Monson: BYU’s James Lark blames coaches for lack of leadership, direction
College football • Cougars sputtered as Nelson tried to play through “broken back.”
Published: January 25, 2013 12:57PM
Updated: May 5, 2013 11:33PM
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Riley Nelson March 24, 2010. Photo by Kenny Crookston Copyright BYU PHOTO 2010 All Rights Reserved 801-422-7322 photo@byu.edu

During a 20-minute interview on my radio show Wednesday, Garbo-holding-a-clipboard spoke. Good soldier James Lark opened up about the offensive woes plaguing BYU this past season and, man, it was interesting to hear the point of view of a quarterback on the inside who sometimes labored to understand what in the name of bad football the coaches were doing.

Some might suspect the senior who wasn’t given much of a chance to play, other than the last two games of his college career, might be filled with sour grapes, ready to stomp them and spill whine in every direction. That didn’t seem to be the case. He was candid, and careful, about the way he answered direct questions, but through the course of the interview, the truth, I believe, poured out.

Foremost among his assertions, Lark repeated that the Cougars “struggled with leadership from the coaches”:

“On offense, as a whole, we didn’t really have an identity, with the offense changing from week to week, focusing on different things each week. I felt that sometimes the players didn’t know where to look. We didn’t know who to turn to for the answers that we needed and the direction we needed to go.

“Our coaches battled. They were in there every day, working, trying to get us better and dealing with unfortunate circumstances, injuries and so on. But as players, we kind of had to join together and kind of figure it out and say, ‘This is our team.’ ”

Lark said he wasn’t trying to “bash” Brandon Doman, but the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach “did not spend a lot of time with us, teaching the mechanics and the technique of the quarterback position. He focused on teaching us the mental aspects of the game.”

Regarding who made the ill-advised call to play Riley Nelson for so much of the season, even when he was hurt, Lark said:

“I don’t personally know, but if I had to give my opinion, I’d think it was mostly up to coach Doman.”

Asked if he saw discord between coaches on the staff, he said:

“There could have been.”

Lark also said he didn’t think Nelson should have been playing, because of his injury, and that it was “unfair” to the quarterback to play hurt:

“We saw [Riley] at his best in the first game of the season. He came out against Washington State and threw the ball all over the place, ran the ball all over the place, and played a spectacular game. But then, in the next game, he broke his back. And, honestly, I felt terrible for him. I was ready to step in. I stepped in against Weber State and thought I played really well. But any quarterback with a broken back, with broken vertebrae, is going to struggle to do what he did before. And, obviously, he wasn’t as capable as he was when he was 100 percent healthy. So, I felt bad for him because he’s one of my best friends. But at the same time, he was injured.”

When asked why the coaches kept playing Nelson, Lark said:

“I don’t know. It wasn’t my decision. I told the coaches I was confident, I was capable and I could help the team win. But they didn’t think it was best. …

“It was frustrating when things weren’t going well. Especially after we lost to Utah and Boise, back to back. We knew something had to change, something had to be fixed. I’m not a doctor, but I was worried for Riley. He was going out and playing with a broken back. I didn’t know if there were further injuries that could be caused, especially in the long run. We were, I was, frustrated from Day 1, and it just kind of got more and more as we kept losing. …

“I think it was unfair to Riley … I was frustrated, wishing I could have been in there playing. At the same time, it wasn’t fair to Riley, either, that they kept playing him because he wasn’t his best.”

Asked if he ever approached the coaches to remind them that he could and should play, particularly when it was so obvious that Nelson was ineffective, Lark said:

“I sat down with coach [Bronco] Mendenhall and coach Doman at times and said, ‘Listen, we’re struggling in this area or that area, whatever it may be, and I know I can go out and do better. I can go out and perform.’ I told them, ‘No matter what you choose, I’m going to support you. I’m going to keep working. I’m going to support my teammates because they come before anyone.’ … I had a lot of sit-down meetings with the coaches, expressing confidence in myself. It’s not bashing the guy in front of me, but telling them that I believe that I can do the job.”

When Lark was asked whether he was upset that he didn’t get much of a shot, he said:

“When I committed to BYU, being the starting quarterback was a lifelong goal, a dream of mine. When I was coming up just short, and knowing that it wasn’t even my decision, no matter how hard I tried, it was up to the coaches, it was frustrating. I was extremely frustrated privately. I had sleepless nights. I was struggling, being mad all the time. I finally realized, no matter what I do, it was really out of my hands. So, being frustrated, letting it ruin other aspects of my life, is pointless. …

“I tried to do everything I could to help my team. The last thing I was going to do was open my mouth and start complaining about the coaches, complaining about the situation, because that would have done no good for the team and, in the end, it would have done no good for me. It wouldn’t have helped the situation, it would have made it worse. And it would have made me look like an idiot.”

Was the defense, the best defense in school history, angry about the offense’s ineptitude?

“They had the right, the excuse, to be frustrated with us,” Lark said. “But it was never a problem.”

When Lark, at long last, got the opportunity to start in the final regular-season game, in which he threw five touchdown passes, and the bowl game, he said:

“It felt good. … I had a chance to prove what I can do and [show] this is what I could have done all year.”

Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.