clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Bronco Standard: Fans, media hold Bronco Mendenhall to the wrong standard of excellence

New, comments

Fans and media have become fixated on something the BYU coach has never said, while ignoring important program measures Mendenhall has detailed. This consideration reveals important numbers.

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

National championship.

If you haven't heard before, BYU won such a thing in the sport of football in 1984.

For better or worse, all things about the football program and in the lives of those around it seem to be measured against that singular fact. For the head coach, all successes and movements of one Marc Bronco Clay Mendenhall seem to be measured against those of Reuben LaVell Edwards.

Note: What follows is solely a discussion of football and the expectations of football game results, not anything else about the program. I can and do support the other tenets of BYU football, but if you have players suiting up, you play games to win them.

The Golden Age standard

If you've seen Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, you understand how people naturally view the past as a Golden Age regardless of past blemishes or current blessings.

I've spent considerable time in articles or on Twitter explaining how measures of Bronco against LaVell are usually done through a lense of revisionist history (this piece just the latest), holding Bronco to a standard LaVell never met because the two are usually quite similar. The bright blue ray of the 1984 season penetrates into our brains from the past, inhibiting the ability for many of us to see the stature of BYU's program for what it is.

Bronco can't escape the ever-present LaVell factor. Most fans seem to view the LaVell era in its entirety as if all 29 seasons met the blaze-of-glory success from 1979-1985 (.865 winning percentage).

Lately, you may have seen it written that since the beginning of the 2010 season (4+ seasons), Bronco is 37-23, which is not bad -- but it is entirely uninspiring. Comparatively, in the five seasons following Ty Detmer's Heisman-winning campaign of 1990 in which BYU went 10-3, the Cougars were 39-21-2 , including seasons of 8-3-2, 8-5, and 7-4. That's only two games better, possibly saved by the two ties, and that stretch included a 1-2-1 bowl record and a season without a bowl.

I love LaVell Edwards, and BYU football's relevance is almost entirely due to him. We can acknowledge that while at the same time not fabricating an impeachable track record for his long tenure at BYU.

The National Championship/Undefeated standard

You may have heard the term "national championship" being leveraged against BYU's current head coach, Bronco Mendenhall. He's spoken the phrase before, and fans, media, and Utes alike now use it to label him a deranged madman. I can't count the number of times Utah radio show hosts have taken Bronco to task for setting his team up for failure by "expecting them to compete for a national championship every year." Fans follow suit.

Since 1992, only 13 of 128 FBS schools have won said championship.

I don't know if fans and media view undefeated seasons and national championships differently, as they are obviously clearly different, but the two things seem to be used interchangeably in discussion. Conflating that problem is that BYU's only time accomplishing the former was the only time it has accomplished the latter.

The difference between what it takes to do either of the two is another discussion entirely. As hard as undefeated seasons are to obtain, a national championship for a school such as BYU is exponentially more difficult, requiring so many variables out of its control to align that it becomes a ridiculous standard for nearly every program.

On one occasion, Bronco (and whoever else involved in the decision) did poorly choose a team slogan lifted from the school's motto that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, created an expectation of an undefeated season. The Quest For Perfection season no doubt led fans and media alike to assume that is BYU's absolute goal every season, regardless of schedule, personnel, and other factors. It was a poor choice, and it has hurt Bronco ever since.

Exacerbating the problem is fan obsession with relevance, which has somehow helped develop an undefeated-or-irrelevant attitude -- as if going 8-5 with a bowl loss is the same as finishing 11-2 and in the Top 25 or even top 15. It clearly isn't. (More on that later.)

But accounting for all things actually said on the record: Bronco Mendenhall has never said of any given season that it is the team's goal that year to win a national championship or go undefeated, nor has he stated it is BYU's goal to compete for a national championship or go undefeated every season.

I mentioned that Bronco has uttered the phrase "national championship." So when has he used it?

Bronco has discussed a national championship in the context of overarching program goals. It is usually discussed in circumstances such as football media day held in the middle of the summer, stating his belief that it is possible for the program as a whole to reach that height again -- and it's his intention to be the man to build to that end.

During this season's attention-grabbing start, questions to Bronco from national hosts about even making the playoff were hedged, usually met with the counter-answer "I'd like to see what would happen if we did go undefeated." Not, "that's our goal."

I hardly think it is fair to negatively judge a coach at a program such as BYU's of believing the program can be built to a level where a national championship is again possible. In fact, ardent Bronco detractors seem to believe just that: The program can reach higher and Bronco isn't getting it there.

So in the discussion about program expectations, I've detailed a standard fans and/or media incorrectly hold Bronco against (undefeated/national championship) and a standard that doesn't actually exist (the blue-goggled LaVell Glory Days standard).

So what is the Bronco Standard?

When speaking about season-by-season expectations and standards, time and again, Bronco has outlined the following: 10 wins, Top 25 finish, and win the bowl game.

That's a very strong standard. It's both ambitious and realistic. It's healthy. It's a standard that rational fans can agree is definitely not "settling for mediocrity," a charge levied against Bronco's supporters. This is the measure that nearly everybody is ignoring.

Pre- and post-2010 seems like a clear delineation of the Bronco era. The timing closely coincides with assistant coaching changes, graduation of all-time BYU greats, and to some degree when Bronco began playing with teams comprised of 100% "Bronco recruits."

I've set up a point system for the Bronco Standard. Each season can earn a maximum of three points: one each for 10 wins, a top-25 finish, and a bowl win. I've used the AP Top 25 for this point system because A) the data is more readily available, and B) the Sports Information Director Coaches Poll is laughable anyway.

If you view the point system's average of points earned versus points available like a winning percentage, it's a fair system to use in implementing the Bronco Standard to measure program health. You don't have to bat 1.000 to be successful and healthy with the Bronco Standard.

If BYU went 8-5 with a bowl win every season, it would net one of three available points each season (since such a season has already proven to not be worthy of top-25 ranking), a percentage of .333. Winning, yes, but a very uninspired, non-newsworthy season. Not healthy in regards to relevance and national stature.

At .500, you're mixing in some measure of A) 10-win seasons or B) Top-25 finishes, because as explained, locking down just the bowl element only gets you to .333. You're hit and miss on big seasons, but you're doing enough to win games and remain relevant.

Anything at .667 or above consistently, garnering two-thirds of points available, means you have a well-oiled machine, routinely winning 10 games and finishing ranked.

This point system gives the following results for the Bronco era.

YEAR

10 WINS

TOP 25 FINISH

BOWL W

TOTAL

2005-2009

2005

0

0

0

0

2006

1

1

1

3

2007

1

1

1

3

2008

1

1

0

2

2009

1

1

1

3

TOTAL:

11 of 15 points available (.733)

2010-2014

2010

0

0

1

1

2011

1

0

1

2

2012

0

0

1

1

2013

0

0

0

0

2014

0

0

?

0

TOTAL:

4 of 15 points available (.267)

or 5 of 15 points available (.333)

Even including Bronco's first season of 2005, which was the definition of mediocre (but to his credit, based on where the program was, should count as a great coaching job), the first five seasons of the Bronco era were an inarguable success. Seasons 2006-2009 earned 11 of 12 available points, a .917 average. That's quite incredible.

The last five seasons? Woof. One point remains to be decided -- this year's bowl game -- but we can confidently mark zeroes for both 10 wins and a top-25 finish this season.

Only once in the last five seasons has BYU scored more than one point on the Bronco Standard scoreboard, and the Cougars stand at the precipice of posting two consecutive zero-point seasons.

Over his tenure, Bronco is right at .500 -- a good spot as I explained above, but when that number is reached in such a feast-then-famine way it has become a cause for concern.

Even when we judge the coach fairly and reasonably -- against his own ambitious-yet-healthy standard -- the program is failing for three seasons running. The two points recorded in 2011 now feel like an anomaly. In a climate of misinformed media rhetoric and crazed, illogical fan rants about firesides, this should alarm us most of all.