"I Only Yelled Because I Cared"

Former BYU offensive line coach Roger French is a legend at BYU for a few reasons. He developed some of the best offensive linemen in the nation during his tenure – including numerous All-WAC and All-American offensive linemen such as Outland Trophy winner Moe Elewonibi – while helping BYU win a national title in 1984. He was also a legend for his colorful metaphors and flamboyant coaching style.

On the last day of spring camp – BYU's Alumni Day – many former Cougar players walked the sidelines watching the next generation of BYU football players. Sitting in a cart, much like LaVell Edwards used to ride around in, was former BYU offensive line coach Roger French. His eyes were firmly fixed on every step and every move made by every single offensive lineman running through drills.

"Well, I can't believe how good they are," said French. "They really are. They just do everything like they're supposed to and how it's drawn up. I think Coach [Weber] is doing a great job of the way they're proactive. You never hear him yell and he's a nice, quiet guy, but he's always there making sure they're doing the right thing."

As the players engaged in one-on-one drills, French was critiquing the performance of each player. If one player would turn his upper body too soon when kicking out to defend against an outside pass rush, he took note. When a guard gave up too much ground, he commented, quietly evaluating the footwork.

"Oh yeah, we were watching the kids with those same techniques and we were critiquing them," said French. "You know, some guys were stepping with the wrong foot and some guys were getting their heels too high. Some guys were getting their hands too high. Those are things where they can watch each other and help each other out to get better, but [Coach Weber] is teaching correct techniques and he's doing a really great job."

While the former Cougar coach and master technician's critiques rolled out with every rep, he was quick to give his stamp of approval on the level of talent currently in the program.

"They've got some nice talent," French said. "There's some kids out there that are going to be some pretty good players."

Although the years have taken their toll on the former Cougar coach, it was visibly clear that excitement ran through him like a jolt of energy. The grimace that made him feared among his former players had now been replaced with wide eyes and expressive smiles. It was clear that French missed being at BYU.

"Oh gosh yes!" he quickly said when asked if that was the case.

And while it's been many years since he's worn the mantle of a BYU coach, he still keeps in touch as much as he can with his former players.

"I try to, yeah, I try to," he said. "My telephone bill is pretty high sometimes, but all those kids knew how to practice and play. They could play and they all had great techniques – of course now I'm bragging on myself – but they took their techniques and it helped them win football games. They're all great kids and I've never seen one kid on that football team that I didn't like – I should say, I didn't love."

Former Cougar offensive lineman and member of the 1984 national championship team Trevor Matich is now an ESPN college football analyst. He was also in attendance on Alumni Day, and gave some personal insight into why his former coach was so successful.

"Well, he's one part everything," Matich said. "He's insane, he's out of his mind, and yet he is wise and he is patient and compassionate. When you're out there you don't see all the second stuff, you just see all the first stuff. It works though because he truly loved his players and his players loved him."

The old, crusty coach that former Cougar linemen had a love-hate relationship with was honored and celebrated during BYU's Alumni Day.

"It's wonderful," French said with a smile. "You can never be so lucky to have so many good friends, and they're people that are football players that you coached and spent all your time with. It's unbelievable. It's a love-hate situation. They hate me at the time when I was coaching them, but they love me when they come back."

With a sense of humor, and some foresight, French showed up to the event wearing a shirt with the words "I Only Yelled Because I Cared" written on it.

"Yeah, well, that's the truth," said French with a smile. "I mean, you know, I'm not yelling to hear myself yell. I'm just yelling to make sure they get better, so when I yell it's not to just hear myself yell, or hear them, it's to make sure they understood that I care and to keep after it."

"The thing about the yelling and the pressure and all that stuff is the effect that it had," said Matich. "It made us the best that we could be. It made us win. In my group, in our starting five offensive line, we had one great athlete and that was Craig Garrick, and the rest of us were good. We were not great athletes, but we were good, but we were a great offensive line during that 1984 year. The reason is it was the attention to detail that Roger French taught us.

"When you back off and take a look at the bigger picture than his intensity on the field, which everyone remembers, he would never allow you to give anything less than the best you had. If he yelled at you it was because he knew you had more. He knew you could become better, and he wanted you to understand that you could do more than what you thought you could. When he stopped yelling at you, that was when, really, you let him down – not the other way around."

After being mentored at BYU by French, Matich went on to play 12 years in the NFL. In 1992 he was named the "Hardest Working Man in Pro Football" while with the Indianapolis Colts.

"Roger French didn't just give us a list of tasks as a coach, he gave us an approach to football," Matich said. "It was always about doing things a lot and the right way. I brought that mentality up with me into the NFL as well. I used to come out every day and a little early just to work on some of those little drills and the expectations that I had developed that were given to me by Roger French while I was here at BYU. I played center in college but I played all five position across the offensive line, including tight end and long snapper, in the NFL over 12 years.

"I moved around all over the place and would be playing right guard, and then a left guard would get hurt so they would sub the only guy in to play right guard and I would move over to left. The thing is everything is different because of the angle and the type of athlete who is lined up across from you who does different things for different reasons.

"I knew how to play the game and I understood where our feet needed to be and where my hands needed to be, and if somebody was going to beat me, they actually had to beat me because we weren't going to make a mistake and give it to them, and the thing is if you look at the sacks that year [in 1984], we rarely did. When I was in the NFL, I would go over every technique with every one of those positions and groom them into muscle memory. They were the same drills we did here at BYU with Roger French.

"If you look up the sacks that year, and we only had, I don't know, around nine sacks that year in our national championship year. It was that attention to detail by Roger French that made it why. If someone was going to beat me, they had to really beat me because I groomed so well and was so fundamentally sound."

In reflecting back over his countless experiences throughout the many years he molded and groomed Cougar offensive linemen, there are a few memorable experiences that French holds dear.

"Well, what stands out is the national championship," he said. "I remember the ‘80 game [against SMU] that we won when we were three touchdowns down, and we came back and won the game in the end. The [1983] Missouri game was a great game and we won that one [when Steve Young caught the winning touchdown on a trick play] and you know you're going to win it if you have those special plays to do it. You know, we had those plays. We always had a little trick in our bag that would pull us out of games when we were behind late in a game."

French also looks back fondly on the time he spent coaching alongside LaVell Edwards.

"I respected him tremendously," French said a smile. "He was a great coach. I mean, I did things I didn't think he would allow me to do. You know, he would call me out on them and I expected him to do it, but he understood what I was trying to do and he okayed it. When things got out of hand he took over things and made it cool. He's just a great fellah."

In watching the change of the guard from Coach Edwards on down to Coach Mendenhall, French is very pleased with the way the BYU program has progressed.

"Oh yeah!," French quickly said when asked if he liked where the program is at. "Oh yeah! They're doing fine. They're doing fine and they're doing what you have to do. When you don't have something going good and it doesn't work out, you gotta figure out if you need to drop it and figure on something else. That's what this coach [Coach Mendenhall] has done and I watch every game every night I can get one on."

French's loyalty and support for the program he helped build still burn deep within. Even if BYU's games are on late at night, it doesn't matter to the old Cougar coach.

"Oh yeah, I watch every game I can on TV!" French said. "Sometimes I'm up at one or 12:00 in the morning watching the late shows. I just sit there and critique them to see if they're doing things the right way."

Even ol' Roger French, with his contempt and less-than-savory coaching style, is proof that once you're a BYU Cougar, no matter who you are, you're blue forever.


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