(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Reprinted with the permission of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe has experienced quite a bit of success in his career, and much of that success is directly related to football. Holmoe has played and coached at the highest levels of the game, including winning four Super Bowls (three as a player, one as an assistant coach) with the San Francisco 49ers. In this exclusive interview with FootballMatters.org, Holmoe talks about the impact the game has had on his life and his career.
Football Matters: When you look back on your career in football as a player, what are some of your earliest memories about why the sport was special to you?
Tom Holmoe: My first memories of football were of watching my brother, who was nine years older than me. When he was playing high school football and I was just a little kid, all I could do was dream about playing at the high school level. The coach would let me run wind sprints with the players. Once elementary school was over, I went down to the high school and I would run with those guys. The coaches would say ‘One of these days, you’re going to play for us’ and when they said that, I believed them. I thought, one day, if I can do everything right, I could play for Crescenta Valley (Calif.) High School, that was my dream.
FM: Did you have a mentor for your football career, and can you talk about what that person meant to you?
TH: My high school coaches were really memorable. They were really good. These were old school coaches who coached and taught at the same school for 25 or 30 years, so I was very fortunate. But I remember playing Pop Warner football when I was a little kid, and I can remember all of my coaches’ names!
One of the most influential coaches for me was Dick Felt. He was my defensive backs coach at BYU. He had played with the New York Titans and the Patriots. He would take me aside and we would look at film together and he would teach me a lot of the old tricks he had learned in the AFL and the NFL, and that inspired me a lot.
FM: BYU came of age as a football program when you were playing there. What was that transition like?
TH: This was the LaVell Edwards Era, a great, fantastic coach. He still comes around a lot. He got it going back in those days with an incredible coaching staff. The thing that’s the most memorable is that our defense was good, but our offense was great. We ran an offense that people couldn’t figure out in those days. We had a string of about 10 quarterbacks in a row that were phenomenal. It was fun, it was an entertaining group and it was fun to be a part of it.
FM: You won three Super Bowls as a player with the San Francisco 49ers and one as an assistant coach. What is it like to reach football’s highest achievement?
TH: It was awesome! Being a member of the 49ers organization in those days with Eddie DeBartolo as the owner and Bill Walsh as the head coach, you knew you were a part of something special. You just wanted to play your role. I was a nickel back behind Ronnie Lott, but I loved every second of being on that team. The way that Bill Walsh created so many things for the game, it was great to soak all of that in, especially for a football junkie like me. The older I get, the more the family part of that 49ers organization means to me.
FM: You eventually became a head coach (at California) on the college level. What did you take from LaVell Edwards and Bill Walsh when you became a head coach?
TH: It was a blessing and a curse. I got the job when I was just 36 and the Pac-10 was loaded with great coaches. I thought what I would try to do was to be a combination of LaVell Edwards and Bill Walsh, and I couldn’t do either. I thought I was a pretty good assistant coach, but not a very good head coach. That was a tough lesson to learn. But I’ve been able to take that lesson as an administrator and I have learned that you can learn some things from other people, but you have to be yourself.
FM: You are now the athletic director at your alma mater. What’s that like for you?
TH: I think that if you can coach or be an A.D. or work at your alma mater, there’s something extraordinarily special about it. And for me, it is. I love to come to work. Some days are better than others, but every day, I love to come to work. It’s something to work at a place and to be able to give back to a school that gave me so much.
FM: In a few sentences, can you tell us how much football has meant to you and your life?
TH: I would say that my dad, when I was playing football as a professional, and then when I was coaching football, he would say to me ‘You know, you’re the luckiest guy in the world, you’ve never had a job in your life’. And what my dad was getting at is that I’m lucky that I get to do what I love every day. And even though it’s not football 24/7 now, football is still a big part of my life. I’m 55 years old, and I’m still involved with a sport that I can’t ever remember not loving. It’s not who I am, but it’s been a great part of my life. Football has given me relationships, lessons, trials, joy and it has given me so much. It has shaped my life in so many ways.
Link to the story on footballmatters.org.