A lot of coaches have forgotten more about football than a lot of fans have ever known. Let's get that concession out of the way right up top.
Bronco Mendenhall might be one of them.
But the BYU coach, who is indeed a smart man, made a mistake and a miscalculation, born, at least in part, of arrogance, on Monday. At his weekly press conference, he connected the dots between the criticism from fans that comes his way and the way of quarterback Max Hall, who leads the nation in interceptions this season, and the level of fans' education.
When asked about his reaction to that criticism, Mendenhall said the following:
"For the people in the most visible positions -- head coach, quarterback, corner, offensive tackle, the positions that seem to give up or could be criticized easily by a normal person, just by visibility, not necessarily a great fan, in terms of education in understanding the broader scheme of things, but if you're just to look out and say, where are the mistakes, the level of criticism usually matches the level of education and the fans, the people it comes from. So, I've learned not to take it personal, and I've tried to help Max do the same."
Bronco is usually honest, though in a decidedly crafted manner, when he answers questions by putting together blocks of word usages and run-on sentences that sometimes bury or dodge the real issue. When he is plainly open and truthful, his candor is typically refreshing and commendable. At times, he seems to relish the tough questions.
But his answer this time was more off base than most of the criticisms from the "normal" fans, the ones he accused of being ignorant about BYU football. He said what he really thought, dismissing those who criticize him and his quarterback as not knowing what they're talking about.
What he said cannot reasonably be interpreted any other way, unless he was meaning the opposite -- that those who criticize are, in fact, very educated about the game.
Mendenhall was giving everyone a glimpse of the way he views fans, the uneducated hordes who dare to criticize him and Max and Robert Anae and Jaime Hill and others, declaring those critics unenlightened and untaught. Although, BYU is happy to take the uneducated money those fans spend on tickets and the uneducated funds those fans donate.
It's easy to identify certain cases where passionate fans go off and blast a coach, a player, one of their own, when they are disappointed by a bad play or bad decision made by that coach or player.
Sometimes they are uninformed regarding all the circumstances that went into a particular breakdown in execution. And some fans are, from time to time, utter idiots, blinded by their emotion, by their subjectivity. But many BYU fans have been around a long, long time. They've been watching good offensive football, good coaching, good quarterbacking off and on for some 40 years. They know a foolish pass when they see it. They know a bad read when they see it. They know a lousy coaching decision when they see it.
They may not know all the intentions and technicalities involved, but they recognize, for instance, that Hall's second pick on Friday night against Utah State was a boneheaded play, right from its inception. They could see the coverage before the ball was thrown and they saw the result, a pass that the defender could -- and did -- catch and that the intended receiver couldn't.
There is nothing uneducated about that. There is nothing uneducated about expecting more than that out of a senior quarterback, a terrific talent, who already has more than two starting seasons of experience from which to draw.
The problem with some coaches, good and bad, is they periodically become paranoid. The world is out to get them. They either become so sensitive and insecure about any kind of criticism or they insulate themselves from all its forms, even when hearing it would do them good.
Fans, even passionate ones, are not always wrong.
Coaches and players, despite their vast expertise or experience, are not always right. Mendenhall's simplification that critics are uneducated is not only condescending, it's demeaning.
He'll take those fans' love of the Cougars, their support of the program, their compliments, their cake and their cash, but not their negative analysis, not their commentary, not their crap.
The coach, educated as he may be, owes his school's football fans an apology.
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