When Ty Detmer’s delayed flight from Texas to Utah almost had him missing a connecting flight to Idaho Falls, his famous name was being muffled throughout the airport on the loudspeaker. “Will Ty Detmer please come to the gate.” This Heisman trophy winner raced his way just in time — only to find local journalist Dick Harmon standing there hoping to snag a quick interview.
The flight attendants declined for him, but Ty knows that a lifetime lack of privacy is in play for anyone who consistently had all 66,000 raving Cougar fans on their feet.
Don’t mess with Provo
A quarter of a century ago, Ty became the starting quarterback for BYU. As a non-LDS, 175-pound Texas recruit, he wasn’t initially touted as BYU’s golden boy — he redshirted his first season and grocery shopped in Provo peacefully (he only lasted one semester in the dorms).
But during Ty’s sophomore year, his playing time heated up and so did his stats. The opening home game of his junior year was against Miami, which became the most talked about BYU game to this day. Ty pulled off an upset against the defending national champions, and Coach LaVell Edwards nearly smiled when he got doused with water afterwards.
LaVell and Ty became national media darlings throughout the 1990 football season, although Ty says LaVell didn’t say much as the coach.
“I didn’t really get to know LaVell until after I played for him,” Ty says. “He was quiet, but now I see him at golf tournaments and we have a good time as friends.”
But there was nothing quiet about Ty’s media reputation after the Miami game, and in December 1990, “Heisman winner” became his middle name and he endeared himself to football fans and housewives alike. “Ty’s Prize” was the headline on the next Sports Illustrated, with a photo of Ty wearing his #14 Cougar jersey and his tongue curled to the side of his mouth.
Twenty-five years after Ty heard Cougar fans rise and shout for him, he’s settled in his home state of Texas with his wife and four daughters, but the Beehive State is his second — and possibly future — home.
“I spent five or six years here, and it was during the time I was developing what I wanted to do and who I wanted to become,” Ty says.
Not to mention, his wife grew up here and feels the pull back home — even if it’s for the fry sauce.
“We were recently here in Utah for a family reunion, and we had to go to Arctic Circle to load up on fry sauce,” Ty says. “We have most things in Texas, but fry sauce just hasn’t caught on.”
Ty and Kim have kicked around the idea of returning to Utah when their daughters are grown, but Ty’s ranch and extended Detmer family make Texas his home playing field.
Rise and shout
Ty’s heart turns to Provo each fall when the football team runs through the tunnel.
“BYU has a tough schedule this year, but I’m excited to watch and will especially have my eye on Taysom Hill, Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman,” he says.
“Eight wins would make for a good year, and 10 would make a great year,” he says.
Even with his connections to players and coaches, Ty describes himself as “just a regular Cougar fan” who usually follows the games from afar. On the rare occasion he is in Utah for a BYU game, he watches along the sidelines.
“It’s one of my perks,” he says. “I don’t like being mixed in with fans who think they know what’s going on when they really don’t.”
But more often than not, Ty has caught the play-by-play on his phone while watching his daughter’s soccer game in the Lone Star State.
“I’m always rooting for BYU and I get frustrated when things aren’t going well — just like everybody else,” he says.
And just like everybody else, he’s turned to Twitter to get the “real story” from voices such as Greg Wrubell and Dick Harmon (his airport “stalker”).
“I started on Twitter and Facebook to promote our ranch and sell hunts, but now social media is my primary way of keeping up with BYU,” Ty says. “That’s how I usually find out who they’ve signed.”
The Twitter feed has turned inward at times with announcements about Ty’s “job offers” to coach the Cougars.
“Some tweets about me have been true and some have been untrue,” Ty says. “Every time there’s a coaching change, my name is out there and I’ll hear from friends in Austin that I’ve been offered a coaching job in Provo.”
In fact, when the Detmers were in Utah this past January for the funeral of Ty’s father-in-law, it was reported that he was in town and interviewing for the quarterback coaching job. The truth?
“I did talk to a couple of coaches to find out what the coaching positions entailed,” Ty says. “But it wasn’t an interview for the job. I didn’t even think anybody knew I was there.”
Ty turned back to Twitter to dispel the rumor and to reiterate his ties to Texas. Ty’s ranch and high school coaching gig give him the flexibility he prefers.
“My lifestyle would be hard to give up,” Ty says.
What would TY do?
Even though Ty doesn’t live near campus, his life experience, success and demeanor have led Cougars to seek him out for advice. Last year, Ty was in Utah Valley for a home game and went to breakfast at Kneaders with Taysom Hill.
“I’m not the type of person to tell people what to do and how to play. But if they reach out to me, I’ll help them,” Ty says. “We talked about his injury and his plans.”
The two of them also talked about Jake Heaps and what might have gone wrong.
“When you are living under a microscope like that, people see what they want to see,” Ty says. “Jake’s a good kid, and I was sorry to see it didn’t work out for him.”
25 years later
Now Ty walks back through the tunnel with a quarter century of experiences under his chin strap.
“When I’m in the stadium, it seems like I was just playing there and the memories start flooding back,” he says. “Campus has changed a little, but I can still envision myself back in the old Smith Fieldhouse and the indoor track doing my workouts.”
He also looks back and can see how he was guided to BYU where he joined the LDS Church his junior year.
Now Ty is a regular fireside speaker — even at the airport on the morning of this interview, a bishop in North Austin approached him about speaking to his youth. Ty said yes.
“I don’t say no very often,” he says. “I first schedule my family priorities, but if I’m available I like to help people when they ask.”
Ty’s messages to the youth center around missionary work and being an example.
“People are always watching,” he says.
Some say NFL stands for “Not For Long,” but that doesn’t hold true for Ty, who spent 13 years playing for six teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers.
He remembers his first start with the Eagles against the Giants.
“I could hear the crowd start to yell, and I knew something was going to happen – and because we were playing at the Giants, I knew that ‘something’ was not going to be good,” he says.
He was right.
Ty had a solid but non-superstar career in professional football. Now Ty considers the NFL to be entertaining, but his true passion is following college football — and his brother-in-law recently got him hooked on fantasy football, too.
High school — not high scores
Ty’s high school football coach was his father, Sonny Detmer. Now Ty is paying it forward by coaching at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School where his team went 0-10 his first year at the whistle. The next two years, they won three games each.
“This year, we have more seniors and we’ll be better,” he says. “I’m demanding, but I keep football in perspective. Hopefully I’m teaching them without being a yeller and screamer.”
In essence, Ty hopes he coaches like his dad.
Life is a football game
When Ty speaks in athletic settings, he teaches that football is a metaphor for life.
“You are going to have things knock you down,” Ty says. “You have to get back up and go again because you are accountable to your team. Football teaches you to be responsible for your actions.”
These lessons came in handy when Ty lost a hefty chunk of his life’s savings a couple years ago in an investment that sent his colleague to prison.
“I decided I could sit back and be bitter the rest of my life or I could go on and not look back,” Ty says.
His biggest concern in the debacle wasn’t the dollar signs.
“People who didn’t know me thought I might be part of the scam,” he says. “I worried about my reputation and my credibility.”
Part of him wanted to hide. But again, football lessons came charging back.
“Sometimes you throw an interception, and sometimes a drive stalls whether it’s your fault or not,” he says. “As the quarterback, people often put all the blame on you. But you keep going out there and you focus on the next series.”
In true Ty fashion, Ty actually saw positives come out of his financial collapse.
“We got closer to our Heavenly Father and to our family,” he says. “People stood by us. We learned a lesson on tithing. Just when things were getting tight, an endorsement would come along. When we were in need, things happened for us.”
Ty simply wants to be remembered as a normal guy who was friends with everyone. He teaches these values to the quarterbacks he coaches through Quarterback Elite, a Utah-based business he formed with business partner Dustin Smith.
“We both believe in coaching a certain way,” Ty says. “Not just on the line of scrimmage, but also on the mental side and on having the right attitude. The most important message we teach is to interact on and off the field in a positive manner.”
Ty’s Christian upbringing prepared him to be a good example, but his Heisman influences also gave him a Sunday School lesson of sorts.
“When you win the Heisman and become part of that elite group, you are expected to live to a higher standard,” Ty says. “I believe it helps guys stay on a straight path.”
Being named the most outstanding college football player in the nation changed the trajectory of Ty’s life.
“I feel pretty lucky to associate with such great people,” he says.
Even with all the fame and accolades (including last year’s induction into the College Football Hall of Fame), Ty still has moments that leave him feeling nervous and uncomfortable.
His top three?
Public speaking, sending his daughters off to college (he has one at BYU-Idaho and one at Dixie State), and preparing his own high school football team to compete each fall.
FIRST AND twenty-five
Ty and his wife recently drove past the one-bedroom house in Pleasant Grove where they lived senior year.
“Life was so much easier back then,” he says.
His Provo years also included deer hunting with trainer George Curtis and camping with teammate Bryan May. They fished beaver ponds and enjoyed the mountains.
From his Utah years, he gained strength to climb mountains yet unknown — NFL trades, financial disappointments and daughters leaving home. But as long as Ty has his huddle (which includes his wife, children, parents, siblings), it’s always “happiness season.”
And Ty’s got a winning record.