SALT LAKE CITY — The BYU coaching staff couldn’t have handled the quarterbacks any worse this season.
James Lark’s impressive performance in the New Mexico State game came as no surprise, considering his ability and the competition. Lark would have performed comparably — maybe not to the point of 34 completions and six touchdown passes — if he'd taken meaningful snaps in other games this season.
The real surprise is Bronco Mendenhall has continued to mismanage the quarterback situation this season. As if it wasn’t bad enough to let an injured Riley Nelson play in a five-day span against Utah and Boise State, the coach did it again in the loss to San Jose State.
Lark’s comments after last Saturday’s game proved how wrong it was to keep playing the battered Nelson. Less than 24 hours after Nelson “got pounded” — to use Mendenhall’s description — he informed Lark via a text to be prepared to make his first college start.
The line of thinking here ought to make every BYU fan furious. If Nelson thought the next day that he probably wouldn’t play in the next game almost a full week away, there’s no way he should have been allowed to stay in against San Jose State.
It’s debatable to assume a healthy Nelson would have been good enough to beat Utah, Boise State or San Jose State, but it’s a fact he couldn’t do it while battling injuries. Mendenhall’s refusal to bench Nelson may have cost BYU a decent shot at a 10-2 record.
Give him credit for staying true to his decisions, even in the face of overwhelming negative fan reaction. In the postgame interview on KSL radio, Mendenhall said he wouldn’t do anything differently in hindsight. Many in his own fan base, however, would argue that conviction translates into repeated stupidity.
“Regardless of who wants to keep the argument alive, I don’t think there is one,” Mendenhall said. “I believe exactly that what we did at the time with the information for our team was the right thing. That’s my job to do what I do as a leader, and I would do it the same.”
As a side note, kudos to Greg Wrubell for asking pertinent questions during the postgame show. We understand the affinity for his alma mater, but loyalty didn’t block professionalism.
Other random musings on BYU sports:
— It doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback in the Poinsettia Bowl.
BYU fans have my permission not to fret the next four weeks over Mendenhall’s decision on a starting quarterback for the bowl game. Either way, it’s not worth the stress, knowing that BYU has had a disappointing season no matter the outcome.
If either Nelson or Lark were a junior, then there would be reason for concern. History says Mendenhall will go with Nelson unless the player rules himself out.
After Saturday’s game, Mendenhall said, “In my opinion, Riley is still our starting quarterback at this point.” Unfortunately for Lark, only one opinion matters.
— Mendenhall might not be long for this job.
At some point, the boss will grow tired of all extracurricular activities and the grief associated with being the BYU head coach. And it may be sooner than we think.
As most coaches are prone to do, Mendenhall claims he doesn’t read or listen to anything related to his football program. But it’s obvious he’s made aware of most things, often responding to various reports about his program without any media prompting.
The Sports Beat:
In a bizarre situation, considering his success, Mendenhall seems to have a contentious relationship with the BYU fan base. Perhaps still stung at being booed in his first game as head coach, Mendenhall often appears uncomfortable interacting with the fans at public functions.
The fishbowl existence of the head football coach in Utah County may wear on Mendenhall. The constant public scrutiny, among other issues, could lead him to step aside in a year or two.
He deserves to go out on his own terms.
— Football could hurt BYU’s basketball recruiting.
To put it simply, why would Jabari Parker pass up the likes of Duke to play in the West Coast Conference? Would you?
Impressive as it was, the sold-out Marriott Center crowd that greeted the nation’s top basketball recruit last week cannot offset the lousy competition that awaits Parker if he chooses to play at his church-sponsored school. He can’t afford it.
Assuming Parker leaves for the NBA after his first college season, he needs to play against the best competition to solidify his draft position. Aside from the talent of Gonzaga and the international players at Saint Mary’s, the other WCC programs are second rate.
Too bad BYU couldn’t have found a way to keep its sports in the Mountain West Conference when it became an independent in football. Better competition might have helped Parker become a Cougar.