Over the last two, and now two and a half seasons, BYU basketball coach Dave Rose has seen his team perform great at times and look very bad at times. In fact, we as Cougar fans have been so spoiled with the team's success that many fans probably didn't realize Dave Rose hadn't had a double digit loss season until his eighth season as a head coach! Yes, there are now at two double-digit loss seasons in a row, and we are looking at quite possibly a third in a row.
Many fans have their own explanations about why this has happened and there is a faction of fans that believe that it is Rose's fault. I contend that it is not the coach's fault, but part of it may have to do with all of the coaches, the staff as a whole.
One thing is certain: When you build a successful program, people are going to offer your assistant coaches head jobs, or promote them in their organization. BYU has had a great run of success since Dave Rose has taken over. Rose has a record of 250-86 in his career so far. He has the fifth-best start to a head coaching career in NCAA history. He has had nine straight 20-win seasons, with the 10th likely. He has also lead the Cougars to 9 consecutive postseason tournaments, with a tenth likely.
With all of this success, he has also seen two of his top assistants move on to other jobs — John Wardenburg and Dave Rice.
Wardenburg, who is now the head coach at Indian Hills Community College, was primarily in charge of the defense while he was at BYU from 2001-2010. While he was in charge of the defense, BYU had a run where they were consistently one of the better defensive teams in the Mountain West and even reached 11th in the nation for field goal defense in 2007-2008.
One of the laments of BYU fans this season, and in the past couple seasons, has been the defense. If you look at the numbers, the defensive struggles started about a season after Wardenburg left. So, who is in charge of the defense now? The answer is Mark Pope. So if Wardenburg coached the defense so well with players who weren't as athletic as their competition at times and with players who had almost no interest in defending, why can't Pope?
Easy answer: Pope has only been a coach since 2010. By the time Wardenburg was having his success at BYU, he already had been a college coach for almost 15 years and had been the athletic director at Dixie State, in addition to nine years coaching high school basketball. Coach Pope is still learning how to coach, how to communicate his thoughts to players (if you've never coached, it's hard to understand how difficult it is to convey what makes sense in your head to players who have much less experience than you), and when to make changes.
Just in this year, you have seen BYU make drastic changes defensively to suit opponents, like first going to zone against Utah, and strategically switching back to man in favorable match ups. Also, we have seen the other aspect of a learning coach, staying in a defense too long and having teams figure it out — think of the beginning of the second half of the Gonzaga game.
So what is the answer? Is it demoting Pope and hiring a more experienced coach to come in and do his job? That is a solution, but not a very good one. College basketball is very much about stability and building relationships with recruits. Pope is a very funny and personable coach. The real answer is giving him more time to develop as a coach, play-caller and game-planner. In all honesty, we will probably see a jump in defensive statistics next year as he continues to learn. It also helps that some of his main post players, specifically Corbin Kaufusi and Isaac Neilson, will have had another year and offseason to learn and get better themselves.
Dave Rice was primarily in charge of recruiting and the offense while at BYU. He left to take over as the head coach of UNLV, where his record is currently 84-42. Statistically, BYU hasn't suffered a whole lot since Rice left. While he was at BYU, the Cougars led the MWC in scoring in each of his six seasons. This has continued apace, as the Cougars' lowest scoring average since he left is 77.1 points per game.
BYU's two most heralded recruiting classes have also come since Rice left — those being 2013 with Nick Emery, Eric Mika, Luke Worthington, Jakob Hartsock, Braiden Shaw and Isaac Neilson; and 2014 with TJ Haws, Payton Dastrup, Dalton Nixon, Jake Toolson and Ryan Andrus. Some will point out that BYU didn't get Jabari Parker to come and currently Frank Jackson has decommitted from BYU, but in all honesty, you will miss out on recruits from time to time.
BYU has a really strong coaching staff around Dave Rose. They are young and energetic and are gaining valuable experience as coaches while serving in their respective roles. The stability of the coaching staff in the coming years could very well lead to another run of success if the recruiting classes of the last three years turn out to be anything close to what we all hope they are.
Dave Rose is a good coach. He surrounded himself with good assistant coaches and experienced a lot of success in a short amount of time. Now he has once again surrounded himself with coaches who are not only talented, but want to be at BYU. It is only a matter of time until we can once again be spoiled with the success that these men have worked so hard to achieve.