Now in his early 70s, Brigham Young University alum and Chattanooga businessman Phil Smartt sounds like a teenager when he talks about former Cougars quarterback Ty Detmer, the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner.
"I think it's the greatest thing that's happened to BYU football," he said this past week concerning Detmer's hire as offensive coordinator. "He excites the alums more than anybody else."
And that's before the 48-year-old Detmer has called a single play under new head coach Kalani Sitake.
But Smartt — who in fall 1961 was the first Chattanoogan to attend BYU — is equally excited about welcoming Detmer back to the Scenic City for the second time in 10 years this week. His appearance is expected to help raise money to send Chattanooga-area youth to BYU on partial scholarships for their freshman years.
"He's just as friendly as he can be," Smartt said. "Just a good ol' Southern boy from Texas."
Well, a good ol' Southern boy who left the Cougars in 1991 owning 59 NCAA passing records and sharing three others. Such offensive skills helped Detmer last 14 seasons in the NFL, despite former NFL quarterback great and fellow BYU alum Steve Young joking in January on a BYU radio show: "If (Ty) had had the body, who knows what he could have done as a pro, in terms of his chicken legs."
In that same interview, Young explained Detmer's talent.
"The game was slower for him than for other people," Young said. "Ty was just naturally gifted with the ability to have (overseeing a huddle) not be that overwhelming."
So Detmer was a backup quarterback for 14 years in the roughest, toughest professional league in the world despite standing exactly 6 feet tall and weighing all of 189 pounds, which would be light for most kickers. He played for the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and, lastly, the Atlanta Falcons in 2004 and 2005 before retiring.
Detmer's best memories of his time with the Falcons?
"I remember we played a lot of golf," he said. "Never made it to Augusta, but there was a TPC course nearby. I got my handicap down to four."
Detmer said that talent is unlikely to be on display when Smartt and the rest of Chattanooga's BYU alumni chapter stages a tournament Tuesday morning at WindStone Golf Club in Ringgold, Ga. Not that Detmer won't groove a few. And anyone willing to spend $500 to enter a foursome in the event can do so right up until its 9 a.m. start.
But Detmer has also been a little bit busy these past few years following in the footsteps of his father, Sonny, who's still coaching in Texas after after 45 years in the business. In 2010, Ty took over as head coach at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, which was 0-10 the year before he arrived. By 2011, St. Andrew's had won the Episcopal Cup. Last fall, the Crusaders won it again.
In an ESPN.com article, he said of that first title: "I was the first one on the dogpile. I'd won the Heisman. I'd had some big games. That was probably the most excited I'd ever been after a game."
That didn't mean he was itching to move on to a college gig. Though he'd met his wife, Kim, at BYU, his high school-age daughters seemed happy in Austin. When Sitake first called, Detmer was reluctant to take the job, which called to mind something Peyton Manning said last summer about possibly making a similar move.
"I have a lot of friends here right now," Manning said. "If I became the UT coach, you could cut those in half. The first time we lost a game, they'd call the radio shows asking, 'Why'd he call that on third-and-one?' No thanks."
But Detmer hasn't viewed it that way.
"I wasn't so concerned that people wouldn't like me," he said. "I just want to do a good job. My biggest concern was making sure my daughters wanted to make the move to Provo, because if they didn't, I probably wouldn't be doing this."
In fact, he's so comfortable being back in Utah that he regularly eats at the same Wendy's he did as a player.
"I either get the spicy chicken sandwich," he said, "or the good, ol' familiar Single."
Like most former NFL players these days, he is concerned about the lasting impact of head trauma suffered in games, especially after former Eagles teammate and Alabama great Kevin Turner died in late March from ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Turner had earlier agreed to donate his brain to the study of whether the brain trauma disorder CTE can be linked to ALS.
"It's a collision sport," Detmer said. "And guys get bigger and faster every year. Guys with the speed to play safety when I was playing are linebackers now. I only had one concussion when I played. But when Kevin died, it really hit home."
Alabama's prolonged success running the ball during its recent national championship seasons has also altered Detmer's coaching philosophy.
"Play-calling is a lot easier when you can run the ball," said the man who threw for more than 16,000 yards and completed 127 touchdown passes at BYU.
Anyone wishing to hear more of Detmer's inspiring life and coaching philosophy will have at least three chances to do so this week outside of the golf tournament.
He is scheduled to make an appearance on the SportTalk radio show around 5 p.m. Monday on 102.3 FM. He will also speak to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 3067 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road at 7 p.m. Tuesday, as well as addressing the Hamilton Place Rotary Club for lunch Wednesday at Grace Church on the corner of Highway 153 and Lee Highway.
Detmer recalled his first appearance in Chattanooga fondly.
"It was a great experience," he said. "A lot of Cougar fans, a lot of really great people. Being from Texas, I got a pretty similar feel about Chattanooga."
After all, those good ol' familiar Singles taste pretty much the same at Wendy's in Chattanooga as at the one next to BYU's campus in Provo.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5-at-10: Friday mailbag with lots of Masters talk, Geno's and Merle's greatness and your best "I was there" sports moment