BYU Football is sick. We have a disease. It didn’t start within the Football Program, or even in the Athletic Department. It originated from higher up at the school, but it continues to spread throughout our organism. From the Administration to Admissions to the Honor Code Office to the Athletic Programs and to the fans. The prognosis doesn’t look good. Unless we’re willing to do what is necessary to get well. And I’m not sure everyone involved wants to do what it’s going to take to get back to full health. We’ve ignored the obvious signs for years, hoping the illness would just go away. The symptoms have now become so crystal clear that anyone with ears to hear or eyes to see can no longer be in denial. BYU can’t recruit like it used to. BYU Football can’t beat Utah anymore. In the 90’s my BYU teams played Utah four times…and won three. That one loss to Utah embarrassed every player on our roster so much I remember guys talking about hanging up their helmets. There was no excuse for losing to such a crappy program. And losing to Utah State? Let’s get real. That would never happen. Ever. But we can’t deny it any longer. We lose every time to Utah. Hell, we even now lose to Utah State. Those of us that played for LaVell continue to watch from the stands and wonder how the program has fallen to a level where losing is not just tolerated, but almost accepted.
Let me back up a little…..
No one will argue that BYU Football was doing a lot right in the 1980’s and 90’s. The program was healthy and thriving. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints championed the team as one of their greatest missionary tools, used to introduce non-Mormons throughout the country and even the world to our relatively obscure religion. The stars aligned and the team took advantage of every opportunity that it had to become more successful and more popular than anyone imagined they could become. As a young recruit I had my choice of many universities, the reigning National Champion Miami Hurricanes, USC, UCLA, or Texas A&M, and I chose BYU for a number of reasons. The biggest reason was probably BYU’s Honor Code. I had always loved being “different” as a young man growing up just outside of Los Angeles. I loved how BYU was “different”.
Another reason I was drawn to BYU was an article written the year I graduated high school in a 1992. Sports Illustrated dubbed BYU “the most hated team in the country”. That was right up my alley:
“Clean, Sober and Insufferable” BRIGHAM YOUNG IS LOATHED FOR ITS HOLIER-THAN-THOU ATTITUDE AS WELL AS FOR ITS RELENTLESS SUCCESS
LaVell Edwards pursued me hard, knowing that I was Mormon and that many other big time programs wanted me. He made numerous trips to Southern California to sit with my parents and I and did his best to convince the three of us that BYU was the perfect place for me.
I am very grateful I chose to attend and play ball at Brigham Young. People always ask me what the best part about playing football at BYU was. Was it the notoriety? The fame? Was it the excitement of playing in front of tens of thousands live? Or in front of millions on TV? All of those things were cool. But none of them compared to standing up in front of a group of young people and having them listen to you, truly listen to you when you told them stories of the experiences that had changed your life and how those lessons can change them. Playing at BYU gave me a special power. Kids all of a sudden gave my words real weight. I could say things and they would believe me….because I was a BYU Cougar. I loved that I could have the chance to say something to make them better as a person.
Unlike the 80’s and 90’s…BYU Football is no longer excelling. Our program is no longer a “shining beacon of excellence”. We’re no longer healthy. I first noticed the symptoms outwardly about 10-years ago when then Head Coach, Bronco Mendenhall said one of the dumbest things ever uttered by a human being (and trust me, I’m an expert when it comes to saying stupid things, just follow me on Twitter @derikstevenson and you’ll see). The head of our football team said the following:
“Players that want to be coddled and want to be catered to don’t come, and some are good LDS players. We want them to be passionate about the chance to play at BYU. I really don’t have much time for those that want to be convinced.
“I think it’s degrading as a coach to try to convince an 18-year-old young man why he should come to your place. I know that’s contrary to most recruiting thoughts, but I like young men that know what they want and are willing to pursue it, and they convince others of where they’re going in life.”
—BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall
Coach essentially said…. “BYU is above recruiting these kids. These kids need to be recruiting BYU instead.” The disease is a combination of “arrogance” and “apathy”. The deadliest combination you can have in College Football. Bronco wasn’t the only one infected with the disease. I’ve seen it metastasize through the Administration at BYU, the Admissions Department, to the Board of Education and now the Athletic Department. It hasn’t just infected football. We’re seeing it infect BYU Basketball as well. Now…back to the only sport that really matters. 🏈 😉
Lucky for BYU, they have access to the smartest person in the world when it comes to issues of BYU, football, recruiting, coaching, the Honor Code, etc…..
1.Reform the Honor Code Office
A big part of why I came to BYU was because of the Honor Code. I didn’t have many LDS friends growing up. I was the only one out of my group of friends that didn’t drink or smoke weed. I wanted to go to a place like BYU. Drinking, drugs, sex and violence were all around me as a young man growing up in Southern California. I wasn’t scared of any of those things. They were everywhere. They were an accepted part of my environment. While I didn’t drink alcohol, I did some stupid stuff that made alcohol seem tame. I got into my fair share of trouble. (Side note: All of my friends that all drank alcohol or smoked weed or had sex or all of the above, we’re better examples of how to live life to me than I probably was to them). I looked forward to going to a university that expected more of me than I expected of myself. I thought BYU could help make me a better man. It was part of why I wanted to go on a church mission as well. I knew those environments would be a blessing to my life.
At BYU I developed an addiction to prescription pain pills because of all the meds I needed from all the injuries. I was 23. Had never even drank a beer before. I wasn’t prepared to deal with addiction. I knew I needed help. But I had worked my whole life to become a starter as a Cougar. And the Honor Code office had already shown me the year before that they were more interested in punishing kids than they were in helping them. I knew I had to keep my addiction a secret. If they found out I could be kicked out again and lose all I had worked for. I was so ashamed as a returned missionary that just got married in the temple and would stand up a give firesides to the youth of the church, but had this dark secret that I was scared to be honest about. As I kept this secret in the dark, it grew, until it consumed my life. But the culture I was in made it impossible to get help. I knew I needed help, but for years I kept it between me and God. He understood. But I knew BYU and it’s Honor Code Office wouldn’t be as understanding as my Heavenly Father was.
The BYU Honor Code Office needs to be entirely revamped. They need to be more like our understanding Father. They need to understand that we are all flawed. They need to be there to help, not to punish. They need to get rid of the employees on staff that are hired as “Investigators” charged with following up on all the snitches’ leads. My daddy used to punish the tattler more severely than the child that made the mistake. That principle should be Gospel.
A lot of fellow Mormons have said to me over the years, “The students know what they were signing when they accepted and signed the Honor Code. I don’t feel sorry for them if they get kicked out or punished.” It’s such an ignorant statement. Every one of us knew what we were signing up for when we told God we wanted to come to this earth. Also, every one of us agreed to follow Christ when we were baptized. And guess what? We all fall short of what we agreed to. We all fail. Whether it’s at BYU or at life. So stop being so self-righteous to think BYU students should be punished when they don’t live up to the Honor Code that they agreed to live by.
The text of BYU’s Honor Code instructs its students on how to turn in fellow students if you witness them sin or break the rules: “Violations of these standards may be reported to the Honor Code Office, 4440 WSC, (801) 422-2847, or the Off-Campus Housing Office, (801) 422-1513” https://honorcode.byu.edu/reporting-others It also advises you that you’ll be able to do this in secret – https://honorcode.byu.edu/confidentiality Doesn’t seem to be much “honor” in that. Stop worrying about tattle-tales and disciplining students. Use the Honor Code to help them be better people and get closer to God. Your “pristine” university doesn’t need to have its reputation protected from young people that struggle to live a perfect life.
2.Untie the Coaches’ Hands
We don’t have Rick’s College anymore to groom BYU-type athletes then have them transfer to Provo. So why are we making it more and more difficult for our coaches to recruit from the Junior College ranks? Why are we making it harder to recruit non-LDS athletes? Imagine if the BYU teams of the 90’s never had a Steve Sarkisian, or a Tim McTyer, or an Omarr Morgan, or a Brian McKenzie? Without “these types” of players BYU will never be competitive again. Yes, I said these types. Sorry to all the higher-ups at BYU who think we should compete for a National Championship with strictly white, Mormon choirboys. We need the white-bread, LDS kid from Utah County. No doubt. But we also need to balance them out with some guys that have very little in common with them. We need some “dawgs”. We need “bad-asses”. Bad-asses, many of whom have their lives changed forever by having a positive experience at the Y.
I don’t know how to be politically correct and make this point so I’m just going to say it. If it bothers you…you can kiss my ass, because I’m right. The BYU Football team will never succeed at a high level without diversity. We had a true “balance” in the locker room in the late ’90s. It was the most amazing example of non-judgement and diversity that I’ve ever been apart of. We were probably 1/3 white , 1/3 Polynesian and and 1/3 African-American and a few “who-the-hell-knows-what-he-is”. I’m mostly referring to the starters. Obviously, the 30-40 guys that never saw the field were exclusively caucasian returned missionaries from places like Backwater, UT (no offense) that were just happy to be there. Again, I’m kidding. 😬 Kind of. The majority of the locker room was some degree of LDS. From super-active, to less-active, to completely inactive. It’s funny that looking back with many of the guys we didn’t really know who was an active church goer and who wasn’t. It didn’t matter to any of us. We loved each other. We’d die for each other. When we weren’t fighting with each other. We were truly brothers.
The higher-up snobs in the BYU Administration don’t think we need to recruit “killers”. Guys that love to hurt people. They are too arrogant to admit that we can’t succeed at a high level with a roster filled with young men that are from the same background as they are from and guys that are going to grow up to be just like them. Maybe they take that personal. Maybe it hurts their feelings. Sorry gents. Even LaVell knew we needed the Jim McMahons and Steve Sarkisians of the world, in order to compete with the world and “Big Time” programs.
3.Invest in the staff. Invest in the facilities. Invest in the program.
Money. Pay your damn coaches! It’s not like BYU and the church can’t afford it. Everyone assumed that BYU would always be successful, regardless of recruiting and regardless of whether the school put the type of energy and capital into future investment or not. BYU Administration and the leaders of the church believe what Bronco Mendenhall believed when he was here at BYU. That athletes, coaches and staff should want to come and be a part of BYU Athletics, and they should want to do it regardless of whether or not it gave them a good chance to go to the NFL or whether the salary was competitive with the rest of the marketplace or not. That people should want to be here because of the bounteous “blessings” that they will have in their lives, not because we win a lot, not because we send kid’s the NFL and definitely not because they can make great money.
I don’t care that LaVell Edwards worked for $140k/year. “The Game” has changed. It has left BYU Football in it’s wake. In it’s dust. Whatever stupid analogy you want to use. The college football landscape is so much different than it was during BYU’s heyday 20 and 30 years ago. BYU is evolving and investing….but not nearly fast enough. Because the decision-makers at the top no longer see it as a priority. Maybe they don’t think they need BYU to be a great missionary tool and advertisement for the Mormon church. The program is being left being left behind by most Power 5 programs. Specifically one dumb school 45 minutes north of Provo. BYU doesn’t have a lock on the best LDS athletes from around the country like they used to. Many competing programs are allowing Mormon athletes to defer playing sports for 2 years in order to serve a church mission. That was unheard of 25 years ago. When Dennis Erickson recruited me to the University of Miami Hurricanes in 1991, I asked him if I could come there, play for a year, then take two years off to be an Elder. Then come back. He looked across the desk at me like I had two heads. I bought Dennis dinner at his favorite pub a couple years ago. He told me he wished he had learned more about Mormons and missions back in the ’90s.
The LDS Church invests heavily in “Big Business”; stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, manufacturing, farming, technology and other ventures. They “Run with the Big Dogs” and the Champions of Industry from around the world. They operate in the most competitive of capitalistic environments. The Mormon Church employs some of the smartest-of-the-smart businessmen. They are always very wise when it comes to their competitors, growth and economic prosperity. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints invests in Wall Street, Big Pharma, Global Real Estate, the “Technology Giants” like Google and Apple, and even some industries you wouldn’t expect, like Big Tobacco. They know exactly what it takes to be successful and earn a great Return on Investment (ROI). Except, it seems, when it comes “Big Sports”.
In this industry, specifically with Intercollegiate Football, the BYU Board of Education and it’s trustees have been spoiled for decades. Bronco’s comments from 2008 were just a symptom of the arrogance, laziness and apathy of our BYU disease. In the past they were able to compete at the highest levels and achieve fame and notoriety and utilize their football team as a beacon and a missionary tool around the country with a relatively modest “investment”. Everything was great and the team had success throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. They should’ve been more diligent about reading their Book of Mormon and realized that pride comes before the fall. The Nephite Cycle of Prosperity and Misery. People around the country, and to some extent even the world, saw BYU’s football team as an extension of the Mormon church and it was their introduction to the faith and they allowed them into their living rooms. It was great marketing and advertising for the faith. Missionaries around the world in the 80’s and 90’s would tell you that people were friendly on the doorstep (even where I served in England, where soccer is king) because people loved discussing Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Ty Detmer, the National Championship, how many wives we had as Elders or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Look at what has happened at other church owned schools. The Board of Trustees and it’s members made the decision over the last few years to euthanize the sports programs at BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii because they weren’t seeing the ROI on the capital and resources that we being spent in order to be competitive in the modern collegiate athletic landscape. Athletic exceptionalism is no longer a priority. Now the Officers of the Board are faced with the decision of either making BYU Football and BYU sports a priority and doing what it takes in order to compete at the highest levels…..or if not, flounder in mediocrity (definitely not a Mormon trait in other areas of life) until it’s time to call it quits and shut the whole damn thing down. If we can’t do what is required to be the best, just put us out of our misery and pull the plug on the program like has been done at the other LDS schools. WE CANNOT DO THAT! Swallow your pride, take your medicine, reprioritize your life and let’s get healthy again so we can compete at the highest levels. Repentance is not just for us individuals in the church. It’s not just for the little people. It’s for those at the top. It’s even for the men and woman (I think there is one on the BYU Board of Education….another topic for another day) that control the money and make the big decisions for BYU Athletics. I will never quit BYU Football. I hope BYU Football doesn’t quit me.
#BYU #GoCougs #4Life