Provo • Midway through the 2010 college football season, after the BYU Cougars had just been clobbered 31-16 at Utah State, coach Bronco Mendenhall fired Jaime Hill and appointed himself defensive coordinator.
Mendenhall famously said at the time that he wanted to see how tired he could get with his additional responsibilities. Apparently, he still has plenty left in the tank.
The coach who was a defensive coordinator at Oregon State and New Mexico, as well as at BYU in the last two years of the Gary Crowton regime, told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week that he has no plans of hiring a defensive coordinator to take his place as he enters his eighth season as head coach.
“I am all the way set [to be coordinator in 2012],” he said. “I am having so much fun doing it. … So I have no intention of stepping away from that, and the players like it.”
Not that it is influencing his decision, but this year’s BYU defense has the potential to be one of the best in school history, several players have said. Mendenhall will only say that it should be better than last year’s group.
The Cougars return seven starters, but when returned missionaries and transfers are factored in, there are 10 or 11 in the fold who have plenty of experience.
“I think this is the most talented [the defense] will ever be, since coach Mendenhall has been here,” said senior linebacker Uona Kaveinga, the USC transfer. “I mean, talent level, athletic ability, it is just crazy. We got depth, too, and man, it is just scary.”
Mendenhall said he didn’t even look for potential defensive coordinators in the offseason because of the way new assistant coaches Nick Howell (secondary) and Kelly Poppinga (outside linebackers) have taken “a ton of the responsibility” that he used to carry.
He calls Howell and Poppinga “really young, up-and-coming bright stars” and tireless workers.
“And then with the maturity of Paul Tidwell [inside linebackers] and Steve Kaufusi [defensive line] it allows me to leave the room, and the room functions at a very high level right now, which is why I can keep doing it,” Mendenhall said.
But for how long?
“I am still OK,” he said. “I don’t make any predictions as to how long, but today I am good.”
After a tumultuous offseason following BYU’s New Mexico Bowl win over UTEP shook up his coaching staff, Mendenhall made no moves this offseason, although some new graduate assistants have been hired. Former Utah star Jason Kaufusi and Jason Walker will be the defensive graduate assistants (Shaun Nua joined the staff at Navy and Rob Morris resigned), while former BYU tight end Andrew George and Kelly Bills will be the offensive graduate assistants.
Mendenhall said the defensive line has been thin this spring, but will be deep in the fall with five seniors in the rotation, along with junior college transfer Marques Johnson.
At linebacker, “it might be a more potent unit than it was a year ago,” Mendenhall said, with blossoming superstar Kyle Van Noy missing spring camp due to shoulder surgery but expected to be fully healthy this fall.
The secondary is “probably deeper and more athletic than a year ago,” Mendenhall said, although safety Travis Uale and cornerback Corby Eason will have to be replaced.
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BYU’s projected starting defense
Defensive line • Eathyn Manumaleuna, Romney Fuga, Ian Dulan
Linebackers • Spencer Hadley, Uona Kaveinga, Brandon Ogletree, Kyle Van Noy
Defensive backs • Preston Hadley, Jordan Johnson, Daniel Sorensen, Joe Sampson
Key backups • Mike Hague, Ziggy Ansah, DeQuan Everett, Russell Tialavea, Tyler Beck, Robbie Buckner