PROVO — While there aren't any hires, the style and tone is already set for future members of Bronco Mendenhall's football staff at BYU.
Checking with interviewees for openings at quarterback and receiver coach, they all say the same thing: Mendenhall is intense, direct, wants accountability and attitude, and demands hard work. He's also got a great poker face — nobody can read in what direction his hires will go.
On Wednesday potential receiver coaches Ben Cahoon, Eric Drage and Kelly Smith interviewed with Mendenhall and new offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Mendenhall had met with Smith and Cahoon shortly after he was hired, but the new Cougar coach wanted Anae to formally sit down with the candidates before any decisions were made.
Along with this trio, other former Cougar receivers have expressed interest in coaching with Mendenhall and Anae. Those include Mark Bellini and Danny Plater, a receiver from the Jim McMahon era who has been helping at Timpview High School in Provo.
In the meantime, San Francisco 49er quarterback Brandon Doman arrived this week for his first postseason homecoming to Utah after being picked back up by the NFL team late in the season. Doman has had a series of interviews in BYU's long hiring process, and insiders say he is further along than any candidate for the job of quarterback coach. Mendenhall and assistant Lance Reynolds flew to San Francisco and interviewed Doman right before New Year's Eve.
"I thought my interview went very well," Drage said. "I don't know what they're thinking, I couldn't tell, but all I wanted was the chance, and I got it. Coaching at BYU would be my dream job, and I told them that. As the school's all-time receiver, I think I have credibility and players will listen to what I have to say."
Cahoon had a similar experience. "They have good poker faces — you don't know what they're thinking about you. But all I wanted was a chance, and I got it. I felt good about how the interview went."
Cahoon, one of the CFL's leading receivers and the single-season record holder for receptions for Montreal, had interviewed with Mendenhall shortly after he was hired but returned this week for a second round with Anae.
Smith, who was a teammate of Anae at BYU, also visited with Mendenhall and then got a second interview with Anae once he finished his work with Texas Tech in its Holiday Bowl victory over No. 4 Cal.
"Some of those questions were tough," Drage said, "You just hope you said the right thing and answered it correctly. There's a temptation to tell them what they want to hear, but you have to say what you believe and what you stand for. That's what I hope I did."
The candidates have been asked to break down game films and evaluate players. They saw both BYU film and some takes from Texas Tech games.
Smith may be the most experienced coach, although Drage and Cahoon have the most recent playing experience and are younger. Drage was head coach of the Wasatch Wildcats, an indoor football team that went 9-3 this past year. He coached at Lehi High School after playing for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL in 1994.
Smith is now a professional coach and draws high praise from his boss, Dixie State College coach Greg Croshaw.
"Kelly would be a perfect guy," Croshaw said. "He does a great job here and has done a great job here for me. All I know is he's talked to them but doesn't want to get too up if he doesn't get a job there. Kids are in high school and wouldn't leave unless it was for his dream job, and that is BYU."
"Smith and Gordon Jolley have been together 18 years and run my offense. Jolley is the offensive coordinator, but Kelly has been in charge of receivers and runners and the passing game for us."
Smith was unavailable Thursday, but Croshaw said Smith told him he did not receive any inclination from Mendenhall or Anae that he would be hired.
Interviewees were asked what they believed was the reason BYU has had three straight losing seasons. Drage said he believes it was lack of accountability by players after poor performances. "Like the UNLV game, where there were seven turnovers. I didn't see players being held accountable for their mistakes, and I think that carried over and should have been corrected. That kind of thing drives me crazy and goes against everything I believe."
Cahoon said he thought BYU receivers had talent but were not polished, and they didn't have a sense of urgency about their work.
"I agree with Eric about accountability. It was a very serious interview," Cahoon said. "I couldn't believe how serious the tone of the interview was.
"Obviously they are trying to find some good assistant coaches, which is great. They asked tough questions that required some insight. Things like: 'How would you instill courage in players?' not just x's and o's.
"I went in there twice. The first one I left not feeling I was prepared. The second one, I felt I was better prepared . . . and did a better job."
Cahoon said his approach was to get back to fundamentals and teach BYU receivers to get open against superior athletes. "I felt I would best be the guy to teach that, in maximizing ability, which is fundamental to BYU athletics."
Smith, Cahoon and Drage all did one thing the same in approaching Mendenhall. They all dogged him for interviews and didn't let up — even when "left in the dark" and when calls were not returned.