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Why Ty Detmer returned home to BYU

PROVO, Utah -- Ty Detmer had no plan. Well, he had a plan, but it wasn't this plan, the one where he's 48 years old and sitting in the Student Athlete Building at BYU, one floor above the trophy case that includes his jersey and the Heisman Trophy he won 25 years ago. There's a lengthy list of running plays and passing plays in his scribble on the whiteboard hanging on the wall. It's his office, the one that belongs to the Cougars' offensive coordinator.

A few weeks earlier, Detmer had been happily ensconced in Austin, Texas, where he landed after spending 14 years in the NFL. He coached football at St. Andrew's Episcopal School, going into the family business. His dad, Sonny, is still coaching after 45 years. So is Ty's brother, Koy. Coaching high school football left Ty a few months a year to work some camps, do some charity events and bring hunters to his 1,300-acre T14 Ranch down in Freer, three hours south.

"I sell a few hunts -- kind of be the guide, and cook, and cleaner -- with a few groups a year, to pay the upkeep," Detmer said.

He had turned around St. Andrew's, a private school with 400 students. The Crusaders went 0-10 in 2009, the year before Detmer arrived. In his second season, St. Andrew's beat its archrival, St. Stephen's, 26-20, in overtime to win the Episcopal Cup for the first time since, oh, the founding of the Church of England.

"I mean, I was the first one on the dogpile out there," Detmer said. "I'd won the Heisman. I'd had some big games. That was probably the most excited I'd ever been after a game."

Last fall, St. Andrew's went 8-1, closing the season with another Episcopal Cup victory over St. Stephen's. He liked his life.

"It wasn't, 'This is going to be a steppingstone,'" Detmer said. "I told my wife I could be here for 20 years. I could do this for 20 years and retire."

He had turned down bigger high school jobs and turned away college coaches, including Bronco Mendenhall at BYU three years ago. This time, when new head coach Kalani Sitake called Detmer, he listened.

Sitake, 40, grew up in Provo. Sitake sat in the stands the night that Detmer led the Cougars to an upset of defending national champion Miami, the game that launched Detmer's successful run to the Heisman.

"I always tease him that, yeah, I cheered for you," Sitake said.

"I started having a Steve Harvey moment a little bit, like, 'I read the card wrong. I'm not actually going to be coming up there.'"

Ty Detmer, after accepting the BYU job

Sitake wanted Detmer to run the offense, to bring back the LaVell Edwards pro-style attack in which they both played. Detmer didn't stay in the NFL as a backup for 14 years because he's good company. NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young said recently that Detmer is one of the two most intuitive teammates he ever had (the other: Joe Montana).

"The game was slower for him than for other people," Young said in January on BYU Sports Nation. "The 22 guys on the field most times overwhelm people. Sometimes over a long period of time, you actually start to handle it. Ty was just naturally gifted with the ability to have that not be overwhelming. If he had the body, who knows what he could have done as a pro, in terms of his chicken legs."

Spoken like a true former teammate.

"I don't care, honestly, that he's been coaching in high school," Young continued. "The guy understands intuitively offensive football. He can teach it, he can coach it and he can call it. I am not worried about it."

Detmer worried about it. His high-school-age daughters told him they wanted him to make the leap. So did his wife, Kim, whom he met and married while they attended BYU. Detmer, with self-deprecation and the ability to melt out of the room, long ago mastered the art of keeping celebrity at arm's length. But he understood this was not just any coordinator job. He would be going home.

"Those were things that kind of weigh on your mind a little," Detmer said. "I still had a place where people liked me." He smiled. "But, you know, I think at some point in your life, you can kind of play it safe and take the easy way out and just kind of keep doing what you're doing, or, these types of opportunities are very few and far between. I just felt like this was one I couldn't pass up at this point in my life."

The competitor in him won the debate, even as the homebody appealed the decision. In the days after BYU joyously announced his return, Detmer panicked. Staring-at-the-ceiling-at-4-a.m. panic. Too-wound-up-to-eat panic.

"I started having a Steve Harvey moment a little bit, like, 'I read the card wrong. I'm not actually going to be coming up there,'" Detmer said. "You're just feeling that weight of it. People are sending you messages, 50 text messages a day. Man, is this too big? Is it too much too soon? And at BYU of all places. I know the expectations there for an offense. Are we going to be that [good] off the bat?"

Kim reassured him that he would be fine. Once he got to Provo, he relaxed. For one thing, it was Provo. The Wendy's where he regularly grabbed lunch in college is still across the street from campus. The Brick Oven pizza joint remains on the corner. More important, the camaraderie of the football office calmed his nerves, even as Sitake reminds him regularly that Detmer once signed an autograph for him.

The rest of it is just coaching. Detmer found himself in the meeting room and on the field, working with young guys again, and all was good. They are older, yes, but since he's installing his offense, planting his route trees, it's not all that different from teaching high schoolers.

His quarterback room is filled with talented players, among them fifth-year senior Taysom Hill, sophomore Hail Mary maestro Tanner Mangum and that walk-on, the sophomore who looks familiar -- Koy Jr., Ty's nephew.

"To pick his brains, learn from him, hear his stories from the NFL, it's definitely been a fun ride so far," Mangum said. "... Being able to work with him and see him every day, there are still times when I think, 'Wow, this guy won the Heisman. This guy played in the league for 14 years.' There are moments when I kind of catch myself and go, 'This is pretty cool.'"

It's pretty cool. Detmer is back in Provo. BYU is back in a pro-style offense. The Cougars are back in a huddle -- Detmer said some of his favorite football memories have happened in huddles.

All Detmer has to do is what he always did in Provo -- get the offense into the end zone. The stakes are a lot higher than the Episcopal Cup. And not just because this is college football. The hero has come home.