BYU football: Future unclear due to coaching staff uncertainty
Provo • Even after his teams posted mediocre records in 1973, 1975, 1993 and 1997, legendary BYU coach LaVell Edwards rarely shuffled his coaching staff, opting for stability and consistency rather than a drastic change or even a quick fix.
Clearly, the past season, as mediocre as any that Edwards endured in a 29-year stint from 1972-2000, has shown that current Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall will take a different path.
Heading into his seventh year, Mendenhall is obviously not happy with BYU's 7-6 season, and changes almost certainly will take place when he returns next week from a family vacation to Mexico. After firing defensive coordinator Jaime Hill on Oct. 2, the coach signaled more of his restlessness last week by telling all five offensive assistants to look for work elsewhere.
What will happen next has already been the subject of much speculation.
Conversations with several of the 15 recruits who have committed to sign with the Cougars in February and have spoken to either Mendenhall or some of the coaches reveal that it is safe to assume that two or three offensive assistants will not be back in 2011.
"It sounds like the changes are going to be pretty significant, but I'm not worried about it," said Alex Kuresa, a quarterback recruit from Mountain Crest High who plans on playing for one season before departing on a church mission. "Coach Mendenhall knows what he's doing."
Kuresa said he has no direct knowledge of what Mendenhall intends to do. He said he spoke with quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman last week after news leaked out that changes were coming and Doman didn't say much about it. But two other recruits who asked for anonymity said they believe that offensive coordinator Robert Anae, and perhaps receivers coach Patrick Higgins, will be released. One of those recruits said a coach told him no coaches have been promised they still have a place on the offensive staff, and that the lack of concrete direction from Mendenhall before he left for the two-week vacation has caused a lot of uneasiness among even those whose jobs appear safe.
"I called [one of the offensive coaches] and he was sort of freaking out," one recruit said.
In other words, all bets are off as far as the offensive coaching staff is concerned as the Cougars look ahead to 2011.
As BYU heads into football independence, the biggest certainty is that its quarterback situation appears solid. Freshman Jake Heaps reiterated after throwing for 264 yards and four touchdowns in the 52-24 win over UTEP that he will not leave on a church mission and will be back along with other talented freshmen such as running back Josh Quezada and receiver Cody Hoffman with hopes for bigger and better things in 2011.
"We have a lot of potential, and it would be a shame not to reach it," Heaps said.
Mendenhall told KSL Radio before BYU's 17-16 loss to Utah that he would reopen the quarterback race this spring, and repeated that to The Tribune a week after the game. However, since then he has said Heaps is the frontrunner. And he acknowledged after the bowl win that he mishandled the situation early in the season.
"I think [Heaps] has a very bright future," he said.
Whoever gets the offensive coordinator position will inherit an offense that scored at least 40 points in four of its last five games and set dozens of bowl records.
Depending on whether offensive tackle Matt Reynolds returns, and that could also be tied into the coaching shakeup because his father, Lance Reynolds, is one of the five in question the Cougars stand to lose only two or three mainstays. Receiver Luke Ashworth and lineman Jason Speredon are seniors.
Defensively, a weakness will become a strength and a strength a weakness.
A thin and inexperienced linebacking corps in 2010 will be bolstered by return missionaries, players with a year's experience under their belts, and a transfer from USC (Uona Kaveinga).
One of BYU's best secondaries the past decade will be weakened considerably with the departures of safety Andrew Rich and cornerbacks Brandon Bradley and Brian Logan.
Next year's starting defensive backfield likely will be composed of corner Corby Eason, free safety Travis Uale and a pair of newcomers or redshirts such as Lee Aguirre, DeQuan Everett, Robbie Buckner, Jray Galea'i and Joe Sampson.
The defensive line will lose Vic So'oto, but gain back players who were lost for the year due to injury, Jordan Richardson and Romney Fuga.
The Cougars recently announced their bowl destinations in 2012 (San Diego) and 2013 (San Francisco) if they are bowl eligible or not taken by the BCS. But a deal for them to play in a 2011 postseason game has yet to be struck. Athletic director Tom Holmoe said negotiations are in progress with "several entities," but declined to offer specifics.
At any rate, the 2011 schedule is similar to 2010's in that it is loaded on the front end BYU opens against Ole Miss, Texas and Utah before softening the latter half of the season with six opponents from the Western Athletic Conference among the final eight games.
"I am excited for our schedule next year, and I am excited for the future mostly because now the younger players on this particular team have seen how difficult it is to win games at the college level," Mendenhall said. "This particular season now does a nice job of setting a baseline for what it is really going to take to even reach the level of success we did this year. â¦ This now just becomes a starting point. And that's I think a positive thing to help our program move forward."
Five questions about BYU
1. What will the offensive coaching staff look like next season?
A • Having told all five of his offensive coaches to look aggressively for employment outside of BYU two days after the offense scored 52 points against UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl, coach Bronco Mendenhall is really the only person who knows the answer. Clearly, he's not happy with the status quo. Brandon Doman and Lance Reynolds seem to be the most likely candidates to be invited back, with Doman perhaps taking over Robert Anae's offensive coordinator position.
2. Has Jake Heaps won the starting quarterback battle?
A • Although Mendenhall said before and after the loss to Utah that the quarterback battle would open again in the spring among Heaps, Riley Nelson, James Lark and Jason Munns, he strongly hinted several times before and after the New Mexico Bowl that Heaps was clearly in the lead. Most likely, Mendenhall is saying those things to keep the backups interested and involved. Based on how well he played the second half of the season and in the bowl game, it will be a stunner if Heaps isn't given the bulk of the reps in spring camp.
3. Will coach Bronco Mendenhall continue to be the defensive coordinator?
A • After firing Jaime Hill and replacing the defensive coordinator with himself on Oct. 2, Mendenhall continually said the switch invigorated both him and the program, and he almost certainly will keep the defensive reins in 2011. Asked before the New Mexico Bowl about who will be the defensive coordinator next year, Mendenhall reiterated that something drastic would have to happen for him to change his mind.
4. Will the 2010 team's strength its offensive line be as strong and dependable next year?
A • A lot depends on whether all-conference offensive tackle Matt Reynolds decides whether to forgo his senior season and turn pro. He said prior to the New Mexico Bowl that he will make that decision in January. His father's job status will almost certainly have an impact on that decision. Senior Jason Speredon graduates and will be missed. Sophomore Braden Hansen, junior Terence Brown and sophomore Braden Brown are expected to return.
5. Which newcomers will make the biggest impact in 2011?
A • Linebacker Uona Kaveinga, a transfer from USC, had to sit out in 2010 but drew rave reviews from coaches and should have an impact next year, along with another USC transfer who will be eligible, DT Hebron Fangupo. Freshman receiver Ross Apo missed most of 2010 with a broken finger and could be a factor in 2011, along with speedster Drew Phillips, who redshirted. Among the players back from church missions, kicker Justin Sorensen and linebacker Mike Alisa will likely see the most playing time.