If you missed Part 1 of the "Understanding BYU Fans Disappointment With Football" column, click here. This is Part 2.
As a member of Cougar Club, I attended the lunchtime meeting in the Cougar Room where Bronco was going to detail the new recruiting class on signing day. As Mendenhall was describing Devon Blackmon to us, he talked about how a big part of Devon’s choice to attend BYU was based upon the idea that it would be hard to find trouble in Provo. The Cougar Club clapped politely. Bronco immediately spoke up and said, "I thought you guys would give me far more credit for creating a positive program that kids sought out because of what it is." The Cougar Club cheered a bit more vigorously. Then Bronco cut the group off, seemingly annoyed that he had to force a bigger reaction from the boosters.
Ultimately, in the gut of every BYU fan, we know that "football is fifth" and it should be. Fans want the football program to be a positive reflection of the values of the LDS church, and a conduit to building the lives of the young men who join the program. It is true that if this part of the program isn’t in place, nothing else really matters.
I was talking with my Dad about his expectations of the football program, and I mentioned the expectation that the BYU team represent the church well. That’s when my father dropped a bombshell on me. "I don’t buy season tickets because I think they are excellent missionaries. I buy season tickets to watch great football!" Point taken.
Greg Wrubell tweeted that Bronco Mendenhall has an 82-34 record through 116 games; LaVell Edwards' 116-gm record was 83-32-1.
Bronco is right there with the legend and yet immediately another tweeter named Paul pointed out to Greg that LaVell Edwards next 116 games included a National Championship, 4 Davey O'Brein Award Winners, and 2 Outland Trophy Winners, and a 91-25 record.
BYU fans don’t just want to win. They want to win with style. This isn’t a new phenomenon either.
"I just say, unequivocally, that if a coach came here and wanted to control the ball and didn’t want to fast break — even if it might be the right thing to do with the personnel — you’d have 13,000 showing up instead of 22,000, and then it would be 8,000. They wouldn’t put up with that. They’d change coaches before that time."— BYU Hoops Coach Ladell Anderson in 1984 in an interview with Sport Magazine
Here's an important distinction. Success doesn't necessarily mean satisfaction.
It cannot be debated that ultimately, the past 4 seasons have been successful when compared to the other 120 FBS teams at large. 4 bowl games with a 3-1 record. 4 winning seasons with a collective 33-19 record. But it wasn't satisfying!
It takes style to satisfy BYU fans.
What kind of style? How about never forgetting that we are a Mormon school in Provo, Utah with everything to prove and nothing to lose. BYU has a constant uphill battle. BYU was overlooked during conference realignment. BYU doesn't have great access to big bowls. So, make a splash. Make your point. BYU belongs, and playing wild, free, and aggressive can prove that. Play with a chip on your shoulder. It's Kyle Morrill taking a shot at the goal line. It's staring #1 Miami in the face. It's Heisman finalists. It's finalists of any kind. It's filling the Student Athlete Building with trophies.
In 1976, Gifford Nielsen became the 7th man to ever pass for over 3,000 yards in college football. In 1979, Marc Wilson threw for 3,720 yards, the 11th man ever to pass over 3,000 yards and BYU became the 1st school in college football history to have 2 QBs reach the 3,000 yard mark. The following year, Jim McMahon became the first man to ever throw for 4,000 yards in season and totaled an astonishing 4,571 yards. McMahon went for over 3,000 in 1981 becoming the first player to ever reach 3,000+ yards twice. Then Steve Young hit 3k twice and so did Robbie Bosco, including in 1985 a 4,000+ yard season making BYU the first school to reach 2 4,000 yard passers. For the record, BYU reached 2 4,000 yard passers before any other in all of college football even had 1. Ty Detmer became the first man ever to 5,000 yards passing en route to passing the 4,000+ mark an amazing 3 times in his career. John Walsh, Steve Sarkisian, Kevin Feterik, Brandon Doman, John Beck, Max Hall all went on to surpass the 3,000 yard mark.
Read that previous paragraph again. Pride just streams through your body. Adrenaline flows. How exciting is that? Is there a better experience as a fan then when the QB looks downfield? The ball hangs forever, the crowds gradually leans forward, the sound of the stadium during the flight of the ball is unique and indescribable, and then if caught, roars of elation. If incomplete, then "Ooohhh!" And, knowing BYU fans, likely booing the referee and even the gray hairs start in with their cries of "P.I.!" Outside of scoring plays, a deep ball is the most exhilarating moment for fans.
Max Hall was the last BYU QB to reach the 3,000 yard plateau. Its been 4 years since BYU had a 3,000 yard passer, marking the longest drought since Gifford Nielsen became the first Cougar to do it in 1976.
Style, Bronco, the fans want style. You know, guts. Not punting on the opponents 31. Not opting for a draw up the middle on 3rd and long. And yes, fans want to throw the ball lavishly. When there is a scoring opportunity, fans would like to score. BYU has been ranked 77th, 90th, and 63rd Nationally in Red Zone Conversions since becoming an independent. In the last 3 years, BYU has visited the Red Zone 174 times scoring on 139 of those trips for a rate of 79.9%. That's 35 missed opportunities over the last 39 games, almost 1 per game. With 7 losses (@Utah, @Texas, @Boise State, @Notre Dame, @San Jose State, @Virginia, Utah... [maybe BYU is a bad road team?]) over that stretch coming within 7 points or less, tightening up the red zone efficiency may alleviate fan disappointment.
Even the "bend, but don't break" mantra isn't exciting, effective overall, but not exciting. "Bend, but don't break" sounds like don't give up 6, give up 3; and good grief, that doesn't get anyone's heart pounding and that matters.
It matters because Cougar Club members and fans want to be entertained. This will never change and it shouldn't. It should be a joyful experience watching BYU Football. Too often it is an excruciating event that tests fans endurance. But that's to be expected when the team's game plan is based in execution, grit, assignment sound, discipline, position mastery football. Success isn't satisfaction. Until it becomes fun again, Bronco will continue to be annoyed at the Cougar Club and fans. Fans watch BYU football because it's fun, they send their children and themselves to be missionaries. Now, fans want Taysom Hill to play great football. He already served his mission. If BYU wins and the fans are having fun, fans will put the biggest pulpit in front of Bronco that we possibly can.