Mendenhall continues to tinker with BYU coaching staff, raises more questions

Everyone knew that some coaching changes would be made to the Brigham Young Cougars coaching staff when the 2012 football season was over. The entire offensive staff was replaced in a prolonged process. With the BYU football team fully staffed again, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has tinkered with some of the responsibilities. There were already questions about how the coaching changes would impact the team. Now, Mendenhall has introduced more questions with the new assignments.

In a press release from the BYU Athletics Department, Mendenhall announced that offensive coordinator Robert Anae would also serve as assistant head coach. Secondary coach Nick Howell would also be the defensive coordinator, a function that Mendenhall had been performing for the last two and a half seasons. As such, Howell would no longer be the special teams coordinator; therefore, Kelly Poppinga, outside linebackers coach, would assume those duties.

Mendenhall strongly endorsed each coach in their new roles.

“Robert, Nick and Kelly are pillars of our coaching staff,” Mendenhall said. “I have complete confidence in their coaching and leadership abilities and the sincere desire each has to help the young men in our program succeed at the highest level. I have great expectations regarding the contributions of each member of our staff as we prepare our team for the 2013 season.”

While Mendenhall relinquished the title of defensive coordinator, he did not relinquish the play calling duties during games.

Any change brings questions with it. BYU had the nation's no. 3 defense in 2012, and it was the best in school history. Several key contributors were lost on defense, but many also return--namely Kyle Van Noy--and the replacements appear to be competent to continue to give the Cougars a strong D.

The first question is, will this change in defensive coordinator duties compromise the quality of product on the field?

At this point, it seems that any impact on the field will be minimal. Mendenhall continued to explain in the press release that giving Howell the title of defensive coordinator was more of a formality.

“Nick has already been serving in this capacity in many ways but without formal recognition of that role,” Mendenhall said. “Whenever I have been unable to stay with our defensive coaches due to my responsibilities as the head coach, Nick has provided that leadership in my absence. I will maintain play-calling duties and continue to work with Nick in our established pattern regarding the daily oversight of our defense.”

During 2013, Mendenhall may be absent from the defense a little more than in the past as he needs to keep an eye on the new coaches and ensure their proper integration to the program. However, with Mendenhall retaining the play calling duties, what the defense does on game day shouldn't change much.

Howell has proven to be a quality coach. The BYU secondary has steadily improved the last two seasons while he has been the coach. He has been in coaching for over a decade, and at BYU since 2007.

The next question is will these changes cause a drop off in special teams production?

Under Howell's stewardship the last two seasons, BYU's special teams have done very well. During 2011, BYU saw its first kickoff returned for a touchdown in 13 years. That same season BYU returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown for the first time since 1996. Punter Riley Stephenson truly became a master of his craft.

BYU did have problems with placekicking last year, but that was more of a result of a bizarre injury. However, the special teams are faced with the challenge of rectifying the placekicking problems and replacing Stephenson. Is Poppinga up to the challenge?

Poppinga has much less experience than Howell. The outside linebackers have done very well, especially the transition of Spencer Hadley from inside to outside linebacker last year. Poppinga also had to deal with a rash of injuries to outside linebackers in 2011. As a former linebacker himself, Poppinga seems to have the right mindset to be a successful special teams coordinator. That being said, replacing an excellent punter and dealing with a placekicker suffering from psychological and physical issues are some of the biggest challenges a special teams coordinator can face.

The third question is whether Anae receiving the assistant head coach duties is a sign that Mendenhall is getting ready to leave BYU?

This year is the final year on Mendenhall's three-year contract that he signed following the 2010 season. He has said 2012 was his most difficult season ever. Mendenhall regularly says that he doesn't plan to stay at BYU anywhere close to as long as the legendary LaVell Edwards.

A year ago, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL suggested that Mendenhall has some undisclosed goals that he wants to reach while the BYU coach. He needs more time than 2013 to reach those possible goals. Whether the goals postulated by BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL a year ago are correct, we still feel Mendenhall is not going to leave Provo after this coming season.

Anae's assistant head coach role is normal. Lance Reynolds had functioned in this capacity for several years before retiring two months ago. The burden of being head coach at a major college football program requires that a head coach have an assistant to handle some of the ministerial responsibilities that Mendenhall has.

Anae is the logical choice for the assistant head coach role. He is the leader of the offense had has 24 years of coaching experience.

BYU opens spring practices Monday, March 4. It is not likely that any substantive information will be gleaned from these practices to answer the foregoing questions. Only when the real games kickoff can the impact of these new duties begin to be evaluated.

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