Many moons have passed since BYU had to rebuild their football roster, but make no mistake about it, the Cougars are barreling towards a rebuild after the season is over.
Fans like to buy into coach speak rhetoric like, 'it's about reloading, not rebuilding.' The fact is that there are like five teams in the country that can actually claim they are reloading each year. Even a powerhouse like Clemson has years where they aren't serious contenders for the playoff. Clearly, competing for the playoff is a higher bar than most teams have, but you get the point. Rebuilds happen. It's part of college football. Deal with it.
There are lots of components to a successful rebuild but we're going to do our best to abridge things into five simple chapters.
Chapter 1: The Coaching Equation
We're going to spend a reasonable amount of time in our Hot Tub Time Machine today, so find a jet and get comfortable. Right now, we're going back to December 2017.
The Cougars just finished one of the most abysmal seasons of BYU football that BYU football had ever seen. The offense was putrid. Like, imagine you have been asked to make a beef wellington that would pass the watchful eye of Gordan Ramsay before it goes out to a customer. The kicker? You've never made wellington and maybe don't even know what it is. The ass-chewing that you would receive from Ramsay is only almost as bad as BYU's offense was in 2017.
What did Kalani Sitake do? He fired Ty Detmer and hired Jeff Grimes. It was an obvious answer.
Coaches have a shelf-life, even the best coaches. Schemes have to evolve. Players need to hear from new voices. Even LaVell Edwards started to kinda, sorta suck at the tail end of his career. That's just the way that this game works. Vince Lombardi was a tremendous football coach. Plug him into a 2022 NFL team, and offensive attack just isn't going to get it done.
Football changes. Players evolve. That's what makes this game so beautiful.
As a result, head coaches can't be married to their assistant coaches. If they are, then their athletic directors will ultimately make changes at the head coach level. Look at Jimbo Fisher at TAMU as an example. He was the hot coaching commodity just a few years ago and earned himself a fully-guaranteed 10-year contract. Now, just a couple of years after signing that deal, TAMU boosters are debating if they can afford to give the man $80 million and send him on his way.
Coaches have to change... even good ones.
As our beloved Cougars head into this round of rebuilding, expect coaching changes to be made. That doesn't mean that the coaches who are let go are terrible human beings who sucked at everything they did, but it also doesn't mean that you can't be excited when the changes are actually made.
Dismissing the coaches is only the first part of this rebuild section, though. You have to hire coaches to replace them.
That part is much more simple, but the margin for error is thin. There are lots of highly talented coaches who don't pan out for a myriad of reasons. You have to put that possibility behind you and go all in on who you hire.
Back in 2017, Sitake did this right. He hired Jeff Grimes. Grimes was a gamble, no question about it. But he represented toughness in the trenches and that is what Sitake wanted from his offense.
After Grimes signed, Sitake did something that was very, very important: He handed the keys to the offense to Grimes and got the hell out of the way.
If you're bringing in a coordinator and trusting him/her to run one side of the ball, you have to let them run one side of the ball. Don't let them half-run one side of the ball, don't handcuff them by forcing an assistant head coach on them or limiting who they can hire as position coaches. If you're bringing in a coordinator to run one side of things, you have to let them run things how they want to run things.
There might be collateral damage in that scenario, but that's the price you have to pay. You might love Jernaro Gilford and believe he deserves to stay on staff at BYU this year (I do too, believe me) but if the new coordinator wants to bring in a cornerbacks coach that he trusts, you have to let the new DC do that.
Once the hire is made, there are no strings attached. Fans need to be prepared for the potential fallout.
Chapter 2: Scholarship Capital
College football can't trade players for draft picks. So, the Danny Ainge method of rebuilding isn't going to work. But, there is an underlying principle that college football teams can learn from Ainge's antics in the NBA:
Options matter more than players.
We're firmly planted on the "Horses Not Jockeys" belief here at GEHB. You can't simply scheme your way to wins no matter who you have playing for you on the field. The next few paragraphs might feel contradictory to that, but we'll cover that more in Chapter 3. But trust that "Horses Not Jockeys" is still a key component of all of this.
A new coordinator needs options. You hear coaches and fans talk about this all the time in the form of a coach needing to get "his guys" into his program.
It's a painful principle, but it's a true principle.
It wasn't without pain that the Jazz sent Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves. It hurt to send Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the return - the ability to have flexibility and options in the future - was worth the price of the pain that was caused.
The same principle is true in college football, but it isn't trades and draft picks that move the needle. It's scholarships. When a new coaching staff takes over, scholarships are the most valuable thing for that coach. In some cases, those scholarships are move important than the talented player who could vacate a scholarship.
What does that look like? Well, something like this thread on Twitter:
That's a lot of names! And some of those names have been big time contributors for BYU over the years. But, as long as you remember that scholarships and flexibility matters more than anything else, the shock and pain of these players potentially not wearing BYU will be easier to bear.
There are so many variables for a new coach to deal with when they inherit a locker room. Will upperclassmen buy in? Does the talent on the roster fit what the coaches like to do? Will there be any riffs between players and new coaches because the players didn't sign to play for this coach? How quickly is any sort of trust built between the two parties?
When it comes to rebuilding, it's easier to remove those variables than it is to address them - at least most of the time.
So, give the new staff the ability to find their guys who do trust them and who do sign with BYU to play for this coach. That won't come without growing pains, but that's the best way to do it. Period.
Imagine if Sitake would have forced Grimes to keep the commitment of Zadock Dinkelmann instead of allowing him to go get Zach Wilson? Boy, how different that story would have been.
It won't be easy, but freeing up scholarships is a good thing for a new staff.
Chapter 3: Recruiting And The Transfer Portal
Once a coach gets those scholarships, they have to fill them with the right players. This is simple and will be the shortest chapter of our Rebuilding Guide.
The message to the new coaching staff is simple: Recruit. Your. Balls. Off.
Horses still matter more than jockeys. So, don't just fill a roster spot with a warm body. Have a talent threshold that you're unwilling to waver from and then recruit your balls off. That's how you do it.
High school ranks, JUCO players, the transfer portal... there have never been more places to recruit and find talented players than there are today. So there is no excuse for a coach to not recruit his balls off after he gets the job.
A new coach should not have balls by spring ball. He can grow them back in July like a lizard.
Chapter 4: A Marketing Plan
Maybe it's "Go Fast, Go Hard" or maybe it's "Tip of the Spear; Reliable, Violent Offense - RVO." Whatever it is, you need a schtick.
Look, it's marketing. When your team is undergoing a rebuild, it's likely that your fans are frustrated and sick of watching struggles. If a new coordinator comes in and has a message of "we're going to do good football things and do them good and stuff" then you aren't going to feel very confident.
Have a scheme. Have a schtick. And market the hell out of it. That will resonate with fans, boosters, current players, and recruits. It sounds like a stupid thing but a marketing plan is a necessary part of rebuilding.
Chapter 5: Bumps And Lumps And Grumps
Be prepared for the bumps and lumps of a rebuild. Zach Wilson was great for BYU, but he finished 7-6 his first year at BYU. And then 7-6 again the next year. That's part of rebuilding.
Great coordinators can get things turned around immediately and the bumps are relatively small. Usually those coordinators are balless because they brought in an elite amount of talent.
Most coordinators - even the very good ones - need a year or two to get things going the right direction. That is especially true at BYU given the number of missionaries that are constantly coming and going from the program.
Fans need to be prepared for the bumps and lumps so that they aren't stupid grumps. A new coordinator will try to have a perfect scheme that fits his talent, but unless you give him 40 scholarships to play with, he will be playing with players that he didn't necessarily want. The coordinator will alter his scheme to fit talent, but remember, the coordinator was hired to run his scheme.
During that transition, there will be ups and downs. Prepare yourselves for those ups and downs. Recalibrate your benchmarks for success. And enjoy the ride.