Monday, February 7, 2011

The Brigham Young Cougars’ 2011 Coaching Staff

When Brigham Young University announced the hiring of former wide receiver Ben Cahoon as wide receivers coach on February 1, 2011, it was accompanied with the words “to complete our coaching staff” by Bronco Mendenhall. From the same press release announcing the hiring of Coach Cahoon came the following:
“Brandon Doman, as previously announced, will serve as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Assistant head coach Lance Reynolds will coach tight ends, Mark Weber will continue working with the offensive line and recently hired Joe DuPaix from Navy will coach running backs and coordinate recruiting. Mendenhall will continue to oversee the defense as the coordinator with the defensive staff maintaining their previous position assignments: Steve Kaufusi, defensive line; Paul Tidwell, inside linebackers; Kelly Poppinga, outside linebackers; and Nick Howell, defensive backs. Howell will also serve as special teams coordinator.”
With this official announcement, it is time to look at the new staff with emphasis on the new additions and promotions, and discuss some other relevant topics, concerns, and positives surrounding the coaching staff/hiring process.

Bronco Mendenhall, HC/DC
It was painfully obvious that double duty is the only option for Mendenhall right now. Until he has the right person at the right time that can replicate his intensity, diligence, and emotion, Bronco has to call the defensive plays and be intimately involved with the game plans and personnel decisions. I am sure that he already has a plan in place to do this. I am speculating now, but I think the next defensive coordinator will be someone already on staff. Depending on who it is, this plan could take anywhere from two to five years to complete.

Brandon Doman, OC/QB
As I have said previously, Brandon Doman was the “best man for the job” as far as offensive coordinator goes. Some of it has to do with the business side of football (Doman appeared ready to be promoted to offensive coordinator somewhere), and the risk of losing him with his track record with the quarterbacks was huge. However, more importantly, as was learned with the ugly Jaime Hill situation, it is best to have a “Bronco Mendenhall type” coordinating the offense for purposes of team unity, coaching staff unity, and end result on the field. Brandon Doman, by all accounts, is a “Bronco Mendenhall type” of coach. By promoting from within, it also provides continuity. The enormous potential of this team was witnessed the final few weeks of the season. While some shake up was needed, a total upheaval was not.

Joe DuPaix, RB
The news that Joe DuPaix was hired came as a surprise to many. He was relatively unknown, and with his most recent experience coming at an option school the initial reaction landed in the mildly pessimistic to benefit of the doubt range. Given more time to learn who DuPaix is and his qualifications, he seems to be a good hire.

I find five things to like about hiring DuPaix: 1) He, too, seems to fit the Bronco Mendenhall mold as a players’ coach and an intense guy; 2) He has a very good reputation as a recruiter; 3) He has a track record of having good offenses; 4) His hire shows that Doman will be true to his word about keeping defenses “guessing all the time” (listen to video clip); 5) He has experience with an independent football program.

My only reservation about DuPaix is that Navy has a non-traditional run game. BYU needs to have a power running element to it. The run game did not take off last year until Bryan Kariya became unstoppable in short down and distance situations. When it is 3rd and 2 and Doman decides to call a run play, BYU needs to be able to pick up those two yards—whether the defense (and everyone in the stands) knows it or not. If for some reason, Kariya struggles to find that short down and distance magic in 2011, can DuPaix help him find it?

Ben Cahoon, WR
Cahoon was the popular choice: he is a former Cougar, he just wrapped up a very successful professional career, and he has stayed in touch with the program since he left. His Canadian Football success will command the respect of his receivers. That is crucial for BYU. One clichĂ© often used in football is “you can’t coach talent,” and the current receiving corps has more natural talent than BYU is accustom to. Cahoon’s CFL achievements were a result of his work ethic. Infusing that work ethic into these receivers is the key to getting the receivers to reach their full potential and to avoid the problems seen last year. By setting the CFL record for most career receptions, he seems to have learned how to get open and make receptions against even the best defenders. BYU receivers need to be able to get open downfield against any defense that it faces.

Kelly Poppinga, OLB
Bronco would not have promoted Poppinga to outside linebackers coach unless he was 100% certain Poppinga could do the job well, and that Poppinga was 100% invested in the program. Of course, being coached by Bronco and being a graduate assistant under Bronco helps with the latter. When I talked about the two to five year plan for a new defensive coordinator, Poppinga is probably a candidate. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I find it very significant that Bronco Mendenhall retained Poppinga with his lack of coaching experience. Bronco could have easily found a more experienced coach who would buy into the “Bronco system,” but Bronco apparently sees great potential (as well as good current coaching ability) in Poppinga.

Mark Weber, OL
I like Weber as offensive line coach. He has worked very well with the line in recent seasons that have had the challenges of replacing several starters and having the depth of the unit decimated by injuries. The offensive line has been a huge part of BYU’s success the last five years.

Lance Reynolds, TE
We have all heard of unsung heroes, well Assistant Head Coach Lance Reynolds is an unsung legend at BYU. He understands the BYU offense and BYU football as well as anyone. He can whip the tight ends into shape and get them much more involved next year.

One Major Challenge
The BYU coaching staff has one big challenge: complacency. The likelihood of returning to double digit wins next year is high. The program is loaded with young talent that should be very hungry. This could result in an extended honeymoon period for the new coaches and a renewed sense of job security for the others. Weaknesses can easily be covered up or overlooked as the wins roll in. Each and every coach needs to be dedicated to refining their trade and to be focused on bringing more to the table and getting more from their players each year. There is a fine line between the 11-2 seasons BYU has had recently and a perfect 13-0 season. If complacency sets in, then 13-0 will never be reached.

Diversity
The one real controversy that came about during the restructuring process was the issue of diversity. Minorities Jaime Hill and Robert Anae left and no minorities were hired. Polynesian Steve Kaufusi was and is still on staff. When we talk about diversity at BYU, many people factor in whether a person is a member of a faith other than the school’s sponsoring religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). This time around, none of the three hires are members of other faiths. Hill and Patrick Higgins are members of other faiths.

Former Cougar standout Vai Sikahema felt this issue was important enough that he dedicated an entire blog with the Deseret News to advocate on behalf of another Polynesian, who is also a former BYU running back, Mark Atuaia. Sikahema tries to do damage control and cover his tracks in the beginning, but the sharpness of his words at the end leave a stronger impression than those early statements.

Incidentally, a few days before I learned of Sikahema’s statements, I had done a Google search on Mark Atuaia and found this from laieboyz.com:
“Mark graduated in 2004 from BYU-HC with a degree in Political Science.
“In the course of his education, Mark had discovered his mission in life. ‘I want to help underprivileged people excel in their lives.’ He said during our recent conversation.”
Assuming this still to be true, it is easy to argue that coaching football at BYU isn’t the best way to accomplish this life mission. Maybe Atuaia would make a great running backs coach for BYU, but maybe, as this quote expresses, he has another destiny and during his interview Bronco felt that.

The interesting thing about diversity, however, is that it can be turned on its head and side a million different ways. If Atuaia was hired, presumably in place of DuPaix, that would make all three new coaches BYU pure breeds. The only real outside experience among Poppinga, Cahoon, and Atuaia is Cahoon’s CFL playing career.

While Sikahema used his voice for Atuaia, others were using theirs for former BYU linebacker Dennis Simmons, an African American. He could have been the wide receivers coach. His resume includes coaching a Fred Biletnikoff winner (Michael Crabtreee, Texas Tech). He has also been a running backs coach. I don’t know if Simmons applied or if he had stayed in touch with the program at all the last 15 years.

I don’t have a problem with “diversity” initiatives, but they cannot be blown out of proportion and cloud the overall goal of any project. Diversity can also lead to division. Division, or divisiveness, must be an anachronism with the 2011 BYU coaching staff. As BYU enters the independent ranks with the big, bright, ESPN spotlight on it, unity and understanding are paramount. Every coach on the staff needs to be on the same page and working towards the same goals. Otherwise, the independent project could fizzle fast, just like the 2010 season.

That leads to why my final assessment of the 2011 coaching staff is positive. I like it because there seems to be great camaraderie among these 10 men. That camaraderie can help to make this group of players a close knit bunch. A close knit bunch is one of the most common threads found in not only the great BYU football teams of the past, but any great sports team.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. Great assessment. I agree with your thoughts on diversity. "Diversity" in and of itself should never be the "goal" for a collage football coaching staff. The goal should be to put together the BEST possible coaching staff - if that means you hire a really ethnically and religiously diverse group, then that is what you do. If it means you hire a rather uniform group, then that is what you do.

    Personly, I think in order to have the "Bronco Mendenhall" type coach you have got to have Mormon. Simply because one thing that makes Bronco the type of coach he is - and such a great fit for BYU - is the way he embraces the BYU culture, including the restrictions of the honor code. This could be done by devout members of other faiths, but it would be harder. I think it is easier for a Mormon to fit into that mold.

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