Provo • There was a time not long ago when BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall appeared to be on his way to approaching LaVell Edwards-type status. The youthful-looking coach was piling up double-digit win seasons, knocking off rival Utah three out of four years, and even pulling off a few upsets, such as the blowout win over Oregon in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl and the takedown of No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2009 opener.
But for a lot of disgruntled BYU fans, those days are a distant memory.
A quick check of reactions and commentary on social media websites, fan message boards and reader comment sections under newspaper articles shows that not only are the natives getting restless with Mendenhall’s job performance, they are also getting increasingly frustrated. Some are downright angry.
Granted, the aforementioned indicators are far from scientific, but perhaps at no other time in his eight-year tenure has Mendenhall had a lower approval rating — this is an election year, right? — than right now. There are even calls for his job, despite a 70-28 overall record in eight seasons.
“Yeah, I have learned my support is conditional,” Mendenhall said last week, when asked whether he worries about losing fan support with each failure against a big-name opponent. Then the Cougars (4-4) went out and lost by a respectable 17-14 margin to No. 5-ranked Notre Dame on the Irish’s own hallowed field. Despite the fact that they were two-touchdown underdogs, the criticism seemingly grew louder.
Causing the most angst for the longtime loyalists this season, it appears, is Mendenhall’s reluctance to criticize, let alone bench, starting quarterback Riley Nelson.
“One thing I think we can all agree on: Bronco Mendenhall has made hamburger out of the QB position over the last three years,” wrote longtime BYU supporter Adam Olsen on Twitter.
Others are upset that Mendenhall doesn’t publicly place more importance on winning so-called “big” games, mismanages game situations (such as not using timeouts more judiciously against Notre Dame, or going for two against Boise State) and is sometimes reluctant to acknowledge his own mistakes or shortcomings.
That he raises expectations every season by even mentioning the words “national championship” hasn’t helped his cause, although that goal was stated less often this past offseason than in previous years.
Mendenhall’s message to impatient fans?
“I don’t hear many negative things,” he said after Monday’s practice as the Cougars prepared to take on Georgia Tech this Saturday in Atlanta. “Most are complimentary toward how we are playing. But there will always be critics. I gauge what I see. I think there is progress. I think the program is moving forward, and I think we are taking on kind of an all-comers type of approach [to scheduling], and it is going to keep going that way for the next [four years].
“So, it is not going the other way, and I like the challenge, and I like the places we are playing and who we are playing,” he continued. “We are one or two plays away, and that’s the next step.”
Certainly, BYU’s players are hearing the negativity and noticing the criticism.
“Shame on them,” Nelson said last week, when asked about disgruntled fans.
Mendenhall’s supporters have plenty of ammunition as well: He ranks 15th in total wins among coaches since 2005; he has won 10 or more games in five of the last six seasons; he is the only BYU coach to take a team to seven straight bowl games, and the only coach to win three straight bowl games, and five in a six-year span; BYU is one of only 11 programs to finish in the top 25 in five of the last six seasons.
But his record against ranked teams is abysmal, and now he doesn’t win enough close games, in their eyes. After winning 14 straight games decided by seven points or fewer during one stretch of his career, Mendenhall is just 5-5 in his last 10 nailbiters.
“We are playing good teams, and we are playing them on the road, and it is kind of the next era [of BYU football],” Mendenhall said. “Expectations are even higher [than when he started in 2005], the schedule more demanding. We are playing better football, against better teams. ... We are gaining momentum, and making progress, and Riley is leading us while we do it. Might not be the prolific breakthrough that people want, but I still see us inching really close to breaking through.”
Bronco Mendenhall’s record at BYU
Overall • 70-28
Last three seasons • 21-13
As an independent • 14-7
In games decided by seven points or fewer • 20-10
In last 10 games decided by seven points or fewer • 5-5
BYU at Georgia Tech
P Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports