With live sporting events postponed due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, newspapers are turning to profiles and lists to fill the sports page.
There have been plenty of lists naming the top 10 athletes, or picking a Mount Rushmore of sports (good one, BYU athletic department).
But what about coaches? There are 19 Division I sports at BYU, with a few coaches doubling in track and cross country. Here’s a look at a list of the Top 10 Cougar coaches in 2019-20.
The list is based on three criteria: 1) How the team performed during this season, 2) How well the program has performed annually and 3) personal bias.
Hey, at least I’m honest.
So without further ado, here are BYU’s Top 10 coaches.
1. Ed Eyestone, men’s cross country/track and field
Any coach who wins the natty has to be No. 1, right? Eyestone led the Cougars to the men’s cross country championship this fall, rolling past favorite Northern Arizona 109 to 163. Eyestone was named the national coach of the year and became the first person in NCAA history to win an individual national title (1984) and coach a team to a championship. Last spring, he coached Clayton Young to the NCAA 10,000 meter title. If you build it, his team will run. (I’ll show myself out.)
2. Mark Pope, men’s basketball
We’ll never know how far Pope could have taken the Cougars in the NCAA Tournament but his first year as the head man in Provo will never be forgotten. A roster with seven seniors battled through every adversity possible to earn what would have likely been a No. 6 seed in the tournament. The pinnacle of the season was a win in the Marriott Center against No. 2 Gonzaga on Feb. 22. A sellout crowd was amped the entire game and stormed the court when the victory was final.
3. Shawn Olmstead, men’s volleyball
Olmstead took the Cougars to three straight Final Fours (2016-2018) and a pair of national championship matches but this year’s BYU team might have been his best. The Cougars marched into Honolulu and swept No. 1 Hawaii, then pushed the Rainbow Warriors to five sets the next night before falling. In what would be the final AVCA poll of the season, BYU was ranked No. 1. The Cougars had gone undefeated through the first half of MPSF play (6-0) and were on pace to earn the right to host the league tournament as well as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA’s.
4. Jennifer Rockwood, women’s soccer
Rockwood has been doing her thing for more than 20 years but her 2019 team was one of her best. The Cougars rose as high as No. 4 in the national polls, their only blemish a 2-2 tie with Santa Clara on their way to an 18-0-1 record. BYU defeated Boise State (5-1), Louisville (4-0) and North Carolina State (3-0) to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals before falling to No. 1 Stanford. This team was so much fun to watch and averaged 2,945 fans per home match at South Field.
5. Heather Olmstead, women’s volleyball
The Olmsteads have one heck of a family coaching record, don’t they? In fact, the Olmsteads have won 82% (369-82) of their matches while coaching the men’s and women’s volleyball teams. Heather took the Cougars to the No. 1 ranking and the Final Four two years ago and was named national coach of the year. Last season, BYU earned a stunning road win in the preseason against eventual NCAA champion Stanford and posted a 26-5 record, reaching as high as No. 9 in the polls.
6. Bruce Brockbank, men’s golf
It’s no stretch to imagine the Cougars making a run at the national title in 2020, but the coronavirus ended those dreams. BYU had some terrific golfers in Peter Kuest – who during the fall season was the No. 1 collegiate golfer in the country and is turning pro – along with Rhett Rasmussen, Spencer Dunaway, Kelton Hirsch, Chad Hardy, Cole Ponich and Carson Lundell. The Cougars combined for the lowest-single season 54-hole stroke average in school history (849).
7. Gordon Eakin, softball
Talk about consistency: Under Eakin, the Cougars have won six straight WCC titles, 11 consecutive conference titles overall and 15 straight appearances in the NCAA Regionals. Like clockwork BYU plays a difficult preseason schedule, rolls through league play and puts itself in a position to take on the top teams in the NCAA Tournament.
8. Kalani Sitake, football
Bet you were wondering when Sitake would show up. The Cougars posted a 9-4 record in his first season but have gone 4-9, 7-6 and 7-6 thereafter. What must be taken into consideration is that Sitake’s job is probably the most difficult on campus. He’s competing against programs with obscene amounts of money who can recruit anyone in the country. In addition, Tom Holmoe’s scheduling in independence has been super aggressive. If the 2020 season actually is played, it’s full of big potholes as well. Sitake received an extension this year, so the only way to move up is to win enough games to satisfy Cougar fans.
9. Jeff Judkins, women’s basketball
Judkins probably never saw himself in the women’s game when he started his career with Rick Majerus at the University of Utah, but he’s proven to be a successful coach during his 19-year career in Provo. He’s won 411 games and taken his team to the Sweet 16 twice (2002, 2014). He might have made it three times if freshman sensation Shaylee Gonzales hadn’t torn her ACL last summer. Next year’s team, with Gonzales back, could be pretty special.
10. Diljeet Taylor, women’s cross country/track and field
Taylor is maybe the best coach at BYU that no one really knows about. She joined the program in 2016 and has produced seven individual All-Americans. Taylor has a great touch in coaching athletes to reach their peak and that’s what cross country and track are all about.