Yes, I know this is a controversial question to express among BYU fans, but before throngs of Cougar fans tar and feather me while shrieking out “Blasphemy!” just hear me out for a moment.
I’m not here to troll. My objective is to seek balance, fairness, and equilibrium in BYU football fandom, moderation in all things. I acknowledge it is often difficult to avoid offense in matters of comparing a revered coach to his successor. Most true fans of any team can be zealots at times, particularly in defending the coach that is ranked 6th all time in wins amongst college football coaches since 1869. In fact, when adding religious elements into the mix, to revere Lavell Edwards as the honorary, “tongue in cheek”, unofficial 13th apostle, is somewhat normal in these parts.
I’ve been messing around with two articles since BYU media day and have talked about it regularly on my radio show “Cougar Sports on ESPN 960”. After I saw a statistical comparison between the first ten years of each coaches’ tenure, I thought it was time to focus on some of the other similarities within those first 10 years. I’ll address the similarities in the first article and focus on the differences in the second article.
1. Both Lavell and Bronco served as defensive coordinators before becoming head coaches at BYU.
LaVell: 1968-71 20.11 PPG
Bronco: 2003-04 26.5 PPG
Neither coach achieved greatness with the talent they were working with as a defensive coordinator, but both had their highs and lows. Lavell’s teams gave up six fewer points per game; but the game was also quite different, far less passing then and perhaps a “weaker strength of schedule” according to college football guru Phil Steele at least. Bronco was running a 3-3-5 at BYU, not very smart judging by the PPG. Luckily, both adapted and their proof is in the pudding after 10 years of head coaching.
2. Both took over programs that were struggling to get past .500
3 years prior to LaVell taking over:
Coach: Tommy Hudspeth
Total record 14-18
3 Years prior to Bronco taking over:
Coach: Gary Crowton
Total record 15-19
Most say Tommy still hadn’t completely stabilized the program before LaVell took over. The Cougars had four winning seasons during his eight-year tenure after recording just 12 in their first 39 seasons. Back in 1966, Hudspeth led the Cougars to an 8-2 record, their best mark since 1932. There were ups and downs, but he did coach two more 6-4 teams. After the 1971 season, Hudspeth resigned and recommended assistant coach Edwards to take his place.
“A lot of the success that we had can be attributed to what Tommy did,” Edwards said in a 2012 interview. “He instilled that winning culture that was missing for a long, long time.” Lavell credits Tommy with turning the program around.
I do think we need to remember that LaVell was an integral part of the program for 10 years before taking over as head coach. LaVell knew how things were being run and had his hand in the successes and failures of the program as a defensive coordinator. The same could be said for Bronco w/ Crowton. Had the defenses pulled their weight, could they have saved Crowton’s job? Maybe, but Bronco was given a program that was dealing with the biggest public relations nightmare the school had ever faced. The high profile gang rape case embarrassed the University and to a certain extent, the Church. Both coaches faced very difficult situations and uphill battles.
3. Neither one was BYU’s first round draft pick.
“Many thought Edwards had been hired to run the team until someone more qualified for the job could be hired. The move to promote the Cougars’ defensive coordinator to head coach turned out to be the beginning of one of college football’s most successful coaching tenures.”
“Bronco Mendenhall was not BYU’s first choice to succeed Gary Crowton. Kyle Whittingham was. But even after Whittingham turned down BYU for the Utah job, Mendenhall wasn’t second in line. BYU explored other options. Mendenhall was essentially a last resort. He knew that going in.”
The last resort worked out pretty good for the Cougars both times.
4. Both were some of the youngest head coaches in college football when they started
LaVell 1972 – 42 years old (may have been youngest in D1 football at the time)
Bronco 2005 – 38 years old (second youngest at the time)
5. Practically the same winning percentage through 10 years
LaVell 86-33-1 (72% win)
Bronco 90-39 (70% win)
6. Top 25 finishes in 10 years
LaVell 4 in 10 years for 40%
Bronco 5 in 10 years for 50%
7. Highest ranking at the end of the season
8. Coaching and development of phenomenal quarterbacks
LaVell: Sheide, Nielsen, Wilson, McMahon
Bronco: Beck, Hall, Hill
If you’re going to give credit to a defensive coordinator for development of QB’s in the 70’s and 80’s, go ahead and give it Bronco Mendenhall as well.
9. Churned out All-Americans
Lavell – 10
Jay Miller 73, 74
Wayne Baker 74
Brad Oates 75
Jeff Blanc 75
Orrin Olsen 75
Gifford Nielsen 76
Marc Wilson 79
Clay Brown 80
Nick Eyre 80
Jim McMahon 80, 81
Bronco – 14
Dallas Reynolds 05, 08
Jonny Harline 06
John Beck 06
Jake Kuresa 06
Jan Jorgensen 06
Harvey Unga 07, 08
Dennis Pitta 08
Matt Reynolds 08
Austin Collie 08
Braden Hansen 09
Cody Hoffman 12
Riley Stephenson 12
10. In conference winning percentage
Bronco was in a conference for his first 6 years, so we compare those to LaVell’s first 6.
LaVell 30-11-1 (73% win)
Bronco 39-9 (81% win)
LaVell went 55-14-1 for 79% over 10 yearsand 175-42-2 for 80% over his career.
11. Conference Titles
LaVell 3 in his first 6 years (2 of them ties)
Bronco 2 in his first 6
LaVell and Bronco were young, hungry and doubted by most. Defensive minded coaches that came to BYU and saw that they had to adapt and adjust to survive while at BYU. LaVell deserves credit for revolutionizing the passing game. Bronco deserves similar credit for creating a 3-4 defense that no other college football team can execute. It’s one of the most if not the most complex defensive systems in college football. Both produced eerily similar results in their first 10 years. Bronco should be celebrated and respected for keeping the standard that LaVell set. Even the most pessimistic of fans in 2005 would have begged Tom Holmoe to sign a coach that could provide a very similar product to that which Lavell produced in his first 10 years. I can hear you now though, you want to bring up the differences right? I’ll get to those later this week and we can discuss thoroughly those differences and my rebuttals to each.