PROVO — A year ago at this time, with National Signing Day rapidly approaching, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall was still trying to put together his new offensive staff.
Robert Anae had already rejoined the program as the offensive coordinator, but a couple of coaching positions on the offense side remained in flux.
“I remember interviewing coaches at the national convention, and even through this weekend,” Mendenhall said during a conference call Thursday. “I remember the turmoil internally that I felt, and the (lack of) continuity within the program. I was excited and optimistic about what that would bring, but it’s hard work to get to that point.”
One year later, with signing day Wednesday, Mendenhall is happy with the efforts of his staff in terms of working hard, hitting the road and developing relationships, which are all vital to the recruiting process.
“If I’m able to keep this staff together if for no other reason than recruiting purposes,” Mendenhall said, “it would do well for BYU’s football program. This is a very effective recruiting staff. I’ve been a part of a number of staffs here at BYU in the nine years I’ve been the coach here. I’m very impressed with how hard this staff works on the road. We have very good people ... and very hard workers.”
The hiring of Geoff Martzen as the Cougars’ player personnel director and on-campus recruiting coordinator was new for BYU. Prior to that, a member of the coaching staff served as the recruiting coordinator.
“The addition of Geoff Martzen, our player personnel director, has made a giant difference in our program,” Mendenhall said. “I’m very impressed how he’s been able to direct our recruiting. Organizationally, it is so much better to have someone that’s not a coach that’s doing that full-time.”
BYU’s new coaching staff has allowed the Cougars to broaden their recruiting footprint into places where they haven’t gone as often as in previous years, Mendenhall said. For example, only two Utahns are committed to sign with BYU as part of the 2014 class, the same number of recruits from Kansas. Another commit hails from North Carolina.
“We’re going farther, and to different areas, to find players we think will help us,” Mendenhall said.
Pursuing a diverse pool of athletes — particularly those who are not members of the LDS Church — poses challenges, too, such as dealing with negative recruiting against BYU.
“Each year, it’s a little bit different that way. As you go into new areas, when you cast a wider net, part of that is education,” Mendenhall said. “It’s interesting the lack of knowledge about BYU and the (LDS) church in those areas or the misconceptions, and sometimes even animosity toward members of the church and our faith, especially in areas that maybe we hadn’t been in as much before. So a lot of times having to educate anti-LDS sentiments more than anything is what occurs. On a number of occasions that’s happened this year in areas we hadn’t been in quite as frequently.”
Overall, Mendenhall is pleased with the way the 2014 recruiting class is shaping up.
“I’m really encouraged by not only how efficiently our recruiting has been, but the quality of players and people that have been attracted to BYU,” he said. “The main purpose of recruiting is to improve your football team. I think this class will have done that. Most of the way that happens is by fulfilling the needs you have on the team and hopefully doing it with players that certainly are as capable, if not more so, than the group you already have within your program.”
BYU opens spring practices on March 3.
A handful of players will switch positions starting in the spring, Mendenhall said. Defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi will move from defensive end to outside linebacker; Michael Davis will return to wide receiver after spending last year at defensive back; Tuni Kanuch will change from the defensive line to the offensive line; and Michael Alisa will go from running back to outside linebacker.
Last week, backup quarterback Ammon Olsen transferred to Southern Utah. It was a possibility that Olsen and Mendenhall had talked about during the season as Taysom Hill tightened his grip on the starter's job.
“We were just waiting on a petition that would allow him to transfer without losing another year (of eligibility),” Mendenhall explained. “If that wasn’t able to happen, (Olsen) was going to stay (at BYU). That process took a long time.”
Besides Hill, the Cougars have two other quarterbacks in the program — Christian Stewart and Billy Green. Will BYU add another QB to the mix?
“There wasn’t a ton of time to find another quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “Rather than rush it, and not find the ideal (candidate), we’ll probably keep a spot open and continue to assess needs for another quarterback in our program, maybe all the way up until the season. I’d probably feel more comfortable if we added one more.”