BYU offensive line coach Eric Mateos said earlier this month that he feels like he is a lot further ahead of where he was last year because now he knows his players and the program a lot better than when he had just arrived from Texas State in 2019.
The latest official addition to the Cougar coaching staff, however, won’t have to go through that type of transition period.
Harvey Unga, who was announced as the new BYU running backs coach on Thursday, has already been working with his unit for the last few years as a graduate assistant.
“I came in and helped out as a student assistant for one season, then for the last four seasons of being a grad assistant with two very different offensive coaching styles, that has helped me a ton,” Unga said in a conference call on Thursday. “It helped me learn and grow as a coach. Building the relationships with the players over the years has been a huge thing for me. I feel like these guys trust me. They know how I coach. They seem to pick it up rather quickly when I teach them things.”
He said that after the announcement was made, he had many of the current BYU running backs reach out.
“Every one of them called me, like one after another,” Unga said. “It was awesome. They were saying congrats and that they were excited to keep going. They were ecstatic about it. These guys know I love them to death and that I’ll do anything for them. It was just cool to see the support and the love that those guys have. Hopefully I can live up to or exceed any expectation they have and I can prepare them for everything that comes their way.”
He acknowledged that he doesn’t come to the job with a lengthy coaching background but believes that he does know quite a bit about being a running back.
“I’ve had years and years of playing experience,” Unga said. “I’ve soaked everything in from my playing days from all the great coaches I’ve been around. Coaching a position that I’ve played at every level helps me out a ton. Players don’t necessarily make the best coaches but it does help out quite a bit. Those things have helped mold me into the right guy for this position.”
He said he feels like he’s ready to step into a more authoritarian role as opposed to being more in the background like he has been in the past.
“There was a point in time where some of the coaches may have thought I might have a tough time being the type of presence you need in a coach,” Unga said. “Growing up with a Polynesian background, I was always taught to respect the hierarchy. For me, I tried to be as careful as I could as far as when I chose to speak, just to make sure I was respectful of Coach AJ Steward. He was the running back coach and I respected him. Some of the other coaches may have seen that as me not talking a lot.”
He said Steward encouraged him to be an active participant in molding the BYU running backs.
“If I had suggestions, he would let the other coaches know that I was the one who brought things up,” Unga said. “He was that voice for me at the time. But I feel it is my time now. I can be the loud and vocal coach that some of these guys need. I’m not a super-loud person but there is a time and a place for that as a coach. Now I don’t have to be reserved with when I speak and what I want to say.”
He also is now going to be tackling the new challenges with regards to recruiting.
“Obviously recruiting is the lifeline of college football,” Unga said. “BYU is a unique place. I would love to go toe-to-toe against any in-state coach for anyone. I’ll recruit my butt off for whoever it is in-state. Being from here and understanding the state, I feel like I will do just fine. I can relate to the kids who live here. It’s about putting in the work, grinding it out and building the relationships.”
He said he feels he can relate to just about any potential Cougar running back because of his past experiences.
“I’ve seen the academic side, the Honor Code side and the football side, I’ve seen and dealt with the full spectrum,” Unga said. “It definitely helps me out as far as being transparent and telling recruits exactly how things are.”
He said one of the clear directives he got from BYU head coach Kalani Sitake is that his job goes beyond just helping athletes become better football players.
“It’s not only teaching these guys as far as football goes but also about life away from football,” Unga said. “It’s about helping them grow as young men and helping them succeed in life. That was something I’m grateful he talked about.”