Kurt Kraghtorpe: New offense will determine BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall's legacy
As opposed to seeming like old times for BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, Monday's first practice session of spring football drills was a fresh start.
"Oh, it's a brand-new job for me, it really is," Anae said.
He's not the only one. Anae held this position for six years before spending the past two seasons at Arizona, so it's natural to view his rehiring as a retro move. In reality, this complete makeover of the offensive staff is revolutionary at BYU, where change ordinarily occurs at one of two speeds: slowly or glacially.
Bringing back Anae and hiring four other offensive coaches completed an offseason turnover that "I'm not anxious to ever do again," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "My hope is that it works."
Well, it had better work. Entering his ninth season, Mendenhall is about to receive a contract extension, so he's comfortable professionally. Yet his legacy at BYU hinges on how these new coaches perform.
"There's more to do here," Mendenhall said. Anae and his offensive staff members Garett Tujague (line), Mark Atuaia (running backs), Jason Beck (quarterbacks) and Guy Holliday (receivers) are the ones who have to do it. Nobody's worried about BYU's defense, but the offense needs work after an unsatisfactory performance in Anae's absence.
Of course, that also was Mendenhall's evaluation after the 2010 season, when he said the offense "had plateaued with the existing leadership." The two vacancies, including Anae's, that Mendenhall created and filled seemed to stem from doing what a management book told him to do change for the sake of change, with the promotion of Brandon Doman to offensive coordinator.
In contrast, what followed the 2012 season was a complete, bold housecleaning. Mendenhall obviously recognized that BYU's independent schedule is getting significantly tougher. With his staff changes, he also sent a message that the 18-8 record of the past two seasons is not good enough. Remember that, when he's judged by the results of the next two years even with a greater degree of difficulty, thanks to the schedule. He's the one who's asking for more from this program.
BYU's offense may or may not be better, but it sure will look different. That became obvious Monday, when the offensive players raced onto the field and ran plays rapidly, using Oregon-style cards held by the other quarterbacks for instant messaging.
The new coaches brought "a lot of energy, a lot of intensity, a lot of demand, a really high work ethic for the players," Mendenhall said.
This scheme might look more like Arizona's dynamic approach than the BYU of old. Anae is back in his former job, but "I'm looking forward to a fresh take on it," he said.
In a sense, this is the start of Anae's audition to become Mendenhall's successor someday. That won't happen immediately. Having already held the job longer than he once expected, Mendenhall describes himself as rejuvenated.
But he won't coach forever, and this staff overhaul signals one last push for him. The evaluation of his defensive expertise is locked in as favorable. As for his head coaching ability, more evidence is necessary even after eight years on the job, with a 74-29 record.
The answers will present themselves soon enough, via an offense that's clearly in a hurry.