Any time you start picking on coaches you run into a house divided. I do not want to make this article a choose up sides "revere them" or "dump them" article. As some of my colleagues say on a noted TV news program, "fair and balanced."
The coaching staff has been in flux ever since LaVell Edwards left. It seems there has been a coaching revolving door. Though Bronco has been there for 9 years, his staff just hasn't jelled into a cohesive unit. That in itself speaks volumes regarding hiring choices and leadership. No army can be successful if the general in charge keeps shuffling the chairs of the men who support his staff, or lead his men in battle. George Washington found that out early. Following is a look at each of the coaching positions and an evaluation.
Strength and Conditioning - After an examination of the prototypical athlete that should be at BYU, and the comparison of the athlete that is on the team, we can see, by the numbers, there is great hope, and potential for improvement. The first area is in the strength and condition of our men in blue. Jay Omer has helped many athletes improve their conditioning and has made improvements. He is a good man with a good family and served BYU very honorably.
However, there is a need to upgrade the entire department. Money alone won't do it. One of the comments coming from the winners of the Super Bowl the other day (Sunday, 2 February) was they were thankful for the extra time they spent with the weights and conditioning. Being an avid Bronco's fan, I had to admit, the Seahawks were prepared to win, and the Broncos were not. The Seahawks were stronger, faster, not as fat, leaner and constantly pushed the Broncos around.
BYU met the same fate with Notre Dame, Wisconsin and even the school which shall remain unnamed to the north. Strength, speed, power. We need to see that on the bodies of the BYU athletes. Bronco Mendenhall has said he doesn't care about the stars athletes he recruits is ranked with. It is obvious that the contributions of two 5th draft picks by Seattle proved that you don't have to be a first round pick to effectively play, or a 5 star recruit either. Neither of them were.
But BYU needs to take the no-star, one star or two star athletes and turn them into the 3 or 4 star athlete that can compete with any recruit in the nation. Cody Hoffman, a two star recruit was recruited only by Sacramento State is an excellent example. Of course Ezekial Ansah becoming a first round pick is one of the great stories. Kyle Van Noy, a 4-star rated player was recruited recruited by several Pac-12 teams is projected to join Ziggy as a top pick. These are just three examples that were under rated and have excelled. Others on the team could be worked with to similarly rise to those heights. A quick visit to the training room at Clemson, South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida State will show you specimens that far exceed what you find at BYU in strength and condition. When Florida State visited several years back, it was only too evident the players on the field in blue were physically inferior to the players in Gold and Garnet, and the score, as in the Super Bowl, proved it in spades. FSU 54 - BYU 28, ouch.
Inside Linebackers Coach - Paul Tidwell, a Utah native, has exceeded expectations. As a recruiting coach and in working with the defense and linebackers BYU has made a name for itself and matched some of the best programs in the country in performance. You almost have to use the cliche "do you have a brother just like you?" Recruiting has fallen off since he received his current job. Special teams has also suffered since he isn't working with them. It is obvious Tidwell might well be the target for an DC job, let's hope it is at BYU someday. His influence has shown results both in the 2012 and 2013 years, and produced two first round draft picks.
Outside Linebackers and Special Teams - Kelly Poppinga, native of Wyoming is young. Played at BYU as a linebacker and one year in the NFL. His youth and inexperience would normally be seen in a journeyman position at a school like Idaho State, or Idaho or New Mexico State or even Wyoming or Nevada. But a national championship team needs more background and experience. I like Kelly and am sure he will develop into one of the better coaches BYU has produced. But we are looking for a national championship, not developing careers. For instance, the coach handling special teams for Auburn has 11 years NFL experience.
Defensive Line Coach - Steve Kaufusi is a Salt Lake City product who has nearly his entire coaching experience at two schools. One of them north of BYU, and at BYU since 2002. He, like Poppinga, is a developing product with giant potential and sharp skills. Key losses to a school which shall remain unnamed to the north can not be blamed on him. The players were the ones on the field and the head coach and defensive coordinator were calling the shots. Steve, like Tidwell, could be headed for a DC job. Time and opportunity will tell. It might be of some help, if and when he moves up and on, to get someone with more experience in both the NFL and major college programs. The similar position at Auburn has a coach with 12 years experience at Georgia, and as an assistant head coach. The coach at Florida State in this position has 18 years experience.
Defensive Coordinator - Nick Howell comes from high school coaching experience directly to BYU. Nick is a great guy with a teaching certificate and degree from University of Phoenix and bachelors from Weber State in history. A strong family man, strong in the faith, missionary to Brazil, and great influence on the morals and standards necessary for players at BYU. He is a role model of tenacity, and his six years coaching experience at BYU has taught him much. During his term there have been ups and downs as he has moved each year to a different coaching position, learning. The losses to Virginia and an instate team were just plain inconceivable, especially after the poor showing of both of those teams during the year. The loss to Notre Dame was avoidable. There were too many breakdowns, bad decisions on calls regarding blitzes and the pass rush. His counterpart at Florida State has 10 years experience, most of which was at Alabama. His counter part at Alabama has seven years experience, all at Alabama, and three national championships to his credit. We need a DC that has experience, not building experience.
Offensive Coordinator - Robert Anae is in his second tour of BYU. Looking at game films from the first and third games it seems impossible they are of the same team when watching the film from the second game. To win a national championship you have to beat the mediocre team, and what turned out to be Virginia. These should have been two "gimmie" games on the schedule in the same way that Alabama schedules Western Carolina and Western Kentucky, Chattanooga or Colorado State. BYU isn't Alabama and a local team may be on par with Colorado State, as Idaho State may be on a par with Chattanooga, but losing to one and throwing three interceptions to the other is inconceivable. This is not the offense BYU needs to win a national championship.
Head Coach - Bronco Mendenhall has a storied resume at BYU. He has won some big ones, (Oklahoma) and lost some big ones (too many to mention), but four years in a row to a school dressed in red and black is not acceptable. I can remember when the definition of a successful season was beating that team. In 2014, that definition seems to have come out of its grave with Bronco. The monkey is on his back on this one. I for one wonder if the Cougar Club and donors will support a head coach that loses FIVE times in a row to that team. At what point do donations and support dry up in protest to the point that Bronco can no longer survive? Going to eight straight of the worst and most pathetic bowl games is not a resume builder or a path to a national championship.
The head coach of a national championship team needs to do more than beating up on Idaho, Idaho State, Middle Tennessee State, Weber State, New Mexico State, a winless Hawaii, UNLV, Colorado State, UTEP, Tulane, and Wyoming. The sole quality win since 2008 was a pasting of a hapless UCLA 59-0. Losing to Texas, and barely beating Oklahoma and Ole Miss, or any other BCS team is not a resume builder or great recommendation for a head coach. It isn't about winning 10 or 12 games, its about who you beat and how. The win loss record of Bronco Mendenhall is padded with minor league teams. Wins against winning teams of a BCS calibre are far and few to come by. That is not a good recommendation for a coach to bring you a national championship.
Conclusion - As with the players, the coaching ranks has brought BYU some surprises and some disappointments. BYU can't expect to win a national championship on the backs of men who are not prepared to perform at that level. LeGrand Richards once told me, "become the number one expert in your field, then the church can use you." It has been a long dry spell since 1984 when BYU had that kind of talent. BYU needs and deserves the number one experts in their field again to win a national championship. If one of the goals of the LDS church is to use BYU athletics in its trifold mission that includes preach the gospel and strengthen the Saints, and if within that goal is a national championship in any sport, then it needs to do that with the best talent available. It's clear records of 8-5 won't do it, nor will 10-2 over inferior and minor league teams.
To win a national championship, it's time for a change in the coaching ranks of BYU.