BYU should buck up to get the right football coach, but don't bank on it

BYU should buck up to get the right football coach, but don't bank on it

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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PROVO — For all the talk of BYU wanting to play for national championships and get into a Power 5 conference, the university's leaders may not be willing to pay the price to achieve such aspirations.

Now that the stunning news of Bronco Mendenhall's impending departure has settled in, athletic director Tom Holmoe is charged with finding another head football coach. But the problem is the administration doesn't seem inclined to fork over the cash necessary to land the best possible coach.

Money matters. It always does, and only the naive believe otherwise.

In leaving BYU after 11 years as the head coach, Mendenhall will get at least an additional $1 million annually at Virginia. His exact salary at the LDS Church-owned university hasn't been made public, but he signed a five-year deal worth $3.25 million a season to take over the Atlantic Coast Conference program.

Predictably, Mendenhall said the money factored "very little" into his decision to move his family from his native state to an area of the country in which he has never coached. Would he have taken the job without the huge increase in salary? He certainly wouldn't have agreed to a pay cut to take it.

During a joint press conference to publicly comment on Mendenhall leaving, Holmoe lavished praise on the coach for all the great work he did at BYU. The compliments were justified, especially considering Mendenhall took over a program that suffered through three consecutive losing seasons and immediately turned it into a winner.

Mendenhall did a masterful job in his first season in 2005, coaxing six wins out of a downtrodden team and getting it to a bowl game. The glory days returned the next four years, during which BYU won 43 games.

Given Mendenhall's success, it's a wonder why didn't BYU try to keep him. The simple answer, which Holmoe admitted to, was BYU couldn't come close to matching the salary Virginia offered. Hard to believe a program that has had one winning season since 2007 was more attractive to a Mormon coach than BYU.

Now that Mendenhall is history, quickly turning his allegiance to his new employer, BYU will hire a head coach for only the third time since 1972. Holmoe estimated there are about 40 candidates but in reality the number is no more than five.

The new man will need a decent amount of coaching experience and be active in the LDS Church. He also will have to come on the cheap, compared to other head coaches across the country in similar situations.

In terms of pay, Holmoe said, programs are divided between the Power 5 and the Group of 5. As an independent, BYU is technically in neither group but is more aligned with the likes of the Mountain West and American Athletic Conference.

"We're prepared to be able to go out and find a great coach to carry on the traditions here and be very, very competitive in our salaries," Holmoe said.

For comparison sake, Houston signed coach Tom Herman to a five-year, $14 million contract last week. Herman, who has one year of head coaching experience, will earn a base salary of $2.8 million, up from $1.35 million this season.

There's a reason the last several men's basketball and football head coaches were assistants at the time BYU hired them. Three hours after signing his deal with Virginia, Mendenhall pointed out the benefits of coaching at BYU go beyond money.

"Part of coaching at BYU is what you gain through the experiences," he said.

"If (money is) what you end up being hung up on you will not be effective here for very long. That just has to be understood because there's plenty of other things that add value here besides that and it takes a pretty unique perspective to gain that."

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