LARAMIE – Never in his wildest dreams did Benny Boyd think that a chance 90-second conversation he had after a defensive backs drill at a summer camp would lead to his next job in seven short months.
But, as Boyd has learned through the years, you need to trust your gut when it tells you something should happen.
Boyd spent last season as the cornerbacks and special teams coordinator at Eastern Illinois of the Football Championship Subdivision. He has a lengthy resume – he’s been coaching in the college ranks for 19 years, including stints at North Dakota and Central Washington – and was attending high school recruiting camps in the summer of 2019.
During a camp at Lindenwood University, near St. Louis, in June, Boyd was observing a press coverage drill and, admittedly, wasn’t impressed with the person leading the drill. Boyd wasn’t signed up to coach, but had been approached about stepping in after a few coaches dropped out at the last minute. Boyd made eye contact with the coach running the drill, who then asked if Boyd could take over.
Summer camps are usually about speed and footwork, so coaches can decide if a player is worth recruiting; Boyd didn’t have a plan, however, and reverted to what he knows best: teaching press coverage.
“I didn’t have anything in my head,” Boyd said with a laugh. “So I went to my day one install, like what I would do day one (of practice), with a group wherever I would coach, which I think is pretty good teaching. (But) it’s terrible for evaluating talent.”
A group of coaches were huddled around during the drill, including University of Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. They were probably looking at the recruits, Boyd thought to himself. Bohl approached Boyd following the drill, however, and told him he was impressed with the way he led the drill and articulated technique. The conversation lasted less than two minutes.
Seven months passed and, in January, Boyd received a call from Bohl. He told him he was looking for a new cornerbacks coach following the departure of John Richardson who, along with defensive coordinator Jake Dickert and defensive ends/special teams coach A.J. Cooper, took jobs at Washington State. Boyd was shocked that Bohl had remembered him, much less thought to call him. The two interviewed in Denver and, a few days later, Boyd agreed to take the job. He was announced as a member of the UW staff on Feb. 6.
Boyd had never set foot in the state of Wyoming and only knew Bohl tangentially from his time at North Dakota, the rival of Bohl’s North Dakota State teams (the rivalry was like “Hatfields and McCoys,” Boyd said, though North Dakota thought of it as a rivalry more than powerhouse NDSU did).
Coaching is a small fraternity, though, and Boyd had never heard negative rumblings about Bohl. When they finally did speak for the interview, they didn’t really talk much about football. It was more about life and its philosophies, Boyd said. And that’s when he knew Laramie was where he needed to be.
“Never in a million years would I have thought (that conversation at the camp) is going to provide an opportunity to be sitting here as the cornerbacks coach at the University of Wyoming,” Boyd said. “I think I’m a pretty good judge of character. My gut tells me a lot. And I’ve learned to listen to that over the years. And, you know, my gut told me that this … is a great leader who has a fantastic plan, but who could (also) help me improve as a person and as a coach in this profession.”
Boyd has always prided himself on having a chip on his shoulder; as a Division III college football player, he felt he was under-recruited. Boyd thought he should have been a starter immediately at Aurora University; he wasn’t. He thought he should have been all-conference as a sophomore; he wasn’t. He also thought he should have been an All-American as a junior and, again, he wasn’t. Boyd said he would research opposing players to find motivation before games. This was before Twitter and Facebook, too, so you really had to be dedicated to research to find something to get mad about.
For Boyd, it’s not necessarily about having an actual ax to grind. Sometimes it’s about creating one to give yourself a mental edge, and it’s gotten him this far. As a coach, he wants to pass on that it’s OK to play with fire.
“I definitely want my guys to have a chip on their shoulder,” Boyd said. “I don’t want them to take away from the beauty of the game and take away from everything our teammates are working toward in terms of being selfish in any respect, but … I think pride in your personal performance is one of the strongest team weapons you can possess.”
UW featured one of the top defenses in college football this past season, allowing just 17.8 points per game (11th nationally). The Cowboys were susceptible to chunk plays in the passing game, however, ranking 105th in the nation in passing yards allowed. In this pass-heavy, offensively focused era of college football, Boyd doesn’t think that stat tells the whole story, though. He believes the three most important statistics are third-down defense, red zone defense and scoring defense. You need to be able to clamp down when it matters most, and UW did that as well as anyone in 2019, ranking 48th, sixth and 11th in the nation, respectively.
There are little things that could be tightened up here and there, Boyd said, but the wheel isn’t broken. The goal, he said, is to force the offense to snap the ball one more play.
Would he like chunk plays to be eliminated? Of course. But, all things considered, UW is a well-oiled machine right now, even with three new defensive coaches on staff and stars like linebacker Logan Wilson no longer on the team. Continuity is what helped sell him on the program in the first place.
“It may sound hokey, but the ‘One Wyoming.’ It’s easy to get behind that and to get involved in that because, again, you’ve got a bunch of people already on the staff led by Coach Bohl with a vision of this thing,” Boyd said. “The vision is pretty clear to see when it’s articulated to you. So, it’s easy to jump in and be a part of it.”