Notes and quotes from Poinsettia Bowl news conference
Before this morning's Poinsettia Bowl news conference featuring BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and SDSU coach Rocky Long, Mendenhall joked with a couple beat writers about a cell phone commercial that shows how data, etc., can be transferred from one phone to another by simply pressing the phones together. He suggested that we should do that, and do away with news conferences. If nothing else, the exchange showed us that Mendenhall doesn't really live in a cave, as some have suspected. Heck, the coach basically admitted he watches commercials. But just when it seemed like Mendenhall was with it, he revealed from the podium when asked about USU coach Gary Andersen taking the Wisconsin job that the headline-grabber was news to him. "I didn't know until you just told me right now. When did it happen?," Mendenhall said. "He is deserving. He is a really good coach. I am sad for the folks at Utah State. I think that is one the unique things about college football, and if we aren't careful, it will become more NFL-like. I am happy for Gary as a friend and as a colleague. But as I look at the conferences realigning, of teams racing here or there, it seems like it is moving more away from the true amateur sport that college football once was, with true rivalries and traditions, and I think that has a lot to do with it. Having said all that, he is an excellent coach, and very deserving." I asked Mendenhall if there's any worry that he could lose a valued assistant coach at this time of year. "I wouldn't say worry. But opportunities are created when there is change," he said. "And for instate coaches and instate programs, I have some good coaches on my staff, and they might be sought after, and if that is what they wanted to do, and they came to me, that would be great." Andersen leaves behind one of the best players in college football this year, quarterback Chuckie Keeton. "What happens most of the time is the players in those programs, and I don't think you can blame them, is if they are really loyal to that coach, and that is the reason they went, if that coach is gone, and you would like to say they went to the school for the school, but sometimes if the coach is gone, a lot of the players will start contacting other programs. Which then, as soon as they contact us, we've got to tell compliance. But that's the way it works most of the times, is the kids in the programs start shopping themselves rather than outside coaches start going in." Here are more of Mendenhall's comments today from the news conference, both the podium session and with individual reporters: On the benefits and drawbacks of independence:"I really enjoy playing in different facilities, and in different states and seeing how excited BYU supporters are in that area, and have BYU come. That's been really interesting to see how passionate they've been, to come to the firesides, to come to the games, and to support the team. It has been really refreshing. I have really enjoyed the exposure. A year ago I don't know what the numbers are yet this year there were only five teams that were seen more by national audiences than us. So that's a fantastic thing for our program and for the message our institution has, and for BYU football. So I have really enjoyed that. So those things are fantastic. The harder things have been to get the schedule exactly right. The amount of time we've had to spend on that, and they [opponents] are getting increasingly difficult, which was by design. I think that is good for the program, with the direction we would like to head. The most difficult part is the very end-of-the-season segments, and having a balance there, and intriguing matchups, etc. So the next step within independence is to have an intriguing schedule, from beginning to end. Previous years, the first two years, it has been kind of front-loaded. Luckily, this year San Jose State had a very good team, so that helped with the season. And we continue to play in bowl games. And after next year, those contracts will come up again, and there are many [bowls] that would like to include us in possibly the options that they have. So that will be the next piece as to which games we contract with, etc. And that will be after we play in San Francisco next year." On losing the rivalry with Utah [in 2014 and 2015] and how frustrating that has been: "I think that in the race for resources and funds and exposure, traditional games and traditional conferences, and traditional rivalries and regional matchups could be lost. That's what is happening, and that's what happened in ours." On whether there is a peace of mind that comes with knowing as a head coach you are not going anywhere: "I think there is. Because it is very distracting to your team, and families. But it is also, personally, it is unsettling. You work so hard to get a certain place how you would like it, and to think you are immune to somebody approaching you, and to say, 'no, I am happy here, thank you.' And then they start throwing you money, yeah, it is a life-changer, and so I don't fault any of my colleagues for doing that, but it is distracting and not just for head coaches and their families, but for players." On his confidence level in James Lark now compared to pre-NM State: "One game doesn't necessarily change my opinion much. And the quality of opponent in that game, while New Mexico State wasn't a strong football team, his performance was very good, and he's the healthier of the two quarterbacks right now, and has taken more reps than Riley has. That doesn't mean that both won't play. But it is about what it was before. I have always thought that James was capable, and am hopeful that he will be able to demonstrate that tomorrow." On Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman possibly leaving and how much he gets involved in the decision-making process: "I really get involved as they would like me to be. And what I have learned in coaching is that there are teachable moments and most of those are initiated by the players. Very few are initiated by the coach. And so when they come to me interested as to what they might do, then I have a great chance to talk to them. And in Kyle's case, we had a lot of discussions about it. Cody I don't think is considering it nearly as strongly as Kyle is or was. So I play a supplemental role to the point of getting them as much information as they would like. So besides my opinion, what I have done is gathered all the resources and opinions of others that are maybe more knowledgeable, or have more to say, regarding the NFL, general managers, etc."On how challenging the QB situation has been all year:"First of all, it has been really surprising, as Riley [Nelson] has been such a phenomenal leader for our program. He was voted as captain and competes so fiercely. Really, the major lesson for this particular year has just simply been validated by our statistics on the turnover margin. When we are even or plus-one in turnovers, in [my] eight years, we are 56-6. So if we don't turn it over, and are at least even with our opponent, we have a great chance to win. This year we have turned it over more than what we have usually done, and still have had a great chance to win. So one less turnover here or there, is really the difference in the season. None of those were based on I think haphazard plays. Most of them were effort plays, if anything trying a little too hard. And so that's what I have really tried to help our team understand they just have to play within their job description. That would be quarterback and any other spot. That really gives us our best shot to win."On whether offensive continuity is hurt with the QB shuffle:"Yeah, it always hurts having a different player come in, especially at that position. I think from the offensive staff, it makes them work harder as well. So luckily we had Jamaal step up when Mike Alisa went down, and do a nice job in the running game. And luckily Cody stayed healthy at receiver the majority of the year. So there have been some stable things as well, and that has gotten us to where I think we can compete and play hard against anyone. But it has also kinda prevented us from having mabye the marquee season I think we were hoping for, if you gauge it by wins and losses." On difficulty of choosing between Riley Nelson and James Lark because both are seniors:"It is not so much that they are seniors, but in this particular case that it has kind of been opposite. We have been holding the game plan for Riley, in most every case, and giving him every rep possible. In this one, with him being more hurt, and just slower to recover, it has actually gone the other way, where James has gotten more of the work, and Riley is sort of the on-call player, so to speak, by practice. So that's been a little bit different."On the two-quarterback system not working out before:"I am not a big fan of it, but based on how Rocky's defense is playing, and which [one] might be more helpful, if there is an advantage, or if there are scramble lanes and he can get out and run it a little bit, that's obviously more suited to one quarterback. If the coverage is struggling, it might be more suited to the other, based on how the game is going. And I kind of reserve the right to do that."On whether Justin Sorensen has improved with the time off or if kicking game is still shaky: "I think it looks about the same. It is hard to tell in practice. We have practiced about the same amount, once our emphasis changed at the beginning of the year, to give him enough volume. I can't say that I have seen a huge performance change." On why he doesn't use all his pre-bowl practices:"We practiced basically like a bye week how we would, and then a basic game week. More than that, especially at the end of a season, without a healthy team, and with finals coming up, all those things played a role. So the health of your team. We actually had our first week of practice during finals, which was not ideal. So the health of your team, finals week, and then when your game is, and the sustainability of how you can keep their attention, so that's how we did it."On not getting the chance to develop younger players: "You have to balance that against recruiting, and having your coaches on the road. You have kind of a skeleton crew. We have played 12 or 13 weeks, so they have been developed enough. And we have plenty of time in the spring." On one key matchup that stands out above all others in the SDSU matchup: "I would just kind of summarize it as our ability to tackle their running back [Muema]. He's very, very good, and the number of tackles I have seen missed on him, etc., and if that part can be contained, relatively, then the point production goes way down. If we are not able to get him on the ground consistently, then they will control the momentum of the game." On what being in Poinsettia Bowl means to him:"To me, it is coming full circle. I sat in the stands as a little kid watching my brother play in the first Holiday Bowl, the first two, as they played Navy and Indiana. I think now that I am standing on the sidelines as the coach of the team my brother played for, in the same city in the same setting, it is kind of neat to reflect on what has happened in my life and how I reached that point. Really, I care a lot about representing the institution well and have our team play well, with the long tradition that it has had, and regardless of what the outside world has in terms of expectations, I don't think those measure up to what I have for our program. I would just like our team to be a good partner and play hard in the game."On the importance of winning to program's momentum:"It is important to me, it is important to our team, mainly for maintaining that positive experience into the offseason and add a nice finishing touch. It is really the last thing you remember."