human resources and development. So, those players or media chats? He’s a pro.
When asked how long he mulled over the job offer from Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, Mateos quickly replied, “About two seconds.”
He then went into a heartfelt testimonial about how the traveling circus life of a college coach can get nuts, that he’s seen close friends, head coaches and their staffs fired and turned into nomads, packing and moving. He identified a mentor, Sam Pittman, a line coach at Georgia who’d been fired seven or eight times as a line coach when the staff had been let go. At Texas State, Mateos’ head coach was let go and that meant he was out of a job like Pittman had experienced so many times.
Mateos created a scene, a feeling of what coaches go through in a crisis and need empathy and understanding. It took only seconds. I was ready to start a GoFundMe campaign for Pittman.
Mateos said taking the BYU job was a “no brainer.”
Naked honesty works.
It’s a public relations key.
Asked about his observations on BYU’s linemen, Mateos launched a campaign to build up the legendary Cougar blockers who were great kids, yet grown men.
“They’re really, really eager to be good. The better O-lines I’ve been around have all had a high drive to be really good. And it’s apparent with our group it goes nine, 10, 11 deep, which is rare. Most Division I lines have four to five that are hungry. I feel like we have 10 guys who are super hungry and a couple of guys who are getting there.”
He called his work an easy transition because his hogs are doers instead of yappers.
Mateos said his philosophy is the same as Grimes, that linemen have to play fast, decisively and confidently. He made it clear he didn’t want anyone hesitating in a buffet line or a double team. He wants players to go at it with violence and strain.
He said the difference between average and great lines are those who know what they’re doing and do it fast. “Everybody’s got strong guys, everybody's got big guys. It’s the guys that strain to finish that are really elite.”
Roll the drums. Cue up Gen. George Patton, as played by George C. Scott, telling troops that Americans love winners and to go through the Germans like crap through a goose.
Mateos told reporters Grimes is the same intense coach he worked for at LSU, the only difference in Grimes in Provo is he eats less crawfish because there’s less fried food here. I also think he said Grimes is a little less “wide.”
And like any astute underling, he praised Grimes with a hard rush list of his abilities.
“Jeff is such a good coach, a steady coach and very intelligent. He’s still very old line oriented. I think coach Sitake has made that a priority, to hire his coordinators through the lines, the offensive and defensive lines. We know that that’s where games are won, especially at the highest level. Both our coordinators are very tough.”
Mateos said BYU’s reputation nationally is one of being a group of very tough, physical players, that there are freshmen coming in who are 20 years old. “That’s valuable. And we’ve talked about it, taking what some people say is a weakness and turning it into our strength. That’s what we want to do this spring.”16 comments on this story
Mateos didn’t speak as much about X’s and O’s as much as he did about style; that players win games, not plays. What works is discipline, being hungry and playing hard. Those things trump plays that either turn out good or bad, because they’re just plays.
The new coach said the day after he was hired, he packed his car and drove to Utah in what he said was a whirlwind move. He hasn’t had time to scout out the things he loves, like water, lakes and rivers. He was born in Miami and raised in Kansas City and he loves to fish, swim and hang out in the water.
So, his new life in a desert will be interesting.
And this new personality will be too.
Somebody take this guy to Fish Lake and Lake Powell.