Staging a slideshow to illustrate his points Wednesday, coach Bronco Mendenhall outlined BYU’s multidimensional football success in his eight seasons.
His signing-day news conference became an impassioned defense.
Of course, BYU’s pressing issue is the offense. Robert Anae, the newly rehired offensive coordinator, said exactly what the rest of us were saying throughout the 2012 season: The Cougars need an offense that meets the standards of Mendenhall’s defense.
The story of how and why Anae left after the 2010 season, his sixth year under Mendenhall, remains a curious tale. Yet where Anae and the BYU offense go from here actually becomes the more interesting part now, revolving around his declaration that he’s back in town with “the intent to prove something.”
As weird as all of this is, it just might work.
Anae believes he’s a better coach after spending two years working with the offensive line at Arizona, including a season with coach Rich Rodriguez’s dynamic offense. And with an entirely new offensive staff, Anae will have four assistants whom he was involved in hiring.
Anae will help Garrett Tujague coach the offensive line, while Mark Atuaia handles the running backs. That leaves openings for quarterback and receiver coaches, amid questions about the staff’s lack of experience at this level of college football. Then again, Mendenhall’s defense has thrived with young coaches Kelly Poppinga and Nick Howell, so Anae may be able to succeed with an eager, motivated group as well.
The parallel between BYU and Utah is striking. Mendenhall and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham keep searching for offensive solutions, with Whittingham having conducted multiple interviews in the last month in yet another effort to rework his staff’s composition. In BYU’s case, Mendenhall is hoping the answer was there two years ago, after all.
In recruiting, Mendenhall fielded lots of questions about the staff changes. “I went into each home and explained what I thought was the motive … to improve the program,” he said.
Addressing his departure, Anae said, “I resigned, and Bronco asked me not to. And I said, ‘No, I need to, to give you an opportunity to readjust, reassess.’ ”
My interpretation is that Mendenhall wanted to reconfigure the offensive staff, making Anae the line coach and moving Mark Weber to another position, while promoting Brandon Doman as the coordinator. Weber wanted to stay in place. Anae chose to resign, later landing at Arizona.
Mendenhall’s subsequent explanation that the offense had “plateaued with the existing leadership” and he wanted consistent production “not every other year or every third year” hardly suggests he hoped Anae would remain the coordinator.
In any case, after three straight seasons of inadequate offense, Anae is back and the meeting room will look completely different than last year. Lance Reynolds retired, Weber moved to Utah State and Ben Cahoon, Joe Dupaix and Doman are gone — with Doman’s departure confirmed only Wednesday, about 10 days after their mutual agreement, according to Mendenhall.
Anae was surprised about being asked to return to his old school, but never hesitated to fulfill Mendenhall’s request to “help transform the overall culture of the team,” he said. “Man, I love that kind of stuff.”
So here we are, two years after Anae’s exit followed BYU’s 52-point, 514-yard showing against Texas-El Paso in the New Mexico Bowl — where he helped Arizona rally to beat Nevada in December. He’ll bring elements of Rodriguez’s offense, including a quarterback run game he describes as “fascinating.”
That’s a good word for his return to BYU, with everyone monitoring whether he succeeds or fails the second time around.