Are changes in store at BYU?

When Bronco Mendenhall dismissed defensive coordinator Jaime Hill in October as the BYU sputtered to its worst start to a season since 1973, it was clear that the Cougars head coach had no reservations about shaking up his staff.

The team was mired in a 1-4 start following an awful 31-16 Friday night loss to Utah State, a game in which the Cougars gave up 434 yards of offense to the Aggies, including 242 on the ground.

Bronco MendenhallICONBronco Mendenhall's BYU squad weathered a difficult start to earn a berth in the New Mexico Bowl.

Mendenhall assumed Hill’s play-calling responsibilities, something he did as the defensive coordinator his first three seasons before turning the reins over to Hill in 2008. The Cougars eventually rallied and righted the ship for the season, winning five of their next six before falling by one point in the regular-season finale at Utah. Mendenhall had BYU bowling once again for the sixth straight season as the defense played much better with him calling the plays. He is pondering remaining the full-time coordinator.

In Saturday’s thrashing of UTEP, BYU had no trouble moving the ball with Jake Heaps under center, as the freshman tossed a New Mexico Bowl-record four touchdown passes en route to a 52-24 win. The outing culminated a prolific second half of the season for Heaps, who completed 99 of 154 passes for 1,259 yards with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last five games of the season. He also broke Ty Detmer’s school record for touchdown passes in season by a freshman with 15.

Toss in a complementary power running game led by JJ Di Luigi and Joshua Quezada, the Miners had no answer for the offensive onslaught.

With Heaps, Di Luigi, Quezada, and receivers Cody Hoffman and McKay Jacobson all returning in 2011, the future is bright for BYU as it enters the world of being an Independent.

The only question now is who will run the offense going forward?

Yes, after scoring 52 points in the team’s bowl game, Mendenhall is reportedly looking for a new offensive coordinator.

On Monday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Mendenhall suggested that his entire offensive staff — including coordinator Robert Anae, running backs coach Lance Reynolds, offensive line coach Mark Weber, receivers coach Patrick Higgins and quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman — should look for other employment while he evaluates the unit and ponders changes.

In light of the report, the school released a statement stressing that no coaches had been released, but that a meeting among coaches did take place.

Any reports that BYU football coaches have been released from the staff are inaccurate. BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall has begun the evaluation process of the recently completed season. As part of the process, Mendenhall met with offensive coaches and indicated a restructuring of the offensive staff is being evaluated. Mendenhall told the coaches this includes possible changes in assignments and personnel. The review will continue after the holidays and has no specific timetable.

Translation: change is on the horizon for the Cougars.

Anae was criticized for the horrid start to the season, especially because of the employment of the two-quarterback system with Riley Nelson and Heaps. However, Mendenhall took the blame for that situation, and things didn’t look too shabby early as the Cougars beat Washington to open up the year. When Nelson was shelved by injury after the Florida State loss, it was easy to build the unit around Heaps.

Jake HeapsICONCougars QB Jake Heaps broke Ty Detmer’s school record for TD passes in season by a freshman with 15.

The most important decision Mendenhall has to make is what type of offense he wants BYU to run in 2011. While the unit became more confident as the season progressed, as Heaps matured, they still finished 2010 averaging 26.2 points, 198.4 passing yards and 366.5 total yards — the lowest averages under his leadership. It was also the first time in his tenure that BYU failed to average over 425 yards a game of total offense and over 200 yards passing.

The Cougars relied more on the ground game, averaging 168.1 yards per game — the highest under Mendenhall. While it may not have been the high-scoring unit that Cougars fans have been used to, the coaching staff seemed to adapt well to the personnel — and that’s good coaching.

Because of his work with Heaps, it would be strange to see Doman get let go. The others? All bets are off. But as BYU prepares for its next chapter in its football history, you get the feeling that next season’s Cougars will be airing it out quite a bit more.

With an emerging talent like Heaps, who can blame them?

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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