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Because he's the head coach BYU deserves: Why Bronco is right to support Riley Nelson

Fans are clamoring for a permanent change at quarterback, and Bronco is resisting them. Is that the right choice?

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

After watching BYU lose two close games with Riley Nelson at the helm and then seeing his replacement physically dominate opposing defenses, BYU fans are clamoring for a change. The pain of those losses is exquisite: they came by a measly four points combined - a number which has already become BYU lore - and Riley played in those losses while impaired by a serious injury which he concealed from fans and, to a degree, coaches as well.

BYU fans cannot help but wonder if Taysom Hill would have been able to make up those four plus points and deliver an undefeated record. Coaches may in fact need to make the switch to Taysom Hill, but the time for that decision is not yet here.

If there is one guiding principle in a quarterback controversy, it is that coaches should not abandon a quarterback lightly. I say this for several reasons. First, if the successor begins to struggle and coaches reverse their decision, they have destroyed their credibility as leaders. Second, by playing an understudy before he is prepared to succeed, coaches can significantly harm his confidence as well as the support of fans and his teammates (Gary Crowton made this mistake, and it contributed to his firing).

Even if he takes some heat for it, Bronco is smart to protect himself and Taysom Hill from the more intense pressure that would result from playing Hill before he is ready and then allowing fan and team sentiment to turn against him. This is exactly what happened to Jake Heaps. I think Bronco has learned from that mistake and is working desperately to avoid repeating it, and if he succeeds despite the criticism coming his way, he is a true leader. As Michael Caine once put it, "[Bronco] stands for something more important than the whims of a [BYU fan], even if everyone hates him for it. That's the sacrifice he's making. He's not being a hero."

Of course, the glaring fact is that BYU has lost two games with an inept Nelson at the helm, but a permanent demotion is not yet in order, because the Riley Nelson who failed was not a healthy one. A comparison between a healthy Hill and an injured Nelson is a false one and will therefore lead to unstable conclusions - conclusions that will be questioned if Hill begins to struggle against the much stiffer competition BYU is about to face. In other words, the only justification for a change is if a healthy Riley Nelson clearly fails, and that hasn't happened yet.

While Riley's recent injury is not justification for permanently demoting him, it should have lasting consequences: fans and coaches should place less trust in him. By concealing a significant injury that impaired his performance, Riley has shown he cannot be trusted to make judgment calls on whether or not he should play. Frankly, he never should have had that power in the first place. Riley has said repeatedly that he is not qualified to make personnel decisions, yet that is exactly what coaches admittedly allowed him to do. That is a serious error on their part. Bronco does acknowledge that he now realizes Riley will play until he can no longer stand and that coaches therefore need to be more involved in making that call. That is a step in the right direction.

There is, of course, the question of how long Riley can remain healthy. The pattern seems clear: Riley can start for about two games before suffering a serious injury like punctured lungs, broken ribs, or cracked vertebrae. But we do not yet know that Hill is a better quarterback than a healthy Riley Nelson, and good teams play their best players. That is why permanently promoting Hill would be a mistake - for now.