BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe has wide ranging responsibilities as he oversees the Cougar athletic program.
There are all the details that go into television and scheduling contracts, the constant evaluation of facilities, the duty of aiding and assessing the successes and challenges of each sport, the effort required to coordinate with academic and administrative branches and the constant public scrutiny.
It’s not an easy job — so what has kept him doing it for 15 years?
“My biggest accomplishment is the relationships I have with the athletes and coaches,” Holmoe said during Thursday’s annual press conference at BYU. “Everything else has come as a result of that. I was a student-athlete, so I get what it is like. I was a coach, so I understand how it is to have to smash someone’s dreams. My goal is to create a pathway where the athletes and the coaches have a clear road to success.”
His biggest regret has been seeing student-athletes not be able to have that success.
“We’ve lost some student-athletes over the years, ones that have left or quit,” Holmoe said. “That should never happen and it’s my responsibility.”
When asked about his future, he said that right now his plan is to continue for as long as he feels like he is at the top of his game.
“I live seven minutes away and every day I drive to work so happy and I love coming to work,” Holmoe said. “Some days I make the drive home not as happy. But the passion is in my heart and I get to work with these student-athletes. I do, however, tell my mentors to let me know if I ever slip at all from the top of my game.”
Holmoe spent 45 minutes answering questions on a wide range of topics regarding BYU sports.
One of his strongest messages was with regards to the future when he was asked about whether independence was the right move.
“Looking back, I don’t know if I would do it any differently,” Holmoe said. “The key is how things are going forward. We never had a timetable about when we would have to join a Power 5 conference but the biggest thing now is that we have to be great in our teams. Football and men’s basketball are the two that have traditionally been Top 25 teams but recently haven’t been as good as they can be. It comes down to winning.”
Here is a brief overview of what else he had to say on various topics:
Holmoe said that BYU had been working with ESPN for two or three years and that there wasn’t a lot of “wrangling.” There were other potential media partners but he said, “we wanted to do it with ESPN” because of the stature of the sports media giant.
“I feel really good about it,” Holmoe said. “We knew it was coming up and we wanted to address it early. It’s what we expected it to be and I think what they expected it to be.”
He added that there is an opt-out clause in the contract if BYU does end up joining a conference.
Holmoe said that getting the bowl tie-ins set was something that was very important to him and in many ways was more challenging than the television rights contract for BYU football home games.
“I had a couple of people trying to start new bowl games call me and ask if we would be interested in anchoring the bowl game for like six years,” Holmoe said. “They were intriguing but I didn’t think that was in the best interest of BYU.”
Instead he worked carefully with ESPN, including ESPN Events that owns and operates a number of bowl games.
The end result was the contract announced Thursday morning where BYU will be slated to play in ESPN bowl games in 2020, 2022 and 2024 and scheduled to play in the Independence Bowl in 2021, 2023 and 2025.
“The two contracts are separate but it is a maximum of three games in the Independence Bowl,” Holmoe said. “There is an option in each of the contracts that if the Cheez-It Bowl in Arizona is available — meaning one of the affiliated conferences wouldn’t be able to fill it — we could go there. It gives us some flexibility.”
Holmoe said he doesn’t want to schedule based on what could go wrong but on what could go right.
“There is going to be a year where we don’t have injuries, we’re going to blast it out and I’m going to be really glad that we had a schedule like that because we will finish really strong,” Holmoe said.
He explained that he feels strongly that the BYU football program has established a legacy of competing against great teams and fans expect that, like the schedule BYU is facing in 2020.
“I like it and there are days when head coach Kalani Sitake likes it and days when he doesn’t,” Holmoe said. “I think this is what the BYU program needs. That’s what I’m trying to make happen so that we stay relevant in the world of college football. Our fans have expectations and it’s not just to win games. Scheduling games like this year has a purpose. It is intentional. I don’t go after teams that I know we can beat and load up the schedule because then the attendance would drop. Even if we won 10 or 11 games, I think people might be yawning.”
Sitake contract extension
Holmoe said he believes Sitake is the right person to lead the Cougars.
“In my experience being around him, being around the team, being around all aspects of the program and the organization, he is the right coach for the job,” Holmoe said. “I feel like when it happened it turned out to be good for our program.”
He called the 2019 team “inconsistent” but said he sees all the big issues being addressed for the team to get better.
Holmoe acknowledged that the academic standards at BYU have gotten a lot more rigorous and while that is excellent for the institution as a university, it does present challenges to the athletic programs.
“BYU’s student body freshman class is exceptional,” Holmoe said. “It’s super-hard to get into school here. We do have exceptions for those coming into athletics but those exceptions aren’t unlimited, so we have to be very careful and strategic in the way we use those exceptions.”
He said the emphasis for the coaches is to not bring any athlete in that they aren’t confident will be able to cut it with the academic standards.
“It used to maybe be a little bit easier to keep kids in school here academically,” Holmoe said. “I don’t think any student can cruise through BYU now. I think we are still in a position where it is not unreasonable for us to graduate every student-athlete that we decide to bring in.”
Holmoe doesn’t believe that the NCAA is out to get BYU even though the punishments for Cougar basketball infractions have seemed harsh.
“I don’t think it is a BYU issue, that they have it out for us,” Holmoe said. “I think it’s something that needs be discussed at a membership level of the NCAA with regards to why those are the policies and procedures. I don’t think they are picking on BYU as much as BYU and other schools feel like the standard they are working to is not acceptable for this day. But those are the rules.”
Futures with Utah and Notre Dame
Holmoe once again said talks are still in the works with Notre Dame to get the final game of the contracted 3-game series scheduled but nothing is set at this point.
He also said he has a great relationship with Utah athletic director Mark Harlan and the two work through a variety of things. Since the Utes elected to opt-out of a couple of future games, he said he would feel free to do the same if the situation arose where that would be better for BYU.