Recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. Sometimes getting elite talent can cover up flaws that a coach might have in the x’s and o’s department. Elite recruiters are hot commodities in college football these days. Schools will pay a premium to get coaches or supporting staff that will land the next great player to come to their school.
Does BYU have elite recruiters on this coaching staff? 2014 will be the first year since heading into the 2010 season where there hasn’t been any shuffling with the staff. This group has been together for nearly a full year now, what do we know about them as recruiters? BYU is reaching out to prospects that the Cougars would have never had a foot in the door with five years ago, what is the difference? Let’s take a deeper look at this staff, as recruiters only.
Strength: His presence with recruits and being proactive as a recruiter
Shortly after Gary Crowton “resigned” as head coach, many Cougar fans turned to Kyle Whittingham as BYU’s next head coach. BYU offered Whittingham and he turned the Cougars down opting to take the same position at Utah. BYU was then looking in-house for their next head coach. It was either going to be Mendenhall or veteran coach, Lance Reynolds. Many wanted Reynolds because they were concerned Mendenhall wouldn’t be a good enough recruiter.
While a defensive coordinator under Crowton, Mendenhall made only one official in-home visit to a recruit. That was with four-star JUCO prospect, Vince Feula. Mendenhall went into Feula’s home and Feula shortly after pledged to BYU as part of the 2004 class. Few probably ever heard that story, but to me, it made Mendenhall the man to lead BYU Football. Because recruiting was really his only knock. The defenses he put together in his first two years in Provo were terrific. Headlined by the 2003 defense that was a top-15 unit. People underestimated Bronco’s abilities to recruit when hired as head coach.
Mendenhall has been ahead of the game when it comes to noticing trends in college football. Mendenhall knew that early commits were going to be the wave of the future. Around the 2006 & 2007 seasons, Mendenhall was locking up 90% of his class before a football season actually started. Junior days, and visiting the program were big to Mendenhall. And if recruits impressed at those activities, Bronco wasn’t gun shy about offering. Even if the kid had just barely completed his sophomore year in high school.
Look at ESPN’s top 50 for this year’s class. Only seven players remain uncommitted. When Mendenhall was hired back in 2005 that was unheard of in recruiting circles. Players would always wait until official visits in January to make commitments. Now players are signing in December to enroll in school for spring semester to get a head start on playing in the fall. Mendenhall saw that and was pro active.
Now in retrospect, the classes between 2006-2009 where Mendenhall and staff were locking up kids well before signing day, backfired. Many players in those classes were busts, and peaked in high school. The 2014 class is a perfect representation of what we can expect going forward under Mendenhall. A nice blend of early commits and a wait and see approach on prospects that might slip through the cracks late in the recruiting process. Again, Mendenhall being proactive and realizing a change needed to be made to get the program to the next level.
Bronco has been rumored for other jobs in the past but Mendenhall will never leave BYU. He loves recruiting here. It’s a different approach at BYU and it suits Mendenhall’s personality well. He has always stated that he asks recruits why they want to go to BYU, rather than him telling these recruits why they should come. And many recruits probably view that as a breath of fresh air. Many probably get turned off. But better to be turned off in the recruiting process then come to BYU and transfer after a season. Mendenhall wants these guys to be great men after they leave BYU, and be “fully invested” in BYU from day one.
Mendenhall has set the bar high for BYU when it comes to recruiting. When it is all said and done, BYU offers scholarships to around 30 to 35 players in any given year. There are many prospects that are interested in coming to BYU, and there is prospects that BYU is interested in as well, but they all don’t meet the requirements set by Mendenhall. For example all recruits must have at least a 3.0 GPA to have an active offer from BYU. That is going to eliminate many recruits, then you bring in the ecclesiastical endorsement element, and can players ultimately live up to this honor code? It’s a tough pitch. But Mendenhall has done a solid job of adapting to the ever-changing college football landscape at a school that has many limitations in recruiting.
Strengths: New exciting offense, offensive line recruiting
We were all puzzled when Anae was re-hired to be Offensive Coordinator again in 2013. Not only was Anae forced out the door after the 2010 season, but Anae isn’t getting any younger. At 54 years old, Anae is older than most coordinators that get hired in this day and age of college football. Reason for younger coordinators is they could eventually become the next head coach and they tend to relate to recruits better.
In Anae’s first stint as offensive coordinator he didn’t recruit often. Since coming back from Arizona, he has been making more in-home visits to recruits. Anae senses the urgency with his second tenure here at BYU. If he doesn’t have improved results next season, he could be out the door. Getting more skill position talent could be the difference that saves Anae’s job.
The biggest strength with Anae is his ability to impress offensive line recruits. Four-star recruit Brayden Kearsley came to BYU after being impressed by Anae’s vision for the offensive line. Will the same happen with Damien Mama?
Strengths: Connections to Hawaii, his energy and personality.
Instant thought when Atuaia was hired as running backs coach was, he brings the islands connection to BYU. Hawaii hasn’t been as fruitful for BYU as the LaVell era was. Atuaia, back in 1992, was one of those elite recruits who left Hawaii for the mainland to play at BYU.
This has been Atuaia’s first coaching gig. He was a student advisor prior to being promoted to his running backs coach. He has passion and a fun personality that is easy to get along with. Now he can preach to recruits that he has helped mentor Jamaal Williams, a 1,233 yard back last season. So there is success to dive from.
Strengths: Taysom Hill’s growth as a quarterback last season, bright offensive mind.
Like many of the hires on this offensive staff, there was little to no division one coaching experience. Jason Beck had a little with being a student assistant while at LSU with Gary Crowton. Majority of Beck’s success came from an offensive whiz kid at Canada’s only NCAA program, Simon Fraser.
One of the biggest problems with BYU the past few seasons has been inconsistent quarterback play, and the lack of development at the position. You could make the argument that none of the quarterbacks in the Mendenhall era have amounted to anything. John Beck was a Gary Crowton recruit, and Max Hall, was first contacted by Crowton and his staff. Then when Bronco was hired he sealed the deal with Hall.
Beck has a bright football mind and had the task of developing Taysom Hill. Hill’s progression over 2013 was impressive. Beck can take that out in the recruiting field that he has developed a kid who was only the 23rd player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500+ yards and rush for 1,000.
No quarterbacks were offered in the 2014 class, but now that BYU has a scholarship left open after Ammon Olsen transferred to Southern Utah, Beck will have a scholarship to work with for any QBs looking to transfer this off-season.
Strengths: Non-LDS recruits, East Coast, South, passion
When Anae was assembling his offensive staff last winter, I felt it was critical for him to hire a non-LDS African-american assistant. Why is it important? At a place like BYU, you need to have an assistant who doesn’t have the typical BYU background, but can tell a recruit that isn’t familiar with BYU, that he can succeed here. It is critical. LaVell always had Brian Mitchell on the staff for that reason, and the fact that Mitchell did a nice job with the cornerbacks.
Guy Holliday was a great choice for Anae. Holliday has instantly been one of my favorite follows on Twitter. The guy has passion in bunches, and you need that as a recruiter.
Holliday has said he loves that BYU doesn’t let up their standards, and those standards will ultimately get them to where they want to go. He went on to compare BYU to a place like Stanford back on January 3rd through his Twitter. His different views and approach was needed on this staff. BYU sometimes limits themselves to coaches who were BYU men. Sometimes you need guys outside the bubble with a different view. Holliday has been one of the main recruiters for players Jaterrius Gulley and Devon Blackmon.
Strengths: Ties to California and Junior College
Look past the beautiful jaw, Tujague was brought in to improve a struggling offensive line. Year one didn’t turn out how everyone hoped, but there’s promise. Tujague made every attempt to give the BYU offensive line every opportunity to succeed in year one from a personnel standpoint. Last year, Tujague helped bring in eight new offensive linemen, many of which hailed from the JUCO ranks. That’s where Tujague brings a big boost in recruiting for BYU is his ties to JC’s throughout the west. Tujague was at College of the Canyons for 15 years. With the missionary program alive and well at BYU, JUCO recruits can be a nice filler while a future high school signee is serving in the mission field.
Defensive Coordinator, Safeties
Strengths: Defensive Backs, youth, building relationships
If you compare Howell’s resume to that of many defensive coordinators around the country, it is pretty underwhelming. No experience outside of BYU at the college level. But Howell is young (turns 34 this year) and energetic, which helped him rise from graduate assistant in 2009 to defensive coordinator in four years. Many feel he is like a Bronco clone. Might be a future head coach candidate in the program.
Howell recruits most of the defensive backs in the program and is good at identifying talent outside of BYU’s typical recruiting pool. 2014 marks one of the most talented secondaries the program has seen on paper.
Strengths: His pedigree, Polynesian recruits, and stability
It is rare in college football that you see a position coach entering his 13th season at the same post. Getting Kaufusi from Utah was a big deal back in 2002, and he has been key in landing numerous Polynesian recruits along the defensive line the past 12 seasons.
The Polynesian pipeline is a big deal at BYU. It’s been a storied one for the past 50 years. And when recruiting Polynesian players you have to build relationships with the entire family. BYU has lost out on their fair share of poly recruits, but they have also landed many in large part to Kaufusi. Not to mention all of Steve’s kids have came to the program. Bronson is expected to be a star of the defense for the next two years and Corbin Kaufusi has a bright future ahead of him as well.
Outside Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator
Strengths: Passionate, Results on the field, building relationships
Poppinga is arguably BYU’s best recruiter on the staff. And because of Poppinga’s terrific recruiting efforts, many feel he should be a name that gets consideration as the next head coach at BYU.
Poppinga was hired in 2011 to OLB coach after being a graduate assistant at BYU. Poppinga lived in Salt Lake City while a grad assistant and would get up every day at 4 a.m. and drive to Provo for work. The work ethic he displayed earned him a promotion and impressed Mendenhall.
Since being hired as a linebackers coach, Poppinga has coached the likes of Kyle Van Noy, Spencer Hadley, Alani Fua, and others. With Van Noy he will be able to show an NFL recruit. Poppinga doesn’t just recruit linebackers though. With being one of BYU’s ace recruiters he recruits numerous players at a variety of positions. Like his brother, Brady, Kelly is a passionate person and that resonates with recruits. They trust him and form great relationships with him that go beyond just football.
Inside Linebackers Coach
Strength: Stability, knows the program, many connections
Tidwell is entering his 15th season at BYU. He used to be the recruiting coordinator while under Gary Crowton. Now Tidwell primarily recruits linebackers specifically.
Tidwell has been in coaching for the past 36 years. He has built numerous relationships over the years from local high school to junior colleges and division one programs across the country. He’s a great asset on a staff that has limited division one coaching experience out on the recruiting trail.
Director of Football Player Personnel
Strength: Diverse background, young, energetic
You have to love a guy that has background down in the SEC right? Martzen was hired at BYU last year in the spring to help with on-campus recruiting trips. Martzen used to be at Alabama in 2012 and Boise State in 2013.
Martzen has become a favorite for BYU fans on twitter with his passion for Childish Gambino and his tweets promoting BYU’s recruiting efforts. As someone who has followed BYU recruiting for 18 years I can tell you the way that Martzen is handling these official visits is much different than what we were seeing when the likes of Steve Sarkisian were coming to Provo for an official.
Martzen’s efforts have definitely made a difference for BYU this year. And you have to like the term, “The Chosen Ones” for the recruits who visited last weekend.
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