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PROVO — BYU hasn’t played football in nearly two weeks and has a bowl game to look forward to in 10 days, but there’s been no lack of attention for the program.
More fuel was added to the BYU fire because of the Big 12 and the College Football Playoffs; the head coaching job at Bronco Mendenhall’s alma mater Oregon State opened up; and BYU lost players and staff.
First, on Sunday the College Football Playoff selection committee announced the four teams that will compete for the National Championship: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State. Sitting at No. 5 and No. 6 were two Big 12 teams in Baylor and TCU, respectively.
These teams were likely penalized because the conference doesn't have a championship game. However, it's a game the Big 12 cannot hold because it has only 10 members and the NCAA requires 12 (The Big 10 Conference does have 14 teams and a championship game, #irony).
The immediate reaction was loud and all about how the Big 12 needs a championship game, and that would mean adding two more teams. With expansion talk BYU was the first and most frequent name thrown out along with Boise and several American Athletic Conference schools. Mendenhall has made no secret of his belief that BYU deserves Power 5 status and is a great fit for the Big 12.
“I was hopeful that domino would fall to generate dialogue that if the Big 12 did not get a team to the playoff, that the thought of maybe one of the reasons being that there wasn’t a championship game," he said. "I was hoping that was brought to light."
While the conversations picked up considerably Sunday, after the initial firestorm more options and considerations came into play. Mendenhall mentioned that the Big 12 can petition for a conference championship game with only 10 members, adding that the other power conferences may not like that.
Mendenhall also pointed out that with this four-team set-up one power conference will always be left out. The Big 12 missed out, but nearly had two members in the playoff. The negatives to expanding are money and more teams means more sharing of revenue.
Another consideration is that the playoff could expand which would mean the Big 12 could compete without more teams. Playoff expansion is a popular idea and Mendenhall sees how that could hurt BYU.
“We were polled maybe with three weeks left, two weeks left in the season,” Mendenhall said. “Most of the head coaches favor at least eight. So that would be a way for the Big 12 teams to keep their money without adding any other teams.”
Mendenhall also said BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe could provide the answer to if the administrative side has been in contact with the Big 12, and as head coach he’s made his opinions clear. Until then he said the team will play coast to coast whoever will play them.
On Dec. 4 Mike Riley was named the head coach at Nebraska. This is significant because he vacated the position of head coach at Mendnhall’s alma mater.
According Jamie Newborg, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, Oregon State made phone contact with Mendenhall. Speculation arose that Mendenhall may want the chance to coach in a Power 5 Conference at his old school where he also served as the defensive line coach and defensive coordinator.
The job was quickly taken by Gary Andersen, a familiar name in Utah. Andersen coached at Utah and had a successful runs as Southern Utah's and Utah State’s head coach before his latest seemingly successful gig at Wisconsin.
Last week Ohio State pummeled the Badgers, 59-0, in the Big 12 Championship Game. Andersen’s new job affected the BYU staff directly: football operations coordinator Zach Nyborg will follow Andersen to Oregon State. Nyborg previously held the same position with Andersen at USU and Wisconsin before joining BYU in April.
Mendenhall said in the short amount of time the position was vacant he received more questions about Oregon State’s head coaching job than anything else this year. He was asked directly if did have interest in the Oregon State job.
“I think when you have a successful program like we have there is interest every year,” Mendenhall said. ”I’ll probably just leave it at that. I’m flattered that that continues to happen and I’m looking forward to coaching our team.”
Mendenhall said he is bad at multitasking and preparing a team for a bowl game while entertaining the thought of another job would be difficult. He pointed out one would really have to dig into the changes for the family, the recruiting class, what are the salary pools and much more while also making a game plan.
Looking at the other moves Mendenhall said he thought Riley was going to be a lifer at Oregon State and doesn’t want to speculate on why these coaches made the moves, but a lot goes on behind the scenes that fans and media can’t see.
He added that this time of year anything is fair game. Every year coaches surprise their players and fans by leaving between the regular season and postseason. This is a practice Mendenhall doesn’t agree with. He said he proposed a solution and it was ignored.
“My simple thought is, similar to the NFL,” Mendenhall said. “I think there is a time and place for moves, and I don’t think it’s before the team has finished their season and bowl game. I don’t think a head coach should be able to be contacted till his team is finished playing.”
Teams try to get a jump on new coaches because they need to recruit as soon as possible and learn where the programs future players stand.
Mendenhall said the lost recruiting time should just be part of the penalty of hiring the wrong coach or making a change. Mendenhall also takes issue because college coaches recruit very personally and then can just disrupt the program and relationships to upgrade at any time.
He calls this a double standard because of the control coaches have over player transfers and the complicated process it is for players to transfer (which can also incur penalties that require sitting out a year). For clarity, in the NFL while a team is still playing assistant coaches and coordinators can be interviewed during the postseason if they have clearance from their current team.
At the end of each season coaches are on the move, but many players begin looking for different opportunities as well. BYU granted releases to Dallin Leavitt and Dylan Collie. Leavitt has already departed the program and Mendenhall said there are no restrictions on him and he hopes Leavitt finds a great fit.
Collie will return from his LDS mission Dec. 18 and attend Hawaii where he will play for former BYU assistant coach Norm Chow. Collie’s father and two brothers played wide receiver for BYU, and Mendenhall said he granted Collie’s release before the season.
Brayden Kearsley may soon be in the same boat, but Mendenhall says Kearsley has some academic work to do before he will grant his release.
Defensive back Trent Trammell will graduate this week and intends to do what Jordan Leslie did and transfer for his senior year of eligibility.
Senior Craig Bills will not play in the Miami Beach Bowl. After struggling with concussions and concussion symptoms for much of the season, accompanying neck issues have been discovered. Mendenhall had no more details beyond that.
Finally, BYU strength coach Jay Omer is retiring after the season. Mendenhall said he hoped to have a replacement by now but has been unsuccessful. He will now aim for a new hire by winter workouts.
Check out Cougar Cuts for Mendenhall's full interview from Friday along with those of Christian Stewart, Mitch Mathews and Nick Howell.
Mitchell is a KSL Sports Radio intern and broadcast journalism student at Brigham Young University where he anchors and produces sports. Find him @mitchellive on Twitter.