An Open Letter to Coach Mendenhall: One Former Player’s Opinion

Subject: An Open Letter to Coach Mendenhall: One Former Player’s Opinion
From: Derik Stevenson
Date: 7 Mar 2015

Dear Bronco,

I don’t claim to speak for all former BYU players. But I do know how many of the alumni feel.

The last three weeks have been an embarrassment for the program. Many fans and BYU administrators are beyond upset to the point that it has compelled me to speak up. You don’t have to listen to me or agree with me. But guess what? I’ve earned the right to speak. It’s my damn program too. I’ve bled on that field at LaVell Edwards Stadium. I’ve spent countless hours on the practice fields sweating, puking, training and working my ass off to make this program successful. I gave BYU Football my heart and soul for over four years of my life. I’ve sacrificed many tears and many brain cells for the cause. Our cause. In my own small way, I helped build those beautiful facilities and that nice, spacious head coach’s office that you enjoy in the Student Athletic Building. I am one of the Band of Brothers. My loyalty and commitment as a Cougar is as strong as ever. But I’m pissed. You may not hear me. But I’m going to speak.

First, in what world is it okay to have Nick Howell running the defense at Brigham Young University? With all due respect to Nick Howell, I’m sure he’s a swell guy. I don’t expect every BYU Defensive Coordinator to have played at a high level in the NFL in order to be deemed qualified to lead our warriors into battle. I don’t expect every Defensive Coordinator to have played at BYU, or even in college. Some coaches prove themselves as strategic masterminds and lead programs to stellar seasons having never worn a football helmet. Those coaches are rare, but they do exist (former Cougar Mike Leach for example).

But why, why on this green Earth do we have a man leading our defense who not only never played in the pros, he’s never played a down of college football? Howell wasn’t even a successful football coach at the high school level. Howell’s record at Ben Lomond High was 6-24.

How do you, in good conscience, send him into the home of a 5-star, future NFL linebacker recruit and expect that young man to assign any level of credibility to BYU Football when Nick Howell’s resume and lack of any kind of street-cred screams so loudly, that it becomes easy for that young man to look at other schools? He couldn’t even coach Ben Lomond High School in Ogden to a winning record. How do you expect him to lead these guys at BYU and into the NFL? Don’t you think your players and recruits want to play for a coach that knows what it’s like to be in the trenches? To play against big-time opponents? Don’t you think our players want to be able to admire and revere the man that instructs them in their craft?

Many of us former players don’t really know how to even discuss the elevation of one of your “yes-man minions” to the position of BYU Football Defensive Coordinator. It sounds like a joke. It’s a crying shame. It’s as if you’ve done the opposite of what LaVell used to do. LaVell promoted coaches to coordinator positions only if they were better coaches than him. Like any good CEO he wanted to be surrounded by those people who were smarter than he was. He would hire coaches that could out coach him, and it would raise the team to greatness. Your insecurities pushed LaVell-era greats like Ben Cahoon and Brandon Doman out the door, because you want to promote guys to positions of leadership that failed at coaching high school ball and would never be seen as better than you.

You were recently asked if Coach Howell has been doing a good job calling the defensive plays, and you smugly smirked and replied that the numbers didn’t show it, but he was doing a good job. It’s as if you’re a member of the US Congress, off in your little bubble in Washington DC, that thinks his constituents back in your home district are doing “just swell”. Your arrogance and aloofness have taken you to a new reality. When did we become okay at BYU with losing to Utah every single year? When did we become fine at BYU with losing to the glorified high school that is Utah State? Since when at BYU is it okay to lose three games in a row or two games in a row at LaVell Edwards Stadium? With all due respect sir…where is your head at if all of this in the program right now is all right?

You’ve always said you’re not going to be LaVell Edwards. That’s one thing you have been right about. He used to send a ton of guys to the NFL. You’ve recruited exactly one (yes, one) NFL big-timer. Anyone that came through the program to the NFL in your early years were Crowton recruits, a man that you considered a mentor.

Many of LaVell’s assistant coaches and coordinators went on to do big things in the NFL and at other colleges. None of your coaches (zip, zero, nada) have gone on to do anything of note in college or the pros. The ones you have let go haven’t surfaced at other D-1 programs with the lone exception being Mark Weber at that glorified high school mentioned earlier (USU).

The great culture that is BYU Football has taken some serious blows. The team is currently, officially the third best program in the state. There is no bigger fan and proponent of BYU than I am. But the reality is clear: Brigham Young Football is at a tipping point. Your services have been appreciated. But it’s time for you to go. Anyone that takes the time to truly dig into the stats can see that you’re not going to change. You’re not the coach to lead BYU to the goals that you always state, and that is National Championships and winning state championships.

Here are some facts since this program became primarily your recruits in 2010:

Fact #1: 37-22

Since the beginning of 2010, that is your record. 37 wins and 22 losses, I still struggle to think a BYU team being that mediocre, in one of the most critical times for this program to compete at a national level. BYU, and college football as a whole, has been venturing into a brand new era. As you’ve noted yourself, the “haves” are trying harder than they ever to separate themselves from the “have-nots.” BYU is in a unique circumstance and, as you’ve also noted, is forced to play their way into the “haves” and earn the respect that fans and alumni know they deserve. Well, guess what, Bronco? During these important years of college football you’ve managed to win 62.7% of your football games. That’s a D-. Do you think 62.7% earns the respect you deserve nationally? Well, as the SEC and ACC have already made clear, it doesn’t.

A 37-22 record doesn’t earn any respect from anyone. I will acknowledge that you had a 10-win season in 2011. We won’t talk about how the most impressive wins that season were against a two-win Ole Miss or a three-win Oregon State. We definitely won’t talk about the other eight wins against the likes of Idaho and New Mexico State and we won’t acknowledge that in the final BCS polls your 10 wins weren’t even enough to merit a top-25 ranking. Had it not been for a USC team on probation that season, the program wouldn’t have had a Top 25 finish in the coaches poll.

Fact #2 13-16 and 7-11

From 2010 to 2013, your football teams were 13-16 against teams with winning records at the end of the season and 7-11 against teams that were in a BCS conference at the time you played them. You were only 4-7 against teams in a BCS conference that ended with a winning record at the end of the season during that timeframe. So again, in a time that you are supposed to be earning respect and playing your way into the national spotlight, you’re winning less than half of the games that matter the most.

You beat Oklahoma in 2009 and beat a couple of average Texas teams the last couple of years and you deserve credit for those. But how long are you going to hang your hat on three wins when you’re losing the rest of the games that matter the most? Your 37-22 from 2010 to today is mediocre, but even that record is inflated.

When the time comes to play the best teams from the best conferences, you lose a whole lot more often than you win. You’ve gone on the record several times saying that your goal is a National Championship and you will need to go undefeated in at least one, maybe even two years to make that happen. Bronco, by your own standard, you are failing. So why do you keep leading fans to believe that you’re not?

Fact #3: 3-6

That’s your record against teams from the state of Utah since 2010. All three of those wins came against Utah State. I’m not a math expert but even I can put those numbers together. That means you’re 0-4 against the Utes and 3-2 against the Aggies. I feel like these numbers present three separate sets of things to be ashamed about.

You have not beat your biggest rival since Max Hall played. Max Hall has graduated, had a year in the NFL, went to Canada, came back to serve on your coaching staff, went back to Canada and then ended up coaching football in Arizona since you last beat the University of Utah. Not only have you lost four games in a row, you lost one of those games 54-10, on your home field in the first home game as an independent program. These numbers are embarrassing and disgusting and shouldn’t be acceptable by anyone, especially the head coach of the Cougars.

You’ve lost to the Aggies twice in five years. You lost to the Aggies on your home field. How does that happen? How does a BYU team that claims to deserve respect from the SEC lose to the Aggies from Utah State?

The fact that you have only won a third of the games against in-state teams the last five years makes me sick to my stomach. BYU is the third best team in the state of Utah right now and nobody can make an argument disputing that fact. If you were better than the third best team, you would have beaten the Aggies, even with the injuries. The Utes, who you have called out for being scared, aren’t scared of you. They simply don’t need you. A win against the worst Michigan team in decades does more for the guys on the hill than a win against BYU does. Why? Because you haven’t done anything to show anyone that the Utes are wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong, the firesides are great and all, but the best thing you can do for the Church is win a lot of big time football games and grow the program into a national powerhouse.

I recently saw that one of your players posted a sweet video of the team bus ride home from one of your firesides the night before the game. Many of the players reverently sang “I Need Thee Every Hour” and tweeted what a spiritual experience it was to be a part of the BYU Football team. I loved doing firesides as a BYU Football player. One of the best parts about being a Cougar is being a role model to many about what a fine, upstanding member of the church and team should be. LaVell scheduled many, many firesides for all of the guys. In the off-season. During the season, and especially the night before the game, we always wanted to be focused on kicking someone’s ass, and not discussing the Allegory of the Olive Tree from 2nd Nephi. LaVell always recruited guys that would fight anyone, anywhere, anytime. Just because we went to church, and did our best to live the Honor Code, it didn’t mean we wouldn’t punch you in the mouth if you disrespected our team or school. The Sons of Helaman were followers of Christ, but were violent killers when they had to be.

Coaching BYU Football has got to be one of the hardest, most demanding jobs on the planet. In fact, it probably is the hardest. Some will argue that there is no one ready to take your spot and do a better job balancing all the demands put on BYU’s Head Coach. Those people would be dead wrong. Your replacement was taught initially how to coach by the Great One, LaVell Edwards.

If you go down the bullet points on his resume, he checks all of the BYU boxes:

Active Latter-day Saint
Family Man
Born in Tonga – Polynesian Pipeline
Raised in Provo
BYU Alum
Played Running Back
Successful college coach currently killing it in a Power 5 conference
Great Recruiter
Player’s Coach
Complete Bad Ass
His name is Kalani Sitake and he would reinstitute the “LaVell Way” at BYU where winning once again will be a top priority.

Kids will clamor to come here because of the tradition, winning culture, and a commitment to getting players to the next level, the National Football League.

All the while he will do his best to make sure these young men toe the line, live by the Honor Code, do their best to serve honorable missions. And he may even line up a fireside or two….after the season is over and BYU has laid waste to any fools that dare step onto the field of battle against them.

With all due respect,

Derik Stevenson