PROVO — Bronco Mendenhall keeps it simple. He believes he's got the right philosophy and players who will buy into his version of the Cougar football program. Now, if BYU football doesn't get back on a winning track, Mendenhall says there is only one person to blame.
Bronco says 2005 is on him. He'll take the blame if BYU doesn't win in 2005.
The Cougars open fall football camp on Tuesday. Newcomers report in the morning and veterans will practice in the afternoon. The Cougars open the season Sept. 3 against Boston College in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Mendenhall has spent the past 220 days selling his vision of how to fix Cougar football and return to winning ways.
During that time, he's run into what he describes as three different groups of people who've heard his message. There are the skeptics, and he doesn't blame them. There are the hopeful, the biggest group in terms of numbers, and then the believers.
"I understand the skeptics and how they can be that way looking at no track record as a head coach, a new offense, a new offensive coordinator. I acknowledge that.
The hopeful? Well, they hope Bronco knows what he's doing, but aren't sure.
The believers? "They buy into what we're doing and are sold that we are on the right track and we'll be successful."
Thing is, Mendenhall explained, "I have the same three kind of groups with our players."
Mendenhall has worked hard to convert his players into the believers. He hopes he's sent the right message and sold the right model of what he believes.
There are two players who are believers. Junior quarterback John Beck and junior linebacker Cameron Jensen. Both were sent to San Diego and the MWC football meetings to discuss the upcoming season with the media.
Why Beck and Jensen? "Because they believe in what we're doing," Mendenhall said.
"Just looking at the team, it is how we've come together as a team," Jensen said. "Most people ask what's Coach Mendenhall done to turn this team around. It started the day he became head coach. I think the most important thing in the off season is the confidence we've built up in working hard and practice the way we should. I just think, looking at us as a team, our focus level is great at this point."
"There's been a change in the continuity as a team. We've had a change in how we work and the way we focus while we're working. In years past, we did work out in the off season and when we did go out and practice on our own we did so, but not with the focus and purpose we now have."
Said Beck, "Coach Mendenhall's attitude has definitely rubbed off on this team, the way he is focused, the attitude he brings personally and how determined he is has shown itself with the entire team. I think we're more focused and determined as we've ever been.
"When he became the head coach, he told us of his vision of where this team could go and where he expected it to be and what we needed to accomplish. I think as a team now, we have that same vision coach Mendenhall has. In the past we had some believers and some non-believers. But right now our whole team believes in that vision and has bought into what Mendenhall is saying."
Defensive lineman Michael Marquardt will transfer to ASU and senior fullback Moa Peaua is headed for Weber State. Mendenhall said "there have been some people leave already and there will likely be more. Of Marquardt's departure, Cameron Jensen said, "he will not be missed, we will be OK and we've got a lot of guys who will step up and fill in."The first is defensive end T.J. Sitake, who made a move in spring drills to replace Marquardt as a starter at DE. "He really came from no where and showed what he can do. He's a guy who has worked hard," Jensen said.
The addition of Brandon Doman as quarterback coach fresh off the San Francisco 49 roster has made a huge difference for quarterbacks, according to John Beck. "Last year we had Coach (Gary) Crowton with a heavy load as head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach," Beck said. Often times, the quarterbacks wouldn't receive feedback on their repetitions until after a film session or the next day of practice. "With Coach Doman, he's there to let you know, give feedback after every play. All of the quarterbacks have benefited from his attention to detail on every play, from drop back steps to throwing technique and reads."
Senior WR Todd Watkins is expected to be 100 percent by the opening of camp Tuesday. Beck said the Cougars will use Watkins effectively in 2005 including bombs that buried the likes of Notre Dame and Air Force last year. "But this year will set up the long pass with a quick, short passing game. Once the defense moves up, Todd is fast enough that he's almost impossible to catch." Beck said. The past six months, Beck said he has looked at every completed pass the past two seasons by Texas Tech's offense now instituted at BYU. "Some critics say it was a success because of the scheme. But if you look at it, it was execution because of hard work." Beck said the new Cougar offense is easier to understand, especially for young receivers. "It's easier for the quarterback and receiver to get on the same page, It's more basic."