The time has come for the Brigham Young Cougars Athletic Director Tom Holmoe to have a private meeting with head football coach Bronco Mendenhall. This won’t be a pleasant meeting for either of them, but that is what happens after unpleasant football games like last Thursday night. The BYU football program is at a pivotal crossroad in its history. Holmoe needs to give Mendenhall an ultimatum to make certain changes immediately, and start planning for future changes, or his job will be in jeopardy.
1. Replace the offensive line coach, NOW.
BYU’s biggest problem in 2012 has been the offensive line. However, the offensive line had problems even before this season started. Nothing accentuated this more than the 2012 NFL Draft. Matt Reynolds, a four year starter, had been projected as a top 10 overall draft pick during his BYU career. By the end of his career, he had dropped so far he had to sign a free agent contract and was eventually cut before the season started.
It appeared that the BYU coaching staff had taken notice of this and put the entire team, not just offensive linemen, on strict diets. When fall rolled around, the linemen were looking thinner and fitter. It was assumed that this would lead to them playing better.
They have only gotten worse. The offensive line has caused a laundry list of problems for BYU this year. From allowing quarterback Riley Nelson to get injured in a game against a FCS opponent to making a plethora of mental errors at the worst possible moments. A false start when BYU was trying to convert a 4th and 1 early in the Utah game. An illegal blocking penalty when BYU was one yard away from Boise State’s end zone. Perhaps the biggest indictment on the offensive line coach was the inability of his player(s) to block on the most important play of the game against Boise State (2-point conversion).
The lack of any kind of explosiveness and tenacity on this offensive line is offensive.
Just like Jaime Hill was ousted two years ago mid-season, the offensive line coach should already be gone. The decision should have been made Friday or Saturday, and Lance Reynolds given the responsibilities, while graduate assistant Andrew George be given more responsibility for the tight ends.
2. Replace the running back coach, NOW.
It has only been 17 games for the running back coach, but it has been well over a decade since this position has been so non-existent for BYU. Not a single running back has rushed for 100 yards in a game during the last 17 games. There is no evidence that the running backs are getting better. Jamaal Williams is running better than anyone else and should be starting, but he isn’t. The fumble at the one-yard line against Boise State is inexcusable.
J.J. Di Luigi was nearly a 1,000 yard back in 2010, but in 2011 he didn’t even reach 600.
Holmoe has former BYU running back Mark Atuaia at his disposal as an Assistant to the Athletic Director. Atuaia could assist Holmoe nicely by coaching the running back for the rest of this year, at least.
3. Replace the offensive coordinator, AT THE END OF THE SEASON.
This is not an easy decision to make, but it has to be done. It might seem premature given the quarterback situation, as well as the deficiencies already noted in the offensive line and running backs. If the offensive line coach was replaced earlier, when it seemed premature, then this could be an entirely different season.
The offensive line and running back issues have made the job more difficult for the offensive coordinator, but those two position coaches are his subordinates. He should worked with them during the offseason to fix these problems and ensure they clearly understood they could not continue.
At least two other compelling reasons exist to pull the trigger at the end of the season.
BYU has struggled immensely with holding on to the ball, at least in big games, dating back to 2008. Cleaning up the turnovers should have been a top priority when the offensive coordinator took the job in 2011. The turnovers didn’t get better in 2011. The Voice of the Cougars Greg Wrubell stressed the turnover issue all offseason, yet it isn’t getting better this year. In a crucial game, BYU had five turnovers against Boise State. One of those five gave the Broncos the only points they would score all game. There were “just” two turnovers in the three point loss to Utah the week before, but they led to 10 points for Utah.
Once again, the offensive coordinator is the head of the offense. He is responsible for having his offense eliminate turnovers.
The offensive game plan the last two weeks has been bad. During the first two games, the BYU offense had some struggles, but it was assumed that the coaches were taking a conservative approach to win in the simplest way possible. The Cougars had more packages and plays that were being saved for future opponents. Utah and Boise State were two opponents that should have had special plays and packages. There was nothing.
The offense was atrocious against Boise State. With eight minutes left in the game, BYU had less than 150 yards total offense. As it is, the team finished with just 200 yards. January through July is for game planning. For each game, the offensive coordinator should have identified unique plays designed to expose the weakness of the opponent’s defense. These plays should result in two touchdown drives, at least.
Holmoe should assist Mendenhall by starting to search now for offensive coordinator candidates who have experience leading an offense with great ball security. The successful candidate also has to exhibit the ability to take the type of talent BYU already has in the system and succeed with them in year one. A list of names can be given to Mendenhall after the final regular season game and interviews can begin then.
4. Inform Mendenhall that 2013 will be his last season if these problems persist.
This is an even more difficult decision than replacing the offensive coordinator.
Mendenhall is the head coach. Although he is also the defensive coordinator, he shares in the responsibility for all the problems the team has. Since the major problems are on the offensive side of the ball, he can have one more year, but only if he make the three coaching changes noted above. If the problems on offense continue, this is evidence that Mendenhall is unable to hire adequate replacements and, therefore, is not the right man for the BYU head coaching job.
As stated from the outset, this is a very pivotal time in BYU football. The Cougars had a golden opportunity in 2011 to make splash in its first year as an independent, but the offensive woes caused this opportunity to slip through their hands. Year two, 2012, however, presented an excellent opportunity for BYU to redeem itself. BYU has squandered that opportunity with losses in the last two games.
Amazingly enough, the 2013 schedule presents BYU a third great opportunity to establish itself nationally as an independent. However, BYU must win the big games on the schedule—Texas, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Boise State, and Utah, for starters. If BYU can’t win the big games in 2013, the future implications for BYU football could be serious, and not just as an independent.
The whole thing that made independence possible was that ESPN was willing to sign an eight-year contract with BYU. If BYU keeps losing big games, especially with sloppy play, and falling into oblivion each September, will ESPN be interested in renewing that contract after year eight? BYU can’t afford to wait until year six or seven to start worrying whether it is holding up its end of the deal. Mendenhall has to get BYU to the next level in year three. If not, it is risky to continue to use part of the remaining five years of the ESPN deal hoping Mendenhall is able to figure it out. BYU needs a coach that can get them into a better position for negotiating with ESPN.
It is possible that ESPN will be interested in BYU, regardless of on field performance. That would only be because ESPN has figured out how to manipulate the contract to its advantage. Late start times and weekday games have become the norm. ESPN is enjoying better ratings during time slots that used to be abysmal. BYU fans, however, don’t like these odd kickoff times. The only way for BYU to get out of those time slots is to win big games, climb high in the rankings, and get casual fans interested in watching BYU on a regular Saturday afternoon.
With Notre Dame recently announcing its affiliation with the ACC, BYU’s position for receiving an invitation to join the Big XII took a huge step forward. By continually falling flat on its face in big games, BYU is still in no position to demand anything from the Big XII. A 4-0 BYU team knocking on the door of the top 15 in both major polls holds a lot more intrigue and leverage than a 2-2 unranked team that can’t beat Boise State. If BYU can’t make a statement by winning some important games, then the Big XII will most likely look to expand eastward, when it does expand, to help West Virginia not be so isolated.
Mendenhall has done some great things at BYU, especially under the unique circumstances that exist. Putting Mendenhall on the hot seat for 2013 does not imply that winning is more important than the high standards and unique identity of BYU. BYU has to have a guy who can both win the big game and preserve the unique culture.
BYU football needs to get to the next level. That will never happen if Bronco Mendenhall does not address the problems on offense now. The attempts that have been made to fix them, without changing coaching personnel, have not worked. It is time to change the coaches.
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