The throaty patented roar of his Harley-Davidson started Bronco Mendenhall ahead of an army of riders Saturday morning up Provo Canyon en route to Mirror Lake. It was a ride for charity as the clock winds down on his offseason.
Atop his blue and white 1700cc Screamin' Eagle Road King, with his older brothers on his flanks, Mendenhall is racking up some cycle time. He just returned from a 12-hour ride from Montana to see his wife. Monday, his staff will ride to Jackson Hole for a three-day retreat.
The Easy Rider stuff is doing wonders for the coach. He feels less stress.
He's more focused. He's happier. On the road, he feels giddy as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. His pent up frustrations slowly ooze away. His commute to work used to be a negative. Now on his Harley, it's, well, magic.
When he gets home, his wife, Holly, greets a more relaxed man. His kids see a quicker, more patient smile. He feels purged.
This summer, Mendenhall rode his Harley to California to surf. He rode along the Lewis and Clark trail to Montana to ride the river and fly fish.
He's got his staff involved. They often go on rides around Utah Lake, several staffers racing him as O-line coach Mark Weber brings up the rear with training wheels. The Harley has proved part of a formula to lift his spirits in a job that can get Vice-Grip-like in season.
"This is the most prepared I've felt as a head coach," said Mendenhall.
"And I'm talking about recharging. The last two years, I didn't feel that way. The seasons started and they felt like a continuation of the one before.
"In this particular case and year, my wife and I have found a magic formula (surfing, riding bikes and riding rivers). Whether it will affect our record, I don't know. But speaking for myself personally, I feel like I'm as ready for this season as I've ever felt."
A more at ease Bronco? Is it because this is year 5? Is it because he's got a seasoned team with mature players? Is it because he's not picked to win the MWC? "I think its trust and perspective," said the coach. "I trust our players. I trust those caring for them and I realize as I delegate more and more, I put myself in a different position to think about different things," Mendenhall continued. "The program is maturing. It just comes. You can't predict it and you can't force it but that's what's happening.
"I'm not saying I'm not as interested or as invested, but my work is different now."
How relaxed is BYU's football coach these days? He often hangs out at the Timpanogos Harley-Davidson. "Other places he talks football. Here he talks motorcycles and rides; it's his other place," said owner David Tuomisto as he looked out the window of his operation Saturday and saw Mendenhall mobbed by riders and fans seeking a photo opportunity. This was not his sanctuary day, but he agreed to ride and allow others in his bubble.
"Bronco's a little socially challenged. So when he comes here, we don't talk football, we talk about how it would be to live in Wallsburg," added Tuomisto.
The other day, Tuomisto, whose father Dennis used to "take care" of ASU coaches from Frank Kush to John Cooper in the clothing business, asked Mendenhall if Utah coach Kyle Whittingham would like a Harley hookup endorsement like the one he gave the BYU coach.
"Let's call him and find out," said Mendenhall.
Sound in the background is china crashing from an earthquake, the ice from rain in hell freezing over.
Bronco doesn't call Whittingham often, if at all, but he got Coach Whit on the line and handed the phone to Tuomisto. Whittingham is a former Harley owner and agreed to hook up with Timpanogos. This past week Whittingham rode a Crimson Red Fat Boy up Ogden Canyon, said Tuomisto.
Mendenhall and Utah's Kyle Whittingham have six days left before cleats hit the turf and football begins. If Tuomisto has his way, the BYU and Utah coaches would be riding together this time next year for a charity, something like the golf affair they do in June.
"I'd be all for it, if it doubled or tripled the numbers for a good cause," said Mendenhall.
This bike thing started two years ago when Bronco's older brother Mat — a former 6-foot-6 NFL and BYU defensive end — saw how heavy his little brother's stress bucket appeared as the Cougar coach. He told him he needed to ride a motorcycle.
He did. The impact was instantaneous.
Tuomisto got Mendenhall his first ride, a Fat Boy. He started on 15-minute rides, now they involve two time zones, a bigger bike, more saddlebags and higher handlebars.
One day Mendenhall brought his wife in the Harley dealership. Tuomisto told her she would either hate or love him. Holly rushed over and offered a big hug. "Bronco's a different guy, he's not as stressed when he gets home," she said.
Last week, Mendenhall was sailing along Montana's scenic roadways, so engulfed in the beauty he forgot to pay attention to his gas gauge and ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Used to drawing attention in Provo, he stood on the side of the road in his leather jacket and boots as cars changed lanes to avoid him. "It was a humbling experience," he said.44 comments on this story
Fortunately, a biker on a family vacation from Sacramento, stopped and got the coach to a gas station and arranged for a ride back to his Harley.
"I learned a lot about compassion that day," he said.
Thing is with Harley guys, says Tuomisto, the billionaire and the guy who hangs sheetrock speak the same language.
Kyle and Bronco, on a ride next summer to benefit the Provo Exchange Club? Kyle recruiting Ute riders, Bronco some Cougar choppers?
"It would be big," said Tuomisto, "very big."