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For the first time in 28 years, David Smyth is no longer involved with BYU Rugby, as the head coach and his staff have stepped down. The initial announcement was made Monday by the wives of Smyth and longtime assistant Wayne Tarawhiti on Facebook. Friday, Smyth released his own statement via the BYU Rugby Facebook page.
“Earlier this week news broke that I, along with the rest of the BYU coaching and support staff had resigned from our posts at BYU rugby,” said Smyth.
“At the time, I was out of town and in an area with very limited cell coverage. Since the news was made public, I’ve had many phone, text and email messages. As such, I feel it appropriate to shed some light regarding the actions that I took last week, and also, to offer thanks and gratitude to many people.”
The Facebook statements were full of sentiment, as both coaches helped lead BYU to prominence over many decades. Smyth had been a part of the program for nearly 30 years, coaching from 1991-2002 and 2005-2018. Tarawhiti was with Smyth the duration of his second stint, 13 years.
The Cougars won five national titles under Smyth, all coming in the last decade. Their latest, 2015, was vacated by the Varsity Cup when BYU was found to have fielded an ineligible player in the final. While the competition vacated the Cougars’ title, BYU never did. Their website still claims the ’15 championship.
Amid the gratitude and mentions of assistant coaches, administrators, family members and players, the social media statements provided reasoning for the staff’s departure.
“In 2011 the extramural sports program, of which the rugby team is a part of, was moved into the Student Life department,” said Smyth.
“That change made it difficult to run the rugby program with the standards we were used to. Simply put, our vision, strategies and goals for the rugby program do not align with those of the Student Life department. So, after thirty plus years of being a part of the BYU rugby program, I have decided to step aside and move on.”
A post from the shared account for Tarawhiti and his wife, Kenra, echoed the same sentiment.
“Unfortunately, BYU has made so many continued changes to the BYU Rugby program over the last few years that it has made it extremely difficult to coach, recruit and run a successful program,” it read.
“BYU is heading to have rugby more as a non competitive sport and more and intramural sport where anyone can play. So, Wayne felt that it is time to leave the program he has put his heart and soul into to allow BYU to progress how they fell best to do for them.”
A report from the Deseret News disputes the claims of Smyth and Tarawhiti, indicating there were no institutional changes.
“The previous coaching staff left for individual reasons, and we’re in the process of hiring a new coach, but the program itself isn’t changing,” said BYU spokeswoman Natalie Ipson in a statement. “Everything will continue as before.”
Under Smyth, the Cougars won four national titles on a trot spanning two competitions. The Cougars finished second to Cal for three-straight years before breaking through to topple the Bears for the program’s first title in 2009.
Cal won the next two championships, with the 2011 final being played in front of about 10,000 fans, mostly of BYU, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The Bears opted out of USA Rugby’s 2012 D1A playoffs, and BYU added its second trophy to the cabinet, defeating Arkansas State in the final.
The following spring, BYU and Cal founded the Varsity Cup, a privately-run invitational championship. Among the catalysts for creating the breakaway competition were dismay over a lack of shared revenue from the 2011 final, changes to USA Rugby’s eligibility regulations, and a shared frustration over USA Rugby’s mismanagement of the college game. Smyth and Cal’s Jack Clark were instrumental in the creation of the new postseason tournament.
BYU won the first three Varsity Cup titles over Cal, culminating with the now-vacated 2015 championship. Cal beat BYU for the 2016 title, but the competition had found BYU guilty of playing center Hoseki Kofe ineligibly during the '15 championship game. The Varsity Cup attempted to discipline BYU by stripping the ’15 title and suspending the Cougars from the 2017 tournament.
BYU, miffed by the investigation into its players’ eligibility and Clark’s role in it, mulled its options for months before announcing the program’s exit from the Varsity Cup. Smyth and Clark had helped found the Varsity Cup, their voices carried a lot of weight across the competition, and a dispute over a match between the two and the subsequent eligibility probe resulted in BYU leaving the Varsity Cup, which would last just one year without the commercial anchor of BYU’s fanbase.
The Cougars rejoined USA Rugby’s postseason in 2017, losing to Life in the D1A semifinals that year. This spring they fell to Penn State in the quarterfinals, marking the first time since 2004 BYU would be left out of a final four.
The search for a new head coach is underway.