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Let's talk about everything BYU sports right now

Let's talk about everything BYU sports right now

When the offseason hits, we take a little time to ourselves to spend with family and the newsletter and podcast cadence takes a back seat. The calendar has turned to April now and it's time to start preparing for the future, so here we are, getting back on the horse for another cycle of BYU sports. So let's talk about, well, everything.

Will Mark Pope go to Kentucky?

No. Next subject.

Okay, fine, let's talk a little more about all of the reasons that Pope won't end up in Lexington. To start the conversation, we have to go back to to 1985 when the 'Cats hired Eddie Sutton away from Arkansas.

Joe B. Hall had been a coach at Kentucky for 20 seasons before Sutton. He started as an assistant in 1965 and took over as the head coach in 1972. He won the NIT Championship in 1976, won an NCAA Championship in 1978, went to the Final Four three times and was the SEC Coach of the Year four times. He left big shoes for Sutton to fill and had entrenched Kentucky hoops as a pillar in the college basketball landscape.

So Kentucky needed to shoot big. Sutton was big. He took over a struggling Arkansas program and led them to a Final Four within a few seasons. He was a big name and a rising star in the industry - that's why he went to Kentucky.

Sutton left amidst recruiting violations and scandal so Kentucky was back on the coaching search horse - needing a big name once again. Sutton hadn't hit the success that Hall had, but he won multiple SEC championships and went to the Elite Eight. Who filled his big shoes? Rick Pitino.

Pitino had taken Providence to the Final Four a few years prior to his hiring at Kentucky but he was working as the head coach of the New York Knicks. He saw the writing on the wall with the Knicks that he probably was going to get fired, but let's not make the mistake of thinking he was not successful. Pitino had won the division for the first time in 20 years for the Knicks. He disagreed with management, but he was successful. And he left the NBA for Kentucky where he won a National Championship and went to three Final Fours. Then he left for the NBA again.

In came Tubby Smith. He hadn't had the success that others had prior to taking the Kentucky job, but he did take Georgia to a Sweet 16 and upset the top-seeded Purdue in the process. Smith won a National Championship at Kentucky and was the Coach of the Year in 2003. And he left.

The 'Cats went to Billy Gillispe next. He was the Big 12 Coach of the Year twice at Texas A&M. He took the Aggies to the Sweet 16 and finished the season inside the Top 10 of the AP Poll. It was an unprecedented level of success for TAMU hoops.

After Gillispe didn't pan out at Kentucky because he missed the tournament once, he was fired. And in came John Calipari.

Calipari had been to the Final Four with UMass and then again with Memphis. He had been a head coach in the NBA. He got to Kentucky and all he did was with a National Championship and go to four more Final Fours. He won the SEC a bunch and made the NCAA Tournament all the time. He sent a billion players to the NBA and became the poster child for making one-and-done work in college hoops. But, he lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament three of the last four years and that was enough for Kentucky fans to grow restless and heat up the hot seat. So he left and now he's headed to Arkansas.

Why are we going through Kentucky coaching history? Because let's look at Mark Pope's resume compared to the others who have been hired by Kentucky since Sutton.

Sutton - Final Four appearance at Arkansas.

Pitino - Final Four appearance at Providence.

Smith - Sweet 16 appearance at Georgia.

Gillispe - Sweet 16 appearance at Texas A&M.

Calipari - Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis.

Pope - Never won his conference for an NCAA Tournament game.

It would be a big blow for BYU if Pope left. He is a bright coach and has figured out a formula that makes sense for BYU. If he were to leave for Kentucky, he would have success at Kentucky, I have little doubt of that. Pope could leave for a lot of bigger jobs than BYU.

But he's not going to Kentucky - at least not this year.

He just doesn't have the resume that Kentucky fans are going to demand. I mean, he's replacing a coach who has won rings at Kentucky. The program in Kentucky demands National Championships every year. They expect the top recruiting class every year. They have hired NBA coaches in the past. They have hired Final Four coaches in the past.

Pope would be a great story and was a National Champion at Kentucky, but he just doesn't fit the bill of a Kentucky head coach today.


Were you nervous that Pope was going to go to Arkansas when Eric Mussleman left for USC? Not really, right?

There was some discussion about maybe Washington would fit, but they weren't interested in Pope and Pope didn't seem to push too hard either.

There was some discussion about USC for Pope, but nothing serious enough that it became public news or even real rumor ever materialized.

It's time for BYU fans to accept a difficult truth - Pope isn't as sought after as we think that he is right now. The hard truth is that he hasn't done enough at BYU to really merit bigger jobs. At least not yet.

That's not to discount what he did this year. BYU was picked to finish 13th in the Big 12 and finished 5th. That's a great year for the Cougars! BYU fans are and should be proud of that.

But BYU was embarrassed by Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament and then bounced out of the NCAAs by a school nobody knew how to pronounce a month ago. That's just not 'big coaching job' material.

Pope would still have to answer for finishing 5th in the WCC last year. He would have to answer for never winning a conference in the lowly WCC and, frankly, never really even pushing Gonzaga for a title. He would have to answer for never winning an NCAA Tournament game.

Yes, the Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws team got robbed in 2020. Yes, they could have made a run to the Sweet 16. But they were still just a 6-seed that season. BYU was a 6-seed this season and a trendy pick by some prognosticators. But alas...

If Scott Drew leaves Baylor for Kentucky, I'm not worried about Baylor being interested in Pope. He hasn't done enough to convince me that he'd be on the short list of a job like Baylor.

If Drew leaves Baylor for Kentucky and Baylor hires Jerome Tang from Kansas State, I'm not worried about Kansas State being a compelling enough of a job or an obvious upgrade over BYU. I don't think Pope would take that job.

I'm just not that concerned about Pope actually leaving.

It takes two sides to leave a job - you have to want to leave and someone has to want take you. I don't think Pope has done enough to convince the schools he'd want to go to that he's the right fit for them, and I don't think the jobs that would want Pope are good enough jobs that he'd want to leave.

(And lastly, I think he likes BYU a whole lot more in the Big 12 than he did in the WCC.)

I've been wrong before, but I have very little heartburn or consternation right now.

BYU's Quarterback Conundrum - Part 1

BYU has a quarterback recruiting problem right now. When diagnosing problems like this, it's important to separate facts from fiction. So let's give it a shot.

A-Rod Has Never Recruited A Quarterback To BYU - Fiction.

A-Rod doesn't get the credit for Zach Wilson's recruitment, but he probably should - moreso than Jeff Grimes. Roderick was a special consultant for BYU during 2017 and knew the Wilson family well. Though he wasn't technically hired when Wilson committed, everyone knew he would be. He and Fesi had more role in getting Wilson to BYU than Grimes did. Kalani did too, certainly, but Roderick deserves more credit than he gets.

Jaren Hall committed to BYU before Roderick was there, but when he came home from his mission, he was hit up by several suitors. BYU had the obvious advantage, but A-Rod had to convince Hall that BYU was the place for him. And then he had to convince Hall not to transfer after he got beat out by Wilson. He deserves more credit for Hall than he gets.

Baylor Romney came to BYU after his mission. At the time, everyone thought it was a ploy to get Gunner Romney to come to BYU, but A-Rod liked Baylor. He fought to bring Baylor to Provo and Baylor came. Baylor was never the full time starter and obviously never made it to the NFL, but fans remember that Baylor was good. A-Rod deserves more credit for Baylor than he gets.

A-Rod Has Not Won A Quarterback Recruiting Battle In A Longtime - Fact.

We can acknowledge the problem without re-writing the history. Roderick did well with Wilson, Hall and Baylor. He has struggled since.

In some respects, the struggles make sense. I mean, you guys have seen the transfer portal these days. Players - especially quarterbacks - don't sit around and wait anymore. Hall did and he was a crazy exception, but most leave. BYU had Wilson and Hall entrenched as starters from 2018 - 2022. QB recruiting was difficult during that time.

So it makes sense that BYU couldn't land any big names during that stretch - guys wanted to play and BYU had a pair of NFL QBs on the roster. Roderick pulled Cade Fennegan from Boise State, but that's really it. (Fennegan hasn't done anything at BYU, but people forget that he looked good when he entered the game for Boise State against BYU. He had an offer from Graham Howell and USC after his mission. He was highly thought of, it just hasn't panned out.)

He missed on Jackson Dart - twice. He missed on Devin Brown. He missed on Luke Moga. He missed on Isaac Wilson. He missed on Maeaealiuaki Smith. There are perfectly reasonable explanations for each of those misses, but it doesn't matter - he missed.

He took a gamble on Ryder Burton when nobody else would and so far that hasn't panned out.

He flipped Noah Lugo from UTSA and we'll see how that pans out down the road.

Kedon Slovis didn't work out for a variety of reasons. Gerry Bohanon is, well, we'll see what Bohanon is. Jake Retzlaff has 7 fumbles (3 lost) and 3 interceptions in four games.

This week, top target Grady Adamson committed to Georgia Tech. That was a gut punch.

BYU hasn't landed recruiting battles of significance in a few years and they are reaping the consequences of that today. It's not great.

Someone Else Would Have A Better QB Room Right Now - TBD, but it's closer to fiction than any of us want to admit.

2001 - Brandon Doman

2002 - Bret Engemann

2003 - Matt Berry

2004-2006 - John Beck

2007 - 2009 - Max Hall

2010 - Riley Nelson

2011 - Jake Heaps

2012 - Riley Nelson

2013 - 2016 - Taysom Hill

2017 - 2018 - Tanner Mangum

2019-2020 - Zach Wilson

2021-2022 - Jaren Hall

2023 - Kedon Slovis

Those are the quarterbacks who started every BYU season opener since 2001. All of them from Doman to Mangum have something in common - they are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I don't know if Wilson is technically a member of not (nor do I care) but he was from Utah and has obvious ties and familiarity with the Church. Jaren Hall was a member.

Slovis is the only guy since 2001 who wasn't either a member or a local guy with a ton of familiarity with the Church to start at quarterback at BYU.

BYU doesn't have to have a member of the Church at quarterback, obviously. But throughout history, BYU has members of the Church playing quarterback. The best QBs of the last 20 years all have ties to the Church.

The recruiting pool of members of the Church who are also really talented quarterbacks hasn't been very deep in the last few years. In fact, it's been almost non-existent.

Dart, Javance Johnson, Cooper Legas and Will Hammond are the only ones who immediately jump to mind over the last few season. (I'm sure someone will tell me others and that I'm wrong, but that's what is coming to mind today.)

Dart is great and went to USC and Ole Miss. BYU would have loved him, offered him first, and recruited him really hard. Johnson went to SDSU and hasn't done anything. Legas went to USU and has been up and down. Hammond went to Texas Tech this past season and looks to have a bright future, but has yet to take a college snap.

There just haven't been that many guys. Getting non-member QBs to come to BYU has historically been difficult for the Cougars to do - even during the heyday.

Sure, Jim McMahon came, but even he was a local kid from Roy, UT. Ty Detmer came, but Detmer wasn't some big recruit or anything like that, he developed at BYU. Steve Sarkisian came from the JUCO ranks and did well, but that was 30 years ago.

It has been done. It can be done. A-Rod hasn't done it enough. I'm not making an excuse for him, but it is something that isn't talked about. BYU's typical recruiting pool hasn't featured QBs since Jackson Dart. That miss hurts. Beyond that, though...

It's like Pope's basketball recruiting over the last few years. There just weren't many members of the Church who were good at hoops for a few years. That's changed and Pope has things back on track, but for a while, it was tough for Pope on the recruiting trail.

QB recruiting over the last few years would be difficult for any BYU QB coach.

So Everything Is Excused And Okay Then - Absolute Fiction.

It's not. Things aren't good and they have to change - and they have to change fast. Fortunately, BYU has some chances to turn the ship around for 2025 and beyond. They'll have to do better than they have done in the last few cycles, but the pool is helping them out a little more.

Nolan Keeney is from Oregon and can ball. He's a member and playing for BYU has been a dream of his. He's not a five-star guy, but he has offers from Houston, Boise State, San Diego State, and a few others that are likely to offer this spring. He absolutely has to be on BYU's short list.

Ryder Lyons is a 2026 guy who is a member. He's one of the best 2026 QBs in America.

Helaman Casuga is a 2026 guy. His name is Helaman. His dad is named Nephi. The ties are obvious and he's one of the best 2026 QBs in America.

If BYU misses on these guys, then it's time to burn the ship and the house and the cabin and the cars and everything else because everything is beyond repair.

BYU's Quarterback Conundrum - Part 2

Okay, we've talked recruiting, now let's talk roster.

It's not good. Next subject.

Ugh, fine, we'll go into more detail but I do not feel good about it and it's important that you know that.

Jake Retzlaff - The way New York Jets fans feel about Zach Wilson is the way BYU fans feel about Retzlaff. There are times that he looks like he can make this work. He looked great against Oklahoma. He has thrown some beautiful deep balls and he helped transform an otherwise anemic offense into an offense that had some juice.

But then he threw that pick-six at the goal line. And fumbled a snap. And that pass against Iowa State to start the game. And the balls at the feet of receivers in the flat against Oklahoma State.

But let's root ourselves in truth - If Retzlaff had only played against West Virginia last year, most BYU fans would be excited about his future. He didn't win against West Virginia and his stat line wasn't overly impressive. But every BYU fans (yes, all of them, including you) came out of that West Virginia game and thought, 'he looked confident and promising... this might work.'

It didn't work. He played three games and it was a bummer. But it's important to remember how new he was. He wasn't a true freshman, but it was his first year at BYU in the offense. He was a rookie at the FBS level. He can and will get better in 2024. He just has to get a lot better to make BYU compete.

Gerry Bohanon - Was it rust or is he bad? That is the question. And it's a question that is so perplexing that even Bill Shakespeare's Hamlet wouldn't want to tackle this one.

Spring didn't go well for G-Bo. It wasn't bad, but it didn't leave anyone feeling super confident that he is QB1 and all is well.

He also hadn't thrown a football in a competitive setting in a year and a half.

G-Bo is at a new school, with new teammates, in a new offense, and using a new shoulder. That's a lot of new to address in 15 spring practices. Was he just rusty? That would be very understandable. But if the season was starting today, ain't a soul feeling good about G-Bo running things right now.

Rust might be understandable, but understanding doesn't get you wins.

Treyson Bourguet - Our guy showed up to school on his own and was willing to walk on to get a chance. That's pretty dope. If the physical talent was on par with the mental readiness, Bourguet would be the favorite to start. As it is, though, he has some work to do.

Cade Fennegan - He has really loved his BYU experience and I think that's swell.

Ryder Burton - O Ryder, Ryder, wherefore art thou, Ryder Burton?

Noah Lugo - Freshmen are fun.

A mess of other walk-ons - Welp.

Look the 2024 situation isn't good. A lot will point to the spring portal window as reasons for hope, but I'd put the odds of BYU landing a difference maker out of the spring portal somewhere similar to the odds that I become a vegan. It's possible, for sure, but bleh.

BYU is in rough shape for 2024 and it doesn't seem like it's turning around. The best best is that BYU fixes the offensive line, establishes a better running game, and someone develops a little bit. No matter what Retzlaff does, he isn't a guy who will ever win a Big 12 Championship for BYU - we can say that and that's okay. But in the right offense and with a few less mistakes, he can win games at BYU.

We should probably start preparing ourselves for the Retzlaff Experience this season.

The Retzperience.

We're going where fashion sits and putting on the Retz.

Retz crackers and cheese.

The Laff House.

Just start saying things until it's normalized and it will make 2024 better.

What about every other position?

You know what? I think we can honestly say that BYU is better at every other position on the roster. It's close, but I think that's a true statement.

Safety - Easy yes.

Corner - It's the one I'm unsure of.

Linebacker - Yes.

Defensive Tackle - Absolutely yes.

Defensive End - Yeppers.

Wide Receiver - Yeesh.

Tight End - Yeah

Running Back - You don't want to say yes because last year seemed deep but then you realize Aidan Robbins and Deion Smith combined to be most not impactful until the last two games of the season and you start to realize that this year isn't worse. So yes?

Offensive Line - The talent isn't quite the same but after what we saw from Darrell Funk last year, BYU's OL could be coached by a 2x4 and have more accountability than a year ago.

(Sidenote: This one makes me sad. I liked Funk. I defended Funk as long as I could. I think he got a bad rap in 2022 and the group was better than he gets credit for. But 2023 was bad. It was really, really, really bad. So no matter what happened in 2022, 2023 was bad.  So sorry to all of you who feel like I lied to you - I didn't. And sorry to D-Funky who feels like I turned on you - you just really sucked last year.)

(Double Sidenote: D-Funky is selling all of his old BYU team issued gear. I've officially purchased all of the 3XL stuff that I want, so it's time to publicize what's left. Some 3XL, some women's XL, and some size flipper shoes are all for sale here.)

This team is better than a year ago. The quarterback situation is somehow worse. It really is a bummer that one position could hold the rest of the team back, but that's just the reality we live in right now.

But maybe life at the Retz will be better than we think. The Retz Carlton.

Live, Retzlaff, Love.

Retz go! (in a Tom Brady voice)

EarthJake on the Wasatch Fault Line.

Look, I don't feel good about these either, folks, but this is our life. This is our home. We don't have any other choice. So gets some penicillin and start treating Laff infection with Laffter. It's literally all we've got.

Last minute rambling to reach a wordcount milestone...

We're nearly to 4000 words and I think it would be kind of cool to get there. So I'm filibustering a little bit here, but I'll come up with something to make it worth it in the end. I appreciate you riding with me on this path to 4000. I feel like Pete Rose a little bit, but I won't get banned for betting on BYU. So that's nice.

These are the tricks of the blogger trade. Sometimes word counts exist for SEO reasons but sometimes they exist for pride and fun. 4000 is for pride and fun and we're almost there. Really, thank you, for bearing with me for this long. It's been a hell of a ride to start this week.

Okay, the nugget at the end to make this filibuster worth it. I told you it would be worth it and here it comes:

(Okay but really... the early feedback from TJ Woods from recruits has been nothing short of spectacular. It is like Jay Hill a year ago. The feedback on Hill was phenomenal almost immediately. He missed a few guys and people started to doubt early on, but recruiting takes time. By the end of the cycle, everyone was singing Hill's praises. I think we're trending towards the same kind of outcome with Woods. I'm very surprised by how positive things are when I hear from recruits. They really, really seem to like this dude. A year from now, I think we're going to collectively feel very good about the future of the OL.)