ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — All of the BYU assistant coaches retained by Kalani Sitake after the big shakeup a few weeks ago have a lot on their plate these days as they not only prepare for the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, but also monitor the transfer portal and work on recruiting as the early signing period approaches the middle of next week.
“Well, personally I would say he is real, man. Real dude, keeping it buck with you. He is going to bring out the potential within these dudes. Everybody trusts coach G in this process. A lot of dudes that come here, like myself, I came here for G.” — BYU cornerback Kaleb Hayes
Cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford is especially busy, because to date he has been the only defensive assistant coach kept by Sitake and new defensive coordinator Jay Hill after seven-year DC Ilaisa Tuiaki stepped down and was replaced by Hill. Gilford, Sitake and some graduate assistants and analysts are coordinating the defense that will face SMU’s explosive offense in the game at University Stadium.
But BYU’s players say “Coach G,” as Gilford is called, is handling his new duties like a pro.
“G is chill. We break down some film, we chop it up, it’s really easy when it comes to G,” said cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally. “So if he is busier, he is a pretty calm cat. I have to be honest with you, I can’t really tell the difference.”
Gilford, who was hired by Sitake and Tuiaki when they came aboard in 2016, acknowledges that he “has a bigger role than normal” this month, but notes that under his calm demeanor lies a man who is not getting a lot of sleep.
“Collectively, Kalani, myself, the GAs, the analysts, we are all kinda putting a part into it to come together with a whole game plan,” Gilford said.
The former BYU defensive back said changes like the ones this past month “are always surprising, but at the end of the day, we all know that this is the business that we signed up for, so it happens to the best of them.”
Tuiaki and Ed Lamb, the former special teams coordinator and safeties coach who took the head job at Northern Colorado, “are all my guys,” Gilford said, so the parting is extra difficult.
“There is no doubt, and I am 100% confident that Lamb will take over that place (UNC) and really get it going,” Gilford said.
Gilford said he and Hill, the former Weber State coach, knew of each other because when Lamb hired Gilford at Southern Utah 10 years ago, he almost went to Weber State to join Hill.
“That is a guy who I have always looked at his defenses and stuff like that, a guy that can coach his butt off and a good football guy,” Gilford said of Hill. “Can’t wait to get it going.”
Hill and new special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga did not accompany the Cougars to Albuquerque on Wednesday, instead staying in Provo for a few more days to handle recruiting and some other issues. Sitake said Monday they will join the team before kickoff, which is at 5:30 pm The game will be televised nationally by ABC.
Gilford said he knows Poppinga because he played with the former Boise State and Virginia assistant coach’s brother, Brady Poppinga.
“One of my great friends on the staff there (at Boise State) and he was just telling me how good of a coach Kelly is,” Gilford said. “So nothing but rave reviews about Kelly.”
And there have been nothing but rave reviews about Gilford since Hill mentioned last week in his introductory news conference that the native of Hawthorne, California, was being retained.
“Well, personally I would say he is real, man. Real dude, keeping it buck with you. He is going to bring out the potential within these dudes. Everybody trusts coach G in this process. A lot of dudes that come here, like myself, I came here for G,” said cornerback Kaleb Hayes.
“You kinda want to play for a coach that cares about you as much as we care for him,” Hayes continued. “Like, he has been familiar with the program. He played here. He is comfortable with what is around, with this environment. He is a great asset and an important piece of this BYU coaching staff and what they are going to do in these upcoming years.”
No question about it, Gilford has made the cornerback position at BYU a position of strength, after it was viewed as a position of weakness for many years in the Bronco Mendenhall era. He is said to be an outstanding recruiter, finding the right fits for BYU in what has traditionally been a tall task.
“Coach G goes out and gets the guys who can make an impact right away on the field, especially the last two years in the corner position, in my opinion,” said Jeudy-Lally. “I think that G gets kids that might be hesitant to come here and shows them that he has done it, he has been able to go through it, and he’s been here for a long time.”
A transfer from Vanderbilt, Jeudy-Lally said Gilford’s value to the program is tough to put into words.
“He has done so much for us in our room and (for) everybody that is thinking about coming here,” he said. “He is more than a coach, he is a friend of mine, and I respect him a lot and I am happy he is staying. … That was a big factor for me (picking BYU out of the transfer portal) and now that he is staying here I don’t have much to worry about.”
Gilford said he’s appreciative of all the former players, current players and fans who have expressed their satisfaction on social media and through text messages that he’s staying in Provo.
“It made me feel great that the fans and players appreciate everything that I do here and the love is very, very mutual for the fans and players. I wouldn’t be here without them,” he said. “So, thank you players, and Cougar Nation, and everybody else, for that.”
Now if he could only get some sleep.
“There have been some sleepless nights,” he said. “You just gotta keep going. After the bowl game, and after the signing day, we can sleep in. But until then, you gotta keep going. … Kalani does a great job of giving us time off here and there just to recharge our batteries so we are ready for the next day.”
And for this valuable assistant coach, for the next several years.
17th annual New Mexico Bowl on the air
BYU (7-5) vs. SMU (7-5)
Dec. 17, 5:30 pm MST
University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM