It was more of a command than a question from a member of the audience toward the tail end of BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe’s annual Education Week presentation on Wednesday in the packed Varsity Theatre at the Wilkinson Student Center.
But the gentleman’s point was well-taken.
“Promise us you won’t retire for a long time,” the attendee said, giving a plea that drew a big round of applause from the crowd of about 350.
Holmoe, 63, who has been BYU’s AD since 2005 and guided the Cougars through 12 seasons football independence and into the Big 12, delivered one of his usual quick-witted responses, then thanked the man for the kind gesture.
“When I sleep in until 10 in the morning, that’s a long time to me,” he said. “So I don’t know how you define ‘long time.’”
At that point, another audience member, former BYU quarterback Royce Bybee (1978-80), grabbed the microphone and said he lockered next to Holmoe for three years when they played for the Cougars and reminded people that Holmoe owns four Super Bowl rings from his days with the San Francisco 49ers.
“Tom builds up a lot of people. He builds up the players and coaches and his family and everybody around him,” Bybee said. “We’ve got a great guy leading the way. Not just a good guy. This is a great guy, value-driven. This guy has impeccable credentials. He’s the right guy (to lead BYU into the Big 12).”
Another former BYU quarterback, Terry McEwen (1975-77), was also in attendance and, after the Q&A portion of the presentation, seconded Bybee’s sentiments.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” McEwen said.
Back at the Big 12 football media days in July, Holmoe told the Deseret News he didn’t see himself staying around for “a long time,” unless there were a lot of days like that one in Arlington, Texas, which he said gave him an “IV shot of adrenaline, passion, love and energy.”
Presumably, Wednesday’s event did the same thing for the 18-year AD.
Holmoe was at his best self, jumping between the usual humor and wit with cheerleading, praising of BYU’s student-athletes and coaches, and even a bit of religious fervor that annually make his presentation a must-attend part of Ed Week.
After an opening prayer called for the Almighty to bless BYU athletics and the athletes who propel them, and the coaches and administrators who run them — in particular Holmoe and head football coach Kalani Sitake — Holmoe opened his remarks by going heavy into BYU’s current standing in the “wacky, topsy-turvy” world of college athletics.
“This (the Big 12) is a good spot for us,” Holmoe said. “Right now BYU is in a stable position. … You will love this (2023-24) edition of the Cougars.
“I am super bullish on BYU athletics, on all of the teams,” he continued. “Some of our teams are going to have bigger challenges than others coming into the Big 12. But they will all fight. They will all be great. They will represent the university very well.”
Holmoe mentioned that legendary head football coach LaVell Edwards and former AD Glen Tuckett were among the people that laid the groundwork for BYU getting into a Power Five conference.
Tom’s talk begins with a tribute to LaVell pic.twitter.com/Q2FRUoBIvu
— Jay Drew (@drewjay) August 23, 2023
He also relayed the story of the moment BYU was finally invited to join the Big 12 in September 2021. Holmoe was in a hotel room in Las Vegas before the Cougars were to take on Arizona on Sept. 4, 2021, when then-commissioner Bob Bowlsby called and simply asked, ‘Do you want to join the conference?’
“I said, ‘Wait, am I on Candid Camera?’” Holmoe said. “I will never forget that day.”
Not quite two years later, the Cougars are 2-0 as Big 12 members, Holmoe said, noting the women’s soccer teams’ two wins last week. Are the Cougars ready?
“We have spent two years preparing for this moment,” Holmoe said. “I have spent 20 years preparing for this moment. But in the last couple of years, after we were invited in, we have done a lot of things to prepare. … We have made a lot of strategic changes. Some people in our department don’t think they are going to work. A lot of people think they are going to work great. It is going to work out fine. Believe me, folks.”
After trumpeting how BYU has worked hard to improve fans’ experiences at home games and the BYU50 promotion this summer (a scavenger hunt for fans in all 50 states), Holmoe showed the audience a picture of thousands of BYU football fans in the stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, a few years ago when the Cougars beat the Vols.
“Every single place we go I could take that picture. It is amazing,” Holmoe said.
The AD asked who came from the furthest away, and got responses from people from Maryland, Florida, the Yucatan Peninsula and England. One man said he came from the “Spirit World.”
It was that sort of lighthearted discussion all hour, for the most part, which was a far cry from past years when Holmoe was peppered with serious questions about the sustainability of independence and athletes adapting to the Honor Code.
Turning serious, Holmoe mentioned that the Big 12 is not asking BYU to downplay its relationship with the faith that operates and supports the school, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said the past two years have been filled with questions from his new counterparts about church policies, procedures, doctrine, missionary service and everything in between.
A common question: “Exactly how old are your student-athletes?”
Holmoe referenced a recent report written by Associate AD for Communications and Media Strategy Jon McBride and published on BYUCougars.com that explains the football team’s makeup of returned missionaries (65 on the 2023 roster served missions in 29 different countries and speak 15 different languages).
The average age of the 2023 BYU football team is 21.7 years old, he said.
Holmoe reminded the audience of the time Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said “BYU is the most visible extension of the church,” and told them about a Lipman-Hearne brand study of BYU in 2020 that concluded: “Athletics is the most visible extension of the BYU.”
One of the first questions asked by the audience was whether BYU’s move to the Big 12 is keeping him awake at night. The answer: No.
“I sleep like a baby. Nothing really keeps me up,” he said. “… We transitioned from the Mountain West Conference into independence and into the WCC and we learned a lot, and we know what we are looking for.”
BYU AD Tom Holmoe has concluded his Education Week presentation with the usual mixture of humor and reverence. I’ll have a write up on it later today at https://t.co/wknXBV5Owd. pic.twitter.com/mMe9rRTCUd
— Jay Drew (@drewjay) August 23, 2023
Another question was about whether BYU games will continue to be on the school-owned station, BYUtv. The answer: none, except for men’s volleyball games, because the Big 12 does not have men’s volleyball.
“All other games that you would have seen on BYUtv in the past will be on what is called ESPN-plus.”
The last question in the hourlong event was about whether BYU can compete in the name, image and likeness (NIL) world of college athletics.
“That is a loaded, loaded question,” Holmoe said, asking for some time to think about it.
“NIL collectives are a part of the game. They are in every single school, from (No. 1) Georgia to whoever is the lowest-ranked team.”
One fan offered “Utah” as that lowest-ranked team. Holmoe wouldn’t take the bait.
“I support (NIL),” he concluded. “I support it because I think the concept of NIL is right. I think it is a good concept, because for decades and decades, student-athletes could not take advantage financially of their skills, of their names, image and likeness.”