This week, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Washington's Steve Sarkisian are preparing for the first meeting of major college football coaches who once played for BYU.
Southern Utah's Ed Lamb is positioning himself to join them at that level someday.
With a 41-16 rout of UNLV last Saturday, Lamb extended the Thunderbirds' remarkable upward spiral. There's some symmetry to Lamb's 18th victory in September of his fourth season in Cedar City, considering he inherited a program with an 18-game losing streak.
Undistinguished as a BYU linebacker in the mid-1990s, when Sarkisian was quarterbacking the Cougars, Lamb is a rising star in his profession. He's already elevated SUU's program beyond any reasonable expectation, showing what administrative support and good coaching can achieve.
Lamb's latest win is the biggest in school history. UNLV is downtrodden, but the Rebels were coming off a 40-20 defeat of Hawaii, the Western Athletic Conference's preseason favorite. Think of it this way: SUU's domination came four years after UNLV shut out Utah and three years after the Rebels scored 35 points against BYU.
SUU's only other win over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent came in 1997 at Arkansas State, so this showing in a Mountain West venue was worth much more credibility in Utah. It means the Thunderbirds are I-15's best football team, between Provo and San Diego.
"The publicity that we even played [UNLV] would have been huge," Lamb said Monday. "The fact that we won really got our name out there."
Like every coach, Lamb thought immediately of recruiting impact, how beating UNLV would register with Utah high school coaches. Many of them view SUU as a Division II program not in the Football Championship Subdivision, part of Division I and at the same scholarship level as the Big Sky Conference, which the school is joining next year.
The way SUU won was particularly satisfying to Lamb, whose background is defense. This was not just a case of quarterback Brad Sorensen getting hot for one night. SUU matched UNLV physically and athletically, stopping the run and making plays all over the field, with the huge bonus of having a defensive lineman (Nick Witzmann), linebacker (Blake Fenn) and safety (Erron Vonner) return interceptions for touchdowns.
Naturally, such a breakthrough only increases fans' fears that Lamb will leave SUU. My advice: Enjoy this guy's work while he's there, and wish him well if he ever departs. The program will be exponentially better off than when he arrived.
Besides, Lamb is making his own job more attractive all the time. There's also more for him to do at SUU, such as qualifying for the playoffs.
Even after they delivered one of this season's six FCS-over-FBS upsets, the Thunderbirds (3-1) face a major challenge to reach postseason play. Saturday's visit from North Dakota is SUU's third of only four home games. Road tests remain at South Dakota, Weber State and Northern Iowa, among others. Losing the season opener at South Dakota State via a failed two-point conversion may haunt the Thunderbirds, but they're well positioned for at least a 7-4 record and playoff consideration with a No. 19 ranking in this week's coaches poll.
This discussion would have seemed laughable when Lamb took over SUU's program, but his impact is easily measured. Some 5,000 fans followed the Thunderbirds to Las Vegas. Of course, that meant hardly anybody was left to greet the 3 a.m. arrival of the team bus in Cedar City. The awakening of SUU's football program has its limits.
"Pretty empty parking lot," Lamb reported. "Pretty sleepy town, like it always is."
Cougs on sidelines
Records for college head football coaches who attended BYU in modern history:
Coach School Years Record
Kyle Whittingham Utah 2005-11 60-21
Mike Leach Texas Tech 2000-09 84-43
Gary Crowton La. Tech/BYU 1996-98/01-04 47-36
Steve Sarkisian Washington 2009-11 15-14
Ed Lamb Southern Utah 2008-11 18-19
J.D. Brookhart Akron 2004-09 30-42
Tom Holmoe California 1997-2001 16-39
Note: Leach and Crowton graduated from BYU but did not play football; Brookhart transferred to Colorado State.