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BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe says his football's team's 5-4 record is a reflection of certain "shortcomings" that are unlikely to be fully overcome this season.
Speaking with me at the West Coast Conference Men's Basketball Tip-off event in Los Angeles, Holmoe discussed the football program, football scheduling, and BYU's place in the WCC; you can hear our entire conversation in "Cougar Cuts," left.
Holmoe said that "I think the expectations at the beginning of the season were that we would fight for a national championship, or BCS at the least."
"I knew that we would have a good team," said Holmoe, "but we've had some struggles in certain areas that haven't been able to be resolved."
After BYU opened with a 2-0 record, an injury to starting quarterback Riley Nelson led directly to consecutive sub-par performances from the senior QB and back-to-back losses at Utah and Boise State.
Nelson was then rested for two games--both BYU wins--as freshman Taysom Hill took the starter's reins, until his season was ended due to a controversial injury that resulted in part from poor communication from coaches on the sidelines.
Holmoe says that despite the turmoil, he applauds the team for its resilience.
"I give these players and coaches a lot of credit for the fight and the determination, in the midst of a somewhat frustrating season," said Holmoe, acknowledging that the 2012 campaign may be viewed as a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations.
"It's nice to know that the caliber of our seasons has to be determined by if not championships, then top 20 rankings," Holmoe said.
Three of BYU's four losses--at Utah, Boise State and Notre Dame--were by a combined seven points, while the other loss had BYU tied with Oregon State entering the fourth quarter. When I suggested that the narrow margins in BYU's setbacks showed that the team wasn't that far away from a very successful season, Holmoe's responded with a frank assessment of the 2012 campaign.
"I don't think we were that far away," said Holmoe, "but realistically for fans and myself, we have to realize that there are some shortcomings on this team that probably are not going to get corrected in the course of a season. I think that our coaches and players were surprised that maybe some of our individual players and some of our units didn't play quite as well as they thought they would."
"You can't just snap your fingers or give them some good words and think that they're going to come around."
Holmoe said BYU coaches are well aware of the problem areas and that "I think that they've started to correct those issues, but those issues won't be corrected--not fully corrected--through this season; it's a work in progress that will move into next year."
After referencing "individual players," generally, Holmoe spoke more directly of Nelson, a player he says "has got the heart of a lion."
"But he has had some games this year where he has made mistakes that have cost us dearly," said Holmoe. "And he would be the first one to admit that."
"Quarterback play is so important for BYU Football, and for any team that wants to be a top 20 team, and Riley has done some great things for us through the years, but he's had some struggles this year...I love his fight and desire, and I'd like to see him finish strong and get this team to a situation where we can finish the season winning out...winning a (bowl) game, and trying to get some momentum for next year. That's not to say we've given up on this year."
Asked about the coaching staff and its long-term potential and viability as a group, Holmoe said:
"I think that Bronco has a good feel. Bronco and I talk a lot about the season as it goes on...not in great detail--that's left for after the season--but I can say he has a good feel for the things that he needs to do."
"There are some chemistry issues with some of the coaching staff as far as just...how we do in games...and so much of winning and being a championship team are the intangibles, and sometimes you don't know that these things are going to occur until you get into the thick of things."
"I think that Bronco has been able to identify a number of these things and saw them early on...and has started to make these corrections, and I think the staff will continue to grow and learn, and be able to get to the point where the things that have occurred this year can be forgotten--and that we can move forward and have great things ahead of us."
"It's important for me in my position to help identify ways that they can get better and can correct things that are going wrong, and get them on a track where they all want to be. I love these coaches; I've seen them work."
"I hear the criticisms; I think that people sometimes think that the coaches don't understand. They do, but sometimes the fixes and the corrections don't come immediately, and they try to do their very best for the team, not for the illusion or a quick fix, because quick fixes don't get you to where you want to go."
"It's a work in progress, for sure."
The 2013 season should have Hill back in uniform and leading BYU through a schedule that Bronco Mendenhall has said will be the school's toughest ever. I asked Holmoe how Hill's recovery from knee surgery is coming, and he said "Taysom will do everything in his power to come back as fast as he can, within the realm of what the doctors say is advisable."
"This is a great competitor, a fine athlete and someone who's going to lead BYU to some great victories in the future."
Regarding the 2013 schedule, which has yet to be released despite indications it was all but complete, Holmoe had some news on that front, and it wasn't necessarily good news.
"We had the schedule relatively set; we were done," said Holmoe, "and two teams, one of them under contract, asked to get out--which we did--and one team that was not under contract, but for all intents and purposes, it was was done...(they) bailed out."
Holmoe said after the recent developments, he has had to move quickly for replacements in 2013.
"I'm not even going to say 'scrambling,' because we had things on the back burner, so it was just a matter of sliding a few teams on to the front burner. We have one game that we are looking to finalize, and if we do that, it should be...it will be done."
Holmoe adeed quickly that "I said that about a month ago, and about a week later, I put the curse on myself, and this one team bailed out, and that really put us back a month."
Holmoe says that in the effort to complete the 2013 schedule, "we've contracted a couple of games in the last couple of days."
BYU is one win away from an eighth consecutive bowl bid, and with a sixth win, BYU will be locked in to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, which last hosted BYU in the 1993 Holiday Bowl.
The Poinsettia Bowl will match BYU and the second selection from the Mountain West Conference, and Holmoe said the league "can go a couple of different ways, but it would be nice I think, for everybody involved, including the Poinsettia Bowl, the city of San Diego and for old-times' sake, BYU, to be able to go down to San Diego and play the home team, San Diego State.
Holmoe also addressed today's news of the West Coast Conference's new TV deal with Time Warner Cable Sports, calling it "an exciting day for the WCC."
Holmoe said conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich "has a good mind for what we need to do to get on TV and expand the presence of the WCC in the basketball world throughout the country."
"Now you're going to see teams like Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine who will be able to be on TV quite a bit more in the L.A. market on a really good station, as well as teams like BYU when when come down here."
Holmoe said that the league and Time Warner are "also working on possible simulcasts, where broadcast entities like BYUtv...can also simulcast games, so what it does is it just gives BYU Basketball more exposure than it already has."
"This is secondary to the ESPN contract, but now when BYU plays on the road and its not an ESPN game and it's not a BYUtv game, you could possibly see it on Time Warner, which is fantastic."
About BYU's place as a second-year member of the league, Holmoe said the school's admission to the WCC came with a certain perception.
"When we came in last year, we were like the 800 lb. gorilla," said Holmoe on Monday. "National team and recognition, coming into this conference of private schools on the west coast, and we had a perfect target on every one of our backs--and men's basketball is no different--and I think a lot of (WCC) teams really focused on the importance of that game. Everywhere we went, the fans poured out to be there, and they took it serious."
"I think Dave Rose knows the players in the league now, he knows the coaches in the league a lot better, he knows the strategies, he knows the locations. Dave is a pretty quick learner, and I feel he will come into this conference more prepared, more knowledgeable, and we'll know a little bit more who to take a look at who to double team (chuckling), and who to spend a little bit more time on. The thing that's impressive is (the league has) really, really good coaches, and you can see there are quite a few good stars in this conference."
Asked about his level of comfort with the WCC as a home for his non-football sport, Holmoe said "I love it; at the top of (the conference in) each one of our sports, you're going to see some incredible competition."