This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It wasn't that long ago that Bronco Mendenhall was talking about winning national championships at BYU. He said it multiple times over multiple years, as though it were some kind of manifest destiny. Now, he can't win a game.
After his team's fourth straight loss, that lopsided defeat at Boise State on Friday night, Mendenhall had never before looked so … defeated. His dauber was down, his countenance befuddled. He seemed as low as he'd ever been. That's what losing to Utah State, Central Florida, Nevada and Boise will do to a head coach. It'll turn Middle Tennessee State into the biggest prize of his life.
Bronco, in that postgame moment, no longer sounded like an ecclesiastical leader, talking in his signature biblical/modern managerial tones. He sounded like a man who had no answers.
Gone was the voice of seasons past, the voice of confidence edging toward hubris, the voice of a week earlier, when he talked about great coaching schemes needing better execution on the part of the players. Suddenly, it was clear to him the head coach also needed to execute better. I'll never forget a few years back, Mendenhall speaking so assuredly after the Cougars had been crushed by an opponent with vastly superior athletes.
Mendenhall acknowledged that day BYU couldn't match the speed of the victors and that it might never get that kind of speed, at least not in the same numbers. But, he said, the program could make up for its lack of athleticism by way of a higher level of execution, through pluck and guts, determination and diligence, preparation and conscientiousness. He said he needed to step up his coaching, and he gave not one inch of ground on BYU's stated goal of winning a national title.
Now, this season, the Cougars are oh-fer against the Mountain West.
Here's the thing: BYU football will not win a national championship for the next 50 years, maybe the next 100.
The program cannot draw the kind of talent necessary to do so. It might get a great athlete here and there. It might get a bunch of great athletes. But it will not get enough of them to climb to the top of college football. Its only shot would be to have a great head coach with a great football mind who recruited over a period of three or four years an extraordinarily gifted crop of all the top LDS athletes, top LDS athletes who wanted to play at BYU.
Good luck with that.
There aren't as many athletes, Mormon and non-Mormon, eager to come to Provo, to a school that requires students to adhere to an honor code that essentially is an LDS Church standard on steroids, as there are athletes who would just as soon pass.
Mendenhall's sentiment that BYU doesn't recruit athletes, athletes recruit BYU falls well short of what's real.
A small troop of hard-working Boy Scouts can only take a program so far.
Too many other terrific options exist at football schools around the country, schools that play in top-level leagues with top-level competition with top-level coaching with top-level opportunities. Even athletes who seek a positive, thorough Mormon experience can find it elsewhere, compliments of the LDS Church's institute program. Ask Jabari Parker about that. Roger Reid's proclamation 18 years ago about an LDS athlete disappointing millions of Mormons by choosing a school other than BYU is more ridiculously comical now than it ever was.
The presumption on Mendenhall's part that the Cougars could consistently compete with and beat more athletic teams via effort and diligence and coaching is indeed presumptuous and arrogant. Those more athletic teams are well-coached and diligent, too.
Maybe that's what Mendenhall was realizing after the game on Friday night. If it wasn't, it should have been.
BYU is an exceptional school with a lot of accomplished faculty and bright students. It has a unique mission to enhance spirituality alongside education. There's a lot of good that gets done down there. But the football program is sagging far below its competitive goals. The recruiting restraints are severe. The recruiting pool is small. The coaching is hit and miss. The program's independent status is detrimental.
Cougar fans are at a crossroads. Some of them are happy to simply cheer for a team that wins more than it loses, a team that won't embarrass them with bad behavior off the field. A larger number of them want a whole lot more than just that. They want a team that is relevant on a national scale, a team that, as Mendenhall said, had designs on sitting atop college football, a team that would give the school's church widespread exposure through its excellence.
Or, at a minimum, a team that could beat the Utes and Aggies.
Expectations need to come down a few notches for that second group.
Andy Reid's not coming through that door. Neither is LaVell Edwards or Norm Chow or Doug Scovil or Ty Detmer or Steve Young or Rob Morris.
With watered-down schedules, the Cougars will go on accumulating winning seasons. But Mendenhall won't be winning a national title, or come even within shouting distance of it, without the needed athletes. He's not a good enough head coach to pull that off. There is no manifest destiny.
Bottom line, then, is this: Enjoy BYU football for what it is a nice little outfit that occasionally spikes and don't expect it to be what it isn't an authentic top national program.
And one other thing: forget 1984. That will not happen again, not under today's conditions, not until all the best Mormon athletes in the land, as well as some freshly scrubbed non-Mormons, decide along with the best Mormon football coaches that Provo is the place for them.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.