Dissecting the Flaws in the Editorial “Has BYU Hit Its Ceiling?”

Have the Brigham Young Cougars hit their ceiling? That was the question asked Monday on Deep Shades of Blue. The author then went on a 1,034 word rant calling out Bronco Mendenhall and his coaching staff, the local media, and pretty much anybody that has stayed loyal and optimistic about BYU football.

Very rarely do I write reactionary pieces to other people’s work, but I feel this was a better way to respond than just be comment number 83. The author starts the piece with the sentence, “There’s an elephant in the room,” and repeats it at the end of the piece, “There is an elephant in the room and somebody needs to say so.”

The only elephant in the room I saw reading this piece was that it was a biased, knee-jerk reaction to the loss on Saturday to Utah. It used hot-button talking points to get an emotional response from readers. There was very little rational thinking or evidence to support the claims made.

Has BYU hit its ceiling under Bronco Mendenhall? I, honestly, don’t know, but asking the questions, “Has the current leadership taken this BYU program as far as it can? Have the Cougars reached a ceiling with this coaching staff?” is short sighted, and shows little understanding about college football.

Sustaining success, especially at a very high level is very, very hard. Look at Urban Meyer at Florida. At the same time Mendenhall made his great run at BYU, Meyer had Florida on top of the college football world. In retrospect, we can all see that Meyer’s success was based on 1) Tim Tebow, and 2) An innovative system that defenses hadn’t figured out. By the time Tebow left, Meyer couldn’t rely on his system alone to succeed. He had to have the right players. He didn’t and one year later he left Gainesville with his tail between his legs.

All it takes in college football to have a really good two or three year run is two or three special players surrounded by solid role players. Identifying those special players isn’t always easy. Sometimes, when those special players graduate, a new wave of special players isn’t ready waiting to take over. When that is the case, you have to make the most of what you have.

That is the predicament Mendenhall faced in 2010.

I completely agree that “hard questions must be asked” after this loss to Utah, but what evidence is there that Mendenhall isn’t asking those hard questions? The only evidence I see is that Mendenhall started asking hard questions two years ago, which led him to fire his defensive coordinator mid-season and replace two more assistant coaches at the end of the season. He continued to ask hard questions a year ago, which led to many visible changes in the program. There is no reason to think Mendenhall won't continue to ask questions on an ongoing basis until all the desired changes to the progarm are made.

On a technicality, by the words “the current leadership” and “this coaching staff” the author could be speaking of all of Mendenhall’s assistants as well. Since four are just starting their second year in their respective positions, it is still premature to ask if they have reached their ceiling. There is one obvious coaching change that needs to be made, and I expect Mendenhall to make it soon.

Now, on to debunking some of those bias hot-button issues.

1. “The Utes were playing with a Division II quarterback.”

Go ahead and be a sour loser and call him whatever you want. Here are the facts.

John Hays was 6-3 as a starter against Utah’s Pac-12 schedule last year. Division II quarterbacks don't do that. Try and rationalize it away all you want by saying John White IV was “virtually the entire offense for Utah in 2011,” but that just shows, again, a poor understanding of how college football works. The quarterback always plays a big role in the success of the team.

There is a healthy portion of the BYU fan base who thinks Utah is better with Hays at quarterback than Jordan Wynn.

2. “There was absolutely no excuse for BYU losing to such a depleted Utah team on Saturday.”

I don’t like that BYU lost to a depleted Utah team, but for anyone to vehemently believe there was “absolutely no excuse” for this loss, you need to wake up.

THIS IS A RIVALRY. A very competitive rivalry.

All the clichés of “throw the record out” apply to this rivalry now. The last dozen years have taught us that no matter how unevenly matched the two teams appear on paper, it is going to be a nasty fight that goes down to the wire, unless one team has a mental breakdown.

You take a win anyway you can get it.

2003: Should Urban Meyer’s 10-2 MWC champions have barely beat a 4-8 BYU team by three points? A BYU team with no quarterback, and no semblance of any kind of offense?

2010: Should Utah’s nationally ranked team on its way to a 10 win season have fallen behind 13-0 against barely bowl eligible BYU and needed an extremely lucky bounce on a shanked punt and a blatantly bad replay verdict to win on a blocked field goal?

I miss the beat downs that BYU would give the Utes in the 1980s, and hold out hope that those days will return. For the time being, things have changed. That fact has to be accepted. Utah finally got better coaching and caught up with BYU.

I am not trying to excuse any loss to Utah. I am just saying fans expecting the game to go the way it looks on paper need to wake up to the new reality.

3. “Ask yourself: How many coaches in today’s world of college football would survive going 1-4 against an arch-rival?”

More than you would think. I won’t take the time to find the exact number, but here is an interesting one.

Mack Brown, Texas.

0-5 vs. Oklahoma between 2000 and 2004, and it was ugly.

2000: Oklahoma 63, Texas 14
2001: Oklahoma 14, Texas 3
2002: Oklahoma 35, Texas 24
2003: Oklahoma 65, Texas 13
2004: Oklahoma 12, Texas 0

Quick Summary
  • Average score: 38-11
  • One shutout
  • Two games without a touchdown
  • Two losses by 49 points or more
  • The closest loss was 11 points
Don’t try and tell me that expectations are not higher at Texas than they are at BYU.

Anyone remember what happened in 2005? Call Pete Carroll if you forgot.

4. “How can any BYU coaching staff defend going a combined 1-8 against Utah and TCU since 2008 and getting blown out in many of those eight losses?”

I have never heard the BYU coaching staff try and defend this. Does that mean they need to resign?

There is a big picture to look at.

Let’s not act like BYU is the only place this happens. Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech is just 1-5 in six BCS bowl appearances, and since 1999, the Hokies have often been ranked in the top 10, and even top 5, but they have just one win against a top 5 ranked team and lost nearly a dozen.

Boddy Petrino was 2-6 against Alabama and LSU in his four years at Arkansas. These eight games included four blowout losses and two losses that you could say Arkansas “gave away.” Nevertheless, his job was very secure until that motorcycle accident.

Between 2005-09, Mark Richt, a very successful SEC coach at Georgia won just 40 percent of his games against opponents that finished the season ranked in the top 25.

Yes, I have been greatly hurt by all eight of BYU's losses, but let’s stop the pity party. BYU is not the only place in the country that has gone through a period of struggles against its rival and very, very good teams. Neither should we imagine that half the schools in college football are stockpiling wins against ranked opponents.

There is a big picture to look at. Nebraska got anxious about 10 years ago and fired a fairly successful coach only to see the program struggle even more. To this day, Nebraska isn’t any better than before that firing.

5. “The truth is that the Cougars haven’t defeated a program of any consequence since November 28, 2009 when Andrew George scored his touchdown in overtime, giving BYU its last win over Utah.”

There’s some selective memory.

Go ahead and pretend that the 24-point drubbing of Oregon State didn’t happen three weeks later. While you are at it, pretend that the Beavers were not a few minutes away from playing in the Rose Bowl, and were higher ranked in the polls than Utah was.

At the time, I was lobbying Andy Staples with SI.com to put BYU in the top 10 of his AP ballot if BYU beat Oregon State. His response, “A win over Oregon State would be big. OSU is very good.”

Next comes another statement of selective memory.

6. “In the two years prior to the start of this season, BYU managed just two wins over teams that finished the year with winning records. And both of those wins (against Utah State and Tulsa in 2011) were squeaked out in the final 11 seconds of the game.”

Maybe it is easy to forget that BYU beat a 9-4 San Diego State team in 2010. After all, BYU dominated the Aztecs and led the whole game. I think TCU remembers how good that 2010 San Diego State team was. Michigan certainly does.

Don't shortchange former Cougar Steve Sarkisian. He led his Washington Huskies to a 7-6 record in 2010. BYU led the entire fourth quarter in that game.

7. “It’s time to start developing talent–particularly on the offensive side of the ball–and stop coaching like you’re at a military academy.”

Can anybody answer this question for me? When was the last time BYU had, in the same season, a player on the pre-season watch list for the Doak Walker Award, the Outland Trophy, the Biletnikoff Award, the Butkus Award, the Davey O’Brien Award, the Maxwell Award, the Ray Guy Award, the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, and two players for the Lombardi Award?

Seven players, four offensive, on nine different watch lists.

I don't think it has never happened.

The only way to get on one of these watch lists is to have done something impressive the season before. In other words, the BYU coaches had to have developed these players’ talent for them to be worthy of being on these lists.

8. “A program that would routinely have a couple of dozen of alumni playing in the NFL in any given year, BYU currently has a grand total of seven players on NFL rosters. That’s right: seven.”

Please provide some evidence from a substantial source that BYU ever had “a couple dozen” alumni playing in the NFL. The BYU media guide does not count. The media guides include practice squad players and free agents who eventually get cut before the season starts.

The current total of seven is discouraging, and needs to increase, but I don’t think it is completely off the norm.

9. “It’s time to start developing quarterbacks so that you don’t have five-star quarterbacks leaving the program and four-star QBs languishing on the bench while a gutty, gritty, slot receiver plays the position.”

Anybody who doesn’t think John Beck or Max Hall developed while playing at BYU is crazy. There was a huge difference between their sophomore and senior seasons. Likewise for Riley Nelson. It is possible to not be satisfied with Nelson as a starting quarterback, but it is not true to say he has not developed since arriving in 2009.

Again, before criticizing Mendenhall and his staff for five and four star quarterbacks who don’t materialize, get a list of all those who don’t materialize at other schools and are playing behind less heralded recruits.

I got a separate piece about Nelson planned for tomorrow, so I won’t say anything more now.

10. “Can anyone honestly say that Utah put better players on the field than BYU on Saturday? Did they last year?”

Since the author seems to care so much about alumni in the NFL, let’s use that as the metric. Judging by future NFL players, Utah probably put better players on the field. In that case, maybe the question should be why was BYU even in a position to win or tie the game with just a minute left?

Did Louisiana-Monroe put better players on the field September 8 against Arkansas? Does the team with the better players always win? Again, the author asks another question that shows a severe lack of understanding of the college football game.

The rest of the editorial on Deep Shades of Blue sounded like an opinionated arm-chair quarterback whining about issues he has no real knowledge or experience of. It was a hit job.

I have no problem asking the hard questions, but they need to be answered in the right way. Thoughtfully, unbiased, and without tunnel vision.

Editor's Note: If you feel like reading more, click here to be redirected to another rebuttal to the Deep Shades of Blue editorial.

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


  1. Great rebuttal keep up the good work

  2. Keep apologizing for Bronco, the Steve Cleveland of BYU football.

    1. I am not apologizing for Bronco. Pointing out the truth is not an apology.

      Actually asking questions, rather than telling somebody else to do it while ranting and whining--like DSOB did--is not an apology either.

      Questions that I have asked in this post or others since the Utah game include:

      Is Michael Alisa the best running back? (see this week's poll question at the top of the right hand column)

      Who will be the next offensive line coach? (a change must be made)

      Is cleaning house, like DSOB appears to be suggesting, and starting over with a new coaching staff really the best alternative? Would Texas still have won the national championship in 2005 if they said enough is enough and fired Mack Brown after 2004? Or would Utah had gone to the Fiesta bowl in 2004 if Urban Meyer looked just at the BYU game and said, I need to make major changes, we only scored 3 points, this is not going to get it done?

      What can be expected in college football on a year-in year-out basis? Do other programs reach elite status and stay there every year for decades? Or is there a constant ebb and flow becuase of the nature of the sport needed to rebuild and reload?

      Does Bronco really need us calling him out to start asking the "hard questions"?

  3. A "rebuttal" like that strengthens the original argument.

    1. A comment like this is just as vague and uninformative as the original argument.

      I guess you missed the point. I am looking for some substance, not just a rant that any dissatisfied person could put together.

      How does this rebuttal strengthen the original argument?

      Why not address some of the examples I pointed out?

  4. Don't try to put up facts or numbers against the mourning reactionary throws of Cougar fans.

  5. Great article. Some Cougar fans are just cry babies. It goes with the territory. I'm just hoping they can pull out a win at Boise State on Thursday.

  6. This was a thoughtful article. I appreciate it. I think the author is guilty of cherry-picking facts/stats that seem important but may not be. This is exactly what the DSOB article did. That's fine. That's how argumentation works, and this was a good rebuttal.

    However, the entire point of the article is probably a good one: would you fire Bronco people REALLY REALLY pull the plug on him if it were your call? I seriously doubt it.

  7. This was a well-stated rebuttal with some thought-provoking ideas and comparisons to other programs. That said, I disagree with the author's opinion and I support the claim that BYU football has hit a ceiling that it will not be able to penetrate until full regime change is made and the culture of accepting adequacy is abolished at BYU.

    That starts with Tom Holmoe first and foremost. It is unfathomable to me that our senior athletic administrator has a 12-43 head coaching record. His left the Cal program in shambles, only won 1 game his final season, only won 6 conference games in 5 years, and the program received a 5-year probation from the NCAAA under his watch. How can any coach that reports to him respect that? The problem, plain and simple, is that he is not a winner. I respect the 3 Super Bowl rings that he won as a player, but his results as a leader speak for themselves.

    The problem with Bronco is rooted in his general life philosophy. His teams play like football really does come 5th to them. Of course they do, that is how they are coached...you can't blame the players for that. Bronco has proven that he is inflexible and will not change, so the university must make a change that will allow the program to make progress. The football program has completely hit the wall, and no objective observer can say otherwise. His dismissal of Jamie Hill (and hopefully of Mark Weber soon) are embarrassingly reactionary and are merely signs of an unengaged leader.

    BYU needs a football coach, since it already has plenty of bishops, guidance counselors, parents, and honor code officials. The job of the football coach at every other university is to coach football. Bronco has allowed himself to become so infatuated with his delusional image of himself and his role at the university that he has forgotten the basic fundamental responsibility of the football coach: to win football games.

    My solutions:

    Hire Vai Sikahema as AD. He is an inspirational leader with great reverence for the history of BYU and unwaveringly high expectations for future success. He is also the spiritual advisor for Poly LDS athletes, and would be an incredibly powerful influence in restoring the Poly pipeline back to BYU as the players' first choice.

    Hire Ty Detmer as Head Football Coach. The guy's competitiveness and winning attitude are attributes that should be trademarks at BYU. I know that he doesn't have collegiate head coaching experience, but the guy knows football better than perhaps any other BYU alum. He is a leader who would surround himself with coaches who share a winning attitude.

    In any event, as long as Holmoe and Bronco are our leaders, I will support them. However, my opinion is that we can and should have better athletic leaders than those guys.


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