PROVO — It's been less than two months since BYU boldly announced its plan to go independent in football starting in 2011.
Since then, the Cougars have won only two games, endured a four-game losing streak and stumbled to their worst start in decades. Statistically, the BYU offense is one of the worst in the nation, and the Cougars must win four of their last five games just to be bowl-eligible.
But athletic director Tom Holmoe is unflaggingly optimistic about both the immediate and long-term future of BYU football.
"I believe in this program, and I believe in Bronco Mendenhall," he told the Deseret News this week. "Where we are, neither Bronco nor I would want to be in this position. But we both like the prospects of the future. I like the prospects for the rest of this season."
Every week, it seems, there has been a new drama, either on or off the field. So far, the Cougars have tried to make a two-quarterback system work, seen their offense turned over to a true freshman quarterback, dealt with injuries to key players and experienced the mid-season firing of defensive coordinator Jaime Hill. On Monday, wide receiver O'Neill Chambers was suspended for the remainder of the season for disciplinary reasons.
"There's adversity with teams. Some people look it as being somewhat chaotic. But not really," Holmoe said. "It's very difficult to lead a football program. That means that you're looking back and looking forward when you're talking about a program. The football team is this year. I think Bronco's done an incredible job over the time he's been here. When I've been on teams that have struggled, I think coaches sometimes have done the best jobs of their career for the program. Maybe not for that year, but for the program during the turmoil."
Holmoe knows all about dealing with turmoil as a head coach. When he was at the helm of California's football program for five seasons, the Golden Bears compiled a 16-39 record.
"(Mendenhall) relates well to me because of my perspective. We can talk football," Holmoe said. "Quite frankly, I've been in very successful situations and there have been times when I've failed. So it's not like I don't have a whole repertoire of how to do things. I've made decisions that have gone the wrong way. I can tell him, 'Hey, Bronc, I've been down that road. You probably don't want to go down that road.' I know that from working with Bronco through this challenge he's making good decisions. There's not three challenges a day. There are more like 12 or 15 or 20 challenges a day. The public sees three. I see 12-20.
"I'm with Bronco all the time and we talk all the time. I don't want to make it look like I manage him. I'm a resource for him. I stand by him — win, lose or draw. We don't talk X's and O's. I really believe in his ability to do that. If I really felt I should talk X's and O's, I would. But I've never felt that."
While media and fans have questioned some of Mendenhall's decisions this season, Holmoe said the program remains in good hands.
"I'm very encouraged by (Mendenhall's) state of mind," Holmoe said. "He understands exactly what's going on. He's not in a fog. He's not in a stupor. There was a time when he was, a little bit, when it wasn't as clear where we were going. It's crystal clear now. That's what gives me encouragement.
"I really believe his finger is on the pulse of this program. There are issues, and he knows what they are. They've been addressed and they will continue to be addressed. You do that in the middle of this kind of a season, it's really hard."
In the previous four seasons under Mendenhall, the Cougars have posted records of 11-2, 11-2, 10-3 and 11-2. Holmoe said this year's struggles have helped him appreciate those successful seasons. He added that Mendenhall has the highest expectations for BYU football.
"The fact that we've had success the last five years in Bronco's era, the expectations are high. Bronco doesn't want our fans to have any lower expectations. Nor do I," Holmoe said. "I want the expectations to remain high, and that's what we've pushed for.
"You're not going to find anybody who's more disappointed at the outcome for this year so far than Bronco and me. This is our thing. It's our business. But you're not going to find anybody more determined than Bronco to make sure this program continues to meet the expectations that he set. His expectations are higher than the fans. That's important to know. People are disappointed. So are we, yeah. But we're not discouraged."
Cougars on the air
Wyoming (2-5, 0-3 MWC) at BYU (2-5, 1-2)
LaVell Edwards Stadium
TV: The mtn.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM