BYU, Utah: Is mediocre good enough?

The BYU Cougars lose to Utah and Boise State, and Cougar fans are calling for Bronco Mendenhall’s head. Utah loses 37-7 to Arizona State and Ute fans are outraged at two blowouts in a row against ASU.

What are the expectations for the Intermountain area’s biggest programs?

Bronco Mendenhall spoke of playing for national titles when the Cougars went independent. Problem is, when you say it, people expect it.

It’s one thing to do it in the 1980s when the Cougars were playing in a weak conference. Now as an independent they’re playing Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Utah, Boise State and Oregon State.

Meanwhile, Utah was reminded once again that going undefeated in the Pac-12 isn’t a highly realistic objective for anyone not named Oregon or USC.

Doe this mean Utah and BYU should fire their coaches if they don’t succeed this year? BYU stands a decent chance of ending up 6-6 or 7-5, which will make the Cougars bowl eligible. Is that enough?

For 2-2 Utah to reach bowl eligibility will take some major doing. Looking at the Utes’ schedule, they’ll have to play extremely well in some games to finish .500 this year. They could end up 5-7 or 6-6.

Is that OK? What are the expectations? Are Utah and BYU big enough programs to fire coaches who don’t win championships? Or does bowl eligibility decide?

At least at this point, I figure that as long as they’re attending bowls and improving against their schedules, the programs are OK. If they slip into non-bowl land and just exist as mid- to low-level teams, it’s time to reassess.

The key is whether the programs are moving forward.

Are national titles realistic goals? Probably not, with the schedules both teams have. Utah and BYU could make a huge ruckus, back in the days when their conference schedules were relatively easy. Now it’s maybe a longer shot than ever. BYU can beat a Notre Dame, Boise State, Utah, Oregon State or Georgia Tech, but probably not all in the same year. Utah can beat teams in the Pac-12 South, but not all of them in the same season – if the last two years are any indication.

So let’s take a poll to see what the expectations actually are for Utah and BYU:

[poll id=”99″][poll id=”100″][poll id=”101″][poll id=”102″]



  1. Duckhunter

    The problem here is lumping them together in the poll questions. The expectations should not be the same for both. Frankly whittingham should be given more leeway as far as results are concerned because he has far less to work with against a more consistently tough schedule. If he averages 7 wins per year he probably ought to be in the utah hall of fame. No coach at that university has ever done that over any length of time. I’ll be shocked if he does.

    • J

      “…because he has far less to work with”. I don’t think Whittingham has far less to work with. About the same. Also, now that I think of it, I don’t think necessarily that Utah’s schedule with be ‘consistently tougher’. Not if BYU schedules well (ND, GT, UT, BS, OS, Texas, etc etc.).

    • CoUteFan

      Couple of things. First, Ike Armstrong was a Utah coach for 25 years and had a record of 141-55-14. Urban Meyer only had 2 years but was 24-2 during that time. Utah has had coaches win a high percentage of games in their history. Second, Whit has averaged 9 wins a year in his first seven season and will almost certainly end his career averaging over 8 wins a year. Your facts are off a bit but the points in your post are pretty realistic.

  2. CougFaninTX

    We know what we’re getting with Bronco. He’s a great defensive coach and wil keep the program in-line with the churches guidelines. The biggest mistake I’ve seen him make as a coach was going for 2 against BSU. However, with his strengths and weaknesses, he needs an offensive coordinator who is top notch. Quite frankly, Doman seems to be struggling. He has two of the best WRs, who are seldom used.

    As for Utah, Coach Whit’s biggest shortcoming seems to be the QB pipeline. He recruits plenty of QBs, but then moves them to other positions. Three deep at QB should be the expectation. I honestly wonder if Hansen will stay at Utah now that he’s figured out he won’t be in the QB rotation.

    • ken nunley

      “with far less to work with” has been good enough in three years running, and 8 of 11 overall. So, given the fact Whitt keeps beating the cougs, with far less to work with, it should be bronco who comes under the most scrutiny in this scenario.

  3. Kirk Davis


    As a former player the BYU issue goes beyond football. Part of the problem is the arrogance of Bronco Mendenhall and it comes from his mentor and author of “Running into the Wind” Paul Gustavson. Bronco has followed this man’s middle level organizational strategy mantra, In the process he has offended alumni and former players. Bronco was unable to be recruited by BYU at the time he played at Snow . He isn’t a true Cougar. He states, their core values are Honor, Tradition , Spirit, but yet in pre game meeting when he is asked questions about the direction of the team he offends alumni and donors by stating this is they way the program is going, so too bad. They together have turned BYU into a missionary team rather than a football team. In the late 80’s we had tougher schedules then the current squad. Remember we played Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Colorado, TCU, Miami, Penn State, Miss State, Norte Dame, Oklahoma, Kansas State, UCLA, when they were all in their prime. The only difference is we WON and they have yet to win a big game when it counts for something. There’s a time when a Million dollar coach needs to stop talking and start winning. Now is that time. Paul and Bronco in their book state how they returned the program to glory. What they forget was the glory and honor and tradition never left . It has always been there, it has just has been tarnished the last few years by botched recruiting, Murphy, Manti Teo, Heaps, and they lack of good coaching from Hill, Doman, Anae and line coach, and then Bronco’s decision last week. Kyle Whittingham’s a winner, and his program will come around because he is a true coach no issues with Utah.

    • John

      Great thoughts. Totally agree. I am a big Ute fan, butduring the Lavell era I had great respect for BYU football. I hated losing to BYU (and most games in that era were indeed losses for the U), but I had to hand it to Lavell and the program he built. In contrast, Bronco has taken that legacy and squandered it. One of his fundamental problems is that he misguidedly sees himself first as some sort of ecclesiastical leader and second and a coach. If he wants to preach, he should quit and go serve a mission. I am frankly surprised that someone higher up has not reigned him in on this. It used to be about football, and if someone took pleasure in some sort of perceived spiritual value to the church, great, but the team was a football team. Now, they are some sort of spiritual conduits for the masses. It is not working (either on or off the field). Bronco needs to be reminded that he is a coach, not a general authority. This LDS church member does not appreciate his confusion on this issue. It makes his team and, to some extent, his church look silly.

    • ken nunley

      Your comments are spot on, Kirk. unlike most byu fans, Kirk has the sense, and the courage, to “call a spade a spade” and see what those not so closely tied to the program has been able to see all along.

      The only way to fix a problem, is to first admit there is one. As Kirk states, “bronco’s arrogance” will not allow for this so things go on as normal with mendenhall believing he is the solution, not the problem.

  4. Dave

    My biggest problem with the coaching at BYU is that I don’t believe they are helping the players and the team as a whole reach their potential. BYU football has always been about achieving more than they should have been able to given their circumstances. I don’t feel like this has been the case over the past year or two. Whether it be personnel, play-calling, scheme…I don’t know, but with the players available, BYU’s offense should theoretically be much much better than they have shown. The Boise State game confirmed that major changes are necessary to maximize potential.

  5. BYUfaninWashSt

    Duckhunter is right that you cannot lump BYU and Utah together. No coaching credit should be given for half of BYU’s schedule (Weber St, Hawaii, Idaho, San Jose St, New Mexico St, Wash St). Any fan could replace the coaches, review film and send the team out on the field against these teams and expect wins 98% of the time. BYU coaches should be graded against top 25 competition (Notre Dame, Boise St) or even sub top 25, but at least a litle more difficult (Utah, Utah St, Oregon St, Georgia Tech). If they lose 50% or more of these games, a few years in a row, they should be fired. It has been more than a few years for Bronco, and will be two years in a row for Doman! Most fans are not a clueless as the questions imply. Ask better questions.

  6. J. Lingo

    BYU Offense, you ugly. Doman, take 5 cow QB, turn into 2 cow QB, then chase to Kansas. Take 2 cow QB, turn into 0 cow QB, then abandon. Bronco, tak 0 cow Offensive Coordinator and FIRE. Please.

    Signed, J. Lingo

  7. John

    I had the same thought re the poll: you can’t lump them together! I was going to vote but found that I couldn’t because of the way the programs are lumped together. That is not an accurate reflection of the programs’ directions or goals.

  8. Chodilicus

    They cannot be lumped together. Utah is just having a down couple of years and they have never really scheduled well before so the competition level is a change. But, even as a BYU fan, I have more confidence in KWhitt to get the best out of his players. Utah is simply not that good this year. But they still beat BYU when they clearly were not as good because they are more disciplined and don’t make the costly mistakes.

    The reason that Bronco must go is because he does not get anywhere near the best out of his players. He clearly chooses favorites, like Riley over Heaps, that has nothing to do with on-field performances. He does the same in recruiting and has an open disdain for confident and highly recruited players. But then on the field, his team is unprepared and undisciplined in almost all of the games when the teams are even comparable in talent level. He gets out coached on a weekly basis. He loses almost every big game because of internal mistakes.

    BYU fans do not expect National Titles. But, we expect to be doing what Boise State is doing. They don’t have a national title but they play like the Lavell BYU teams. The coaching is innovative. The players are assignment sound and disciplined. BYU right now has better talent than ever but just doesn’t look prepared. It really does all come down to coaching. Bronco has had his chance but it is now time to move on.

    If the Utes are stupid enough to think that 7-5 routinely in the Pac-12 is not good enough and fire Whitt, I would be thrilled if BYU got him like they should have the first time. No matter what Ute fans say, it is easier to recruit to BYU with the tradition and national brand. I believe that Kyle could win a National Title at BYU.

  9. Baxter

    I would have gone for two as well. It’s a gut instinct call. Let Bronco coach!

    He is there to win.

    We have competitive football here in Utah. Let’s keep it rolling. We have great coaches and players that need to be supported.

    Everyone needs to look in the mirror with their expectations. Go win the big sale or break some other record in your company and then pop off.

  10. Johnny Triumph

    BYU has only a few things to figure out and then they’ll be fine, but if the offense (biggest hole) isn’t figured out soon then things will get rough for Mendenhall. BYU needs to stay relevant to its ESPN audience, not just to its fanbase.

    Utah has a much tougher hill to climb, the PAC12 South is only improving.

    I hope both coaches can figure things out and that they’re given some time to do so. Mendenhall might be in a tougher spot as BYU needs to stay very relevant all the time, they can’t afford a year or two down and expect to be able to either negotiate new TV contracts or negotiate to join a major conference. Time is not on the Cougars’ side!

    As for BYU, the offense is horrible. Mendenhall made the right choice last year by choosing the obvious team leader over Heaps but now Nelson’s lack of QB ability is really hurting BYU. Nelson needs to remain supportive of a change, but who to change to? Put Hill in and risk another Heaps? Maybe Lark deserves a shot at the rest of the season. If Doman can figure out the O like Mendenhall has figured out the D then BYU has a great shot to close out the season strongly and get the team amped up for next season!

  11. Jeff Murdock

    I just wanted to comment that many BYU fans still love Bronco as a coach and have more realistic expectations for the team. I for one, love Bronco as a coach and think he is running a great program that will eventually produce a national contender. Just look at his defense. He will eventually get the offense going or find a coordinator who can. And the book is not written yet on Doman. I don’t like loses, but try to keep it in perspective. Go Cougs.

  12. BYUfaninWashSt

    Hey Brad Rock … Rather hilarious that you pulled your “unplugged” article as quickly as you did. Guess you have to defend the coaches or you won’t have a relationship with them very long, for sure. I can understand that. However, also don’t think you should put out false “edgy” articles and surveys if you can’t stand by them. Many fans will give you more thoughtful and honest feedback than your own article, that resonates the truth. However, most of it won’t be rah rah or in line with what the “powers that be” would demand of you. Hate to say it my friend but you are neither “out front” or unplugged. You did unplug your own article. Smart move. ha ha ha

  13. OggieBoogie

    What a load of bunk.

    Intermountain West’s biggest programs??? By what measurement (i.e., since it is certainly not performance)? Neither of these teams is even the best in the state this year, and by an ever increasing wide margin as U State continues to dominate while the Y and the U continue to suck wind. Indeed, I think Boise State, U State, ASU, Nevada, University of Arizona, and Air Force would all beg to differ with which program is and is not the “biggest in the intermountain west.” After all, any one of those teams just mentioned would likely wipe the floor with this year’s Utes and Cougars.

    I also think it HIGHLY ignorant to assume that either team will go even 6-6 this year. Where do you expect 4 more wins for the Y to come from? Notre Dame? U State? Oregon? GA Tech? Hawaii? I can grant maybe Hawaii if the Y offense decides to show up, but not at all likely in any of the other matchups. Indeed, the Y will be lucky to walk away this season 5-7, 6-6 at the very best.

    Meanwhile the U has the remainder of the PAC to deal with. After the performance at ASU this weekend, they will be lucky for a single win in conference play.

    I fully expect LOSING seasons from both the Y and the U this year and no bowl game.

  14. Kirk Davis

    Baxter: Some, myself included have set records and have being leaders in our field of Professional work. I have coached state championship teams, outside of Utah. If 8 years is not enough time to get the job done it’s time to move on. Would you keep and employee that does average work for 8 yr and your paying 1 million dollars to? I understand the difficulties of coaching have been a coach. I see this from both perspective but, when I as a coach would no longer recommend BYU football to prospective recruit having been a former player, I would recommend a change in the staff.

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