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Jay Sawvel named head coach of Wyoming Football

Jay Sawvel, Defensive Coordinator Safeties

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Jay Sawvel was introduced by University of Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman as the new head coach of the Wyoming Cowboys during a team meeting on Wednesday morning. He will replace head coach Craig Bohl following Wyoming’s bowl game against Toledo in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl on Dec. 30. Bohl announced he will retire after the Toledo game to the team on Wednesday. Bohl leaves the program after 10 seasons that saw him engineer one of the most successful runs in program history.

“Jay has done a masterful job in his time at Wyoming building strong relationships with players and staff,” Burman said. “His defense embodies Wyoming’s culture in that we play physical, disciplined and with passion.”

Sawvel is the 33rd coach in Wyoming history and has served as the team’s defensive coordinator and safeties coach since February 2020. Over his career, he has been part of 21 teams who advanced to postseason play, including 14 bowl appearances and seven NCAA Playoff appearances.

“His vision on the future of Cowboy Football energized me and I feel he will help us reach a Mountain West Championship in the near future,” Burman said.

Sawvel has learned from some of the top minds in college football history. Some of the names include Craig Bohl, Lou Holtz, Roy Kidd and Jerry Kill. Of the seven head coaches that Sawvel has worked for, the group owns over 1,200 wins.

“I’m excited and honored to be the next head football coach at the University of Wyoming,” Sawvel said. “I have loved working and learning under head coach Craig Bohl for the last four years. The infrastructure Coach Bohl has put in this program makes me very excited to be the next leader of this program.”

Sept 16, 2023; Austin, TX, USA; Wyoming Cowboys defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys lost to the Longhorns 31–10. (Troy Babbitt – UW Media-Athletics)

The 2023 Cowboy defense ranks No. 17 in the nation thus far in turnovers gained. The Cowboys rank sixth in the nation this season with 11 fumble recoveries. The Wyoming defense ranks No. 24 in the nation in fewest yards allowed per pass attempts. Sawvel’s 2023 defense ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West Conference in scoring defense (allowing only 22.9 points per game) and ranks No. 3 in the MW in total defense (allowing opponents only 360.2 yards per game). Linebacker Easton Gibbs, a first-team All-MW selection, finished the 2023 regular season averaging 8.8 tackles per game to rank No. 4 in the Mountain West and No. 29 in the nation. Gibbs will enter Wyoming’s bowl game with 359 career tackles as a Cowboy to rank eighth in school history and 13th among all active FBS players. Defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole was a second-team All-MW selection ranking No. 3 among all Mountain West defensive linemen in tackles this season, averaging 4.8 tackles per game. Safety Wyett Ekeler ranked third on the Cowboy team in tackles this season with 75 and ranked No. 9 among MW defensive backs in tackles, averaging 6.25 per game. Ekeler was twice named MW Defensive Player of the Week in 2023 and was an honorable mention All-MW selection.

Sawvel’s 2022 defense ranked No. 2 in the Mountain West and No. 21 in the nation in sacks, averaging 2.85 per game. His defense also ranked No. 2 in the MW and No. 33 in the FBS in defensive touchdowns scored, with two. Sawvel’s defense featured three All-MW honorees as selected by coaches and media. Those three were Easton Gibbs (LB), who earned First Team All-MW; and defensive end DeVonne Harris and cornerback Cam Stone, who both earned Honorable Mention honors. Phil Steele’s All-MW team included Gibbs and Stone on his First Team, defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole on his Second Team and Harris on Steele’s Fourth Team. Freshman defensive end Braden Siders was also named an Honorable Mention Freshman All-American by College Football News.

The Wyoming Cowboys entered the 2022 college football season as the fourth youngest team in the country. But given that, the Cowboys went on to record a 7–6 record, finish second in the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division and earn a spot in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. Along the way the ‘22 Pokes defeated rivals Air Force, Colorado State, Hawaii, Utah State and American Athletic Conference member Tulsa. Wyoming’s 7–6 record gave them their fifth winning season in the past seven seasons.

The Cowboy defense in 2021 was one of the top pass defenses in the nation. Wyoming allowed opponents only 189.8 passing yards per game to rank No. 1 in the Mountain West and No. 12 in the nation. The Cowboy defense was also No. 13 in the nation in defensive touchdowns scored, with three. Wyoming held opponents to 23.7 points per game in the 2021 season to rank No. 5 in the MW and No. 43 in the country out of 130 FBS programs. The Cowboys posted a 7–6 record and won their third consecutive bowl game, with a convincing 52–38 win over Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Linebacker Chad Muma was one of six national finalists for the Butkus Award in 2021. Muma earned Second Team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation and Pro Football Focus and was a Third Team selection by Associated Press. He was selected as the Sixth Pick in the Third Round (70th overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft. Sawvel also had six of his defenders earn All-Mountain West Conference honors in 2021. Muma was a First Team selection (MW Coaches/Media and Pro Football Focus), while other honorees were cornerback C.J. Coldon (Second Team MW Coaches/Media), nose tackle Cole Godbout (Second Team Pro Football Focus and Honorable Mention MW Coaches/Media), cornerback Azizi Hearn (Second Team Pro Football Focus), defensive end Garrett Crall (Honorable Mention MW Coaches/Media) and linebacker Easton Gibbs (Honorable Mention Pro Football Focus).

In his first season guiding the Wyoming defense as defensive coordinator in 2020, the Cowboys were among the best in the country, ranking No. 16 in the nation in total defense, allowing opponents only 328.0 yards per game. UW’s defense also ranked No. 21 in rushing defense (125.3 yards per game), No. 24 in scoring defense (21.0 points per game) and No. 29 in pass defense (202.7 yards per game). Three of his Cowboy defenders earned All-Conference recognition in 2020. Junior linebacker Chad Muma earned First Team All-Mountain West honors from MW head coaches and media. Senior free safety Esaias Gandy earned Honorable Mention honors from the conference head coaches and media, and sophomore cornerback C.J. Coldon earned Fourth Team All-MW from Phil Steele.

Before coming to Wyoming, Sawvel served as the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest University in 2017 and 2018. He was named the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest in January 2017 and helped the Deacons to the 2017 Belk Bowl. During his first season at the helm of the Wake Forest defense, the Deacons set school records for tackles for loss in a single season and finished the season ranked No. 7 nationally in tackles for loss.

As the cornerbacks coach in 2017, Sawvel coached Essang Bassey, who set a sophomore school record with 19 passes defended and earned Honorable Mention All-ACC honors.

Prior to coaching at Wake Forest, Sawvel served as the defensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota, where he constructed a Top 25–ranked defense and helped the Gophers to their best record in 13 seasons in 2016. Minnesota posted a 9–4 record in 2016 and defeated Washington State, 17–12, in the Holiday Bowl. In the Holiday Bowl victory, Minnesota held Washington State’s explosive passing offense to just 264 yards, 86 yards below its average, and held the Cougars to their lowest point total of the season.

Sawvel spent six seasons as an assistant at Minnesota. He was the defensive backs and special teams coach from 2011 to 2015. After Jerry Kill’s retirement as the head coach at Minnesota, Tracy Claeys was elevated to head coach and Sawvel became the Gophers’ defensive coordinator.

Under Sawvel’s direction, the 2016 Golden Gopher defense was ranked in the Top 25 in a number of defensive categories including rushing defense (14th), turnover margin (18th), scoring defense (21st), total defense (21st) and sacks (22nd). In addition, Minnesota ranked 27th nationally in team pass efficiency defense.

Sawvel has helped develop several players who went on to play in the NFL. In 2015, two of his players at Minnesota, Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, earned opportunities in the NFL. Murray was a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs while Boddy-Calhoun signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent. In 2014, both Murray and Boddy-Calhoun were named to the All-Big Ten Team following a season in which the Gophers were 18th in the nation in pass defense.

Brock Vereen, a 2014 First Team All-Big Ten selection and another one of Sawvel’s pupils, was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.

For three seasons from 2014 through 2016, Sawvel had at least one of his secondary players selected in the NFL Draft. Sawvel was part of teams that advanced to four conference championships as a collegiate coach.

Prior to his time at Minnesota, he served as the defensive backs coach on Kill’s coaching staff at Northern Illinois for three seasons from 2008 to 2010. As secondary coach at Northern Illinois, he mentored Jimmie Ward, a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers.

Sawvel was a member of the Southern Illinois staff under Kill for seven seasons from 2001 to 2007, working with the secondary and special teams.

His first full-time coaching position came at Ferris State for two seasons from 1999 to 2000, where he coached the defensive backs and special teams.

Sawvel was a three-year letterwinner and an All-Conference linebacker in 1993 at Division III power Mount Union. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1993 in sports management with minors in business administration, information systems and physical education. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Eastern Kentucky in 1994 and moved to Notre Dame as a graduate assistant coach for the 1996–98 seasons. Sawvel owns master’s degrees from both Eastern Kentucky and Notre Dame, where he completed his master’s in administration.

Sawvel has two daughters, Mackenzie and Miranda.

Coaching Experience

  • 2024–: Wyoming Head Coach
  • 2020–23: Wyoming, Defensive Coordinator/Safeties
  • 2017–18: Wake Forest, Defensive Coordinator/Cornerbacks
  • 2016: Minnesota, Defensive Coordinator/Secondary
  • 2011–15: Minnesota, Secondary/Special Teams
  • 2008–10: Northern Illinois, Secondary/Special Teams
  • 2001–07: Southern Illinois, Secondary/Special Teams
  • 1999–2000: Ferris State, Secondary/Special Teams
  • 1996–98: Notre Dame, Graduate Assistant
  • 1994–95: Eastern Kentucky, Graduate Assistant

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