First things first: The Utes' of Utah and their coach Urban Meyer deserve all the glowing press, national respect and credibility they will receive for convincingly beating every foe they played this season.
Meyer's two-season record of 21-2 at Utah is absolutely stunning and there is no doubt he will receive multimillion-dollar coaching offers from other BCS schools in coming weeks or months. I hope he'll remember the feeling of being a non-BCS "have-not" and become one of the biggest advocates for the under-represented conferences.
Quite frankly, you can't blame the dissatisfied deep-pocketed BYU boosters and long-suffering Cougar fans for thinking, "We want one of him." But that's much easier said than done.
The simple fact is BYU's top administrators are keenly aware that whomever they hire to replace Gary Crowton must be an immediate winner and program savior, someone akin to Urban Meyer.
You can safely bet the power-boosters and increasingly restless Cougar fan base will loudly place blame squarely on the administration's shoulders if the next head coach falters and fails – and could cost some their jobs if they make the wrong move.
BYU CANNOT afford to have two failed coaching regimes in a row – and I am NOT saying that Crowton has failed because the Cougars are now poised for some great years with the talent foundation he has built. However, it's hard to ignore three consecutive losing seasons.
But therein lays the rub: There are less than a handful of proven LDS-qualified coaches that would immediately exude widespread confidence and instant national credibility. I can only think of two – Andy Reid, currently earning around $5 million a year with the Philadelphia Eagles; and Norm Chow, the widely-celebrated offensive coordinator at current national champion USC.
It's highly doubtful that Reid will give up the financial security and gridiron success he is enjoying with the Eagles anytime soon to help out his alma mater. That is not to say he won't be interested in the future after he's won a couple of Super Bowls and his family is financially set for life.
Chow, on the other hand, may or may not be interested in jumping back into a proverbial "snake pit" of dealing with a growing number of "card-carrying" Cougar fans that are as unforgiving, mean-spirited and downright abusive as any as you'll find in non-religious schools. Chow currently has the sweetest-of-sweet deals running the Trojans offense and, according to some media reports, earns as much or more than 60 percent of Div. 1 head coaches. In fact, he may earn more than Gary Crowton when you factor all his perks, benefits and income.
Beyond those two, I can't think of another LDS head coach or assistant that I confidently believe will do for BYU what Urban Meyer did for Utah without missing a step.
Moreover, my suggestion to the powers-that-be in Provo and Salt Lake City is to FIRST select a qualified and visionary athletic director and give him full stewardship and authority to guide BYU athletics in a manner befitting this great and unique institution.
The selection and appointment of any new head coach should be made AFTER an athletic director has been appointed and his strategic vision and focus approved by the Board of Trustees. Only then should BYU review, evaluate and hire a new head football coach if they feel one is needed.
Unless the new unnamed athletic director is part of the current evaluation or selection process, it's not fair or right to hold the new AD indirectly accountable for the actions or record of a new head football coach he had no input in selecting.
The position of BYU head football coach is further complicated because one man must encompass ALL these qualities:
• Be a proven leader and developer of talented athletes, consistently bringing out their very best athletic and character traits on and off the field.
• As a "card-carrying" active member of the LDS Church, he must exemplify, live and espouse the tenets of the Church in his interaction with all people, regardless of their religious affiliations.
• Incorporate a strong recruiting foundation to attract the very best LDS athletes and non-LDS athletes willing to live by the school's stringent Honor Code.
• Build and maintain a winning football program that meets the challenging standards and expectations of BYU's Board of Trustees.
• In his personal conduct or execution of his responsibilities, he must never embarrass the university or its sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
In Crowton's defense, he has weathered the worst of the stormy years and has assembled a very talented team that should finally post a winning record in 2005 – even with the most pessimistic of scenarios factored in. The schedule is favorable, unlike this year when three of BYU's opponents – USC, Utah and Boise State – will likely go undefeated.
The dramatic improvement in the classroom and graduation rates by BYU's football athletes can also be credited to Crowton. Unfortunately, despite all his constant reminders about Honor Code compliance, the program has suffered several very public black eyes under his watch.
But here's the knock on Gary Crowton, the head coach: For reasons unknown to him and us, his teams are inconsistent. The Cougars inexplicably lose games they shouldn't, like the home-field outings this season against UNLV and New Mexico. Either one would have earned the Cougars a Las Vegas Bowl bid – and a winning record.
Against Utah last night, it was BYU's defense that surprisingly did in the Cougars. Whoever is teaching the Cougars to tackle should be fired; they have failed miserably in this department for far too long. Granted, defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall has been playing with mirrors all season trying to hide a weak and very vulnerable secondary.
But the sad commentary of the 2004 season was that some of BYU's supposedly stellar players played very poorly in the most important game of the season. There's no need to mention names; it was clear and apparent to all Cougar fans who watched in living color on TV screens around the country.
With a third consecutive losing season at an end, some serious brow-beating and important decision making will apparently take place behind closed doors in Provo in the next few weeks.
Despite all the speculative "insider" know-it-alls on BYU-related message boards, the select few in a position to really know firsthand aren't talking – and that's as it should be … the lives of faithful LDS Cougar coaches and the impact to their immediate family members lie in the balance.
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