PROVO — From the time he was hired as BYU's head coach in December 2004, Bronco Mendenhall knew he wouldn't be in this position for the long term.
"I didn't think I'd be here eight years, to be honest with you," Mendenhall told the Deseret News.
But when spring ball opens Monday, Mendenhall will be entering his ninth season at the helm. Although he is in the final year of his current contract, it appears that he's far from finished. As the Deseret News reported Friday, Mendenhall is working with school administrators on a contract extension.
"It's happening as we speak," Mendenhall said. "Now that there's one more season, that doesn't seem like enough yet. It's been an interesting transformation, but there's more to do. And I think I'm supposed to do it."
Looking back at the past eight seasons, Mendenhall, who took over a program coming off three consecutive losing campaigns, has accomplished plenty. In part, he's guided the Cougars to top 25 finishes and at least 10 victories in five of those eight years.
By his own lofty standards, that's good, but he's hungry for the program to be much better.
Referring to an LDS general conference talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks — a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and a former BYU president — titled, "Good, Better, Best," Mendenhall outlined his vision for the program.
"I've self-imposed — no one has imposed it on me — that the minimum standard is a top 25 ranking," said Mendenhall, who has led the Cougars to a 74-29 record in eight seasons. "That's what I believe is supposed to happen at BYU. I think in five of the last seven years, we've done that. There's not many other teams that have. That's good. Better would be the top 10. Best is national champion.
"I love being good and I care a lot about winning. I would love to grow the program into one of the elite programs on a consistent basis — that would be top 10. It's fun to think, what if that happened? I'm designing and redesigning the program with that in mind. I'm not afraid to take bold stances and say what's possible.
"The vision I have for the program is when I think about what could happen if we, and when we, finish in the top 10 consistently or win a national championship — with 70 percent of the team that are returned missionaries with the grade point standards that we have and the honor code that we live by and think of as a competitive advantage.
"What would that do in terms of the perspective of the world? That's the best way to summarize why I get up every day. There's been a lot accomplished, but there's more. That would be the reason I would like to continue going — in pursuit of that," he said.
As part of chasing those goals, Mendenhall overhauled his coaching staff. Robert Anae was rehired as offensive coordinator and was given the title of assistant head coach. The rest of the offensive staff is new. He handed the title of defensive coordinator to secondary coach Nick Howell, though Mendenhall will continue to call plays and assist Howell in coordinating what was one of the nation's top defenses last season. In addition, outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga will now handle special teams coordinator duties.
"It's been a long time in the making, from the minute our game finished versus San Diego State in our bowl victory," Mendenhall said of the coaching staff shakeup. "It was a great chance to consider the next era of BYU football. I've been working really diligently to reassemble and assemble a very strong coaching staff — not in relation to the past, but in relation to the future. That includes more difficult scheduling, more exposure, more significant games on the road with higher expectations."
Indeed, these changes come at a time when the Cougars, who will embark on their third year as an independent this fall, are on the verge of facing perhaps their toughest schedule ever, with games at Virginia, Utah State, Houston, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Nevada, and home contests against Texas, Utah, Middle Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Boise State.
"I think it's exciting, certainly challenging. But what I did know in assessing the program is I had to make changes for the program to achieve its goals and what was possible," Mendenhall said. "I've done the very best to my ability to put a staff together to do that. I've also done my best to improve our scheduling, to make that as difficult and intriguing as possible.
"At some point, it will all come together to continue to improve our program, which is already very strong and is already one of the nation's best and most consistent. That's the baseline. How much room is left? The goal is to squeeze any air out between where we are and the ceiling. That's the intent and motive of not only the scheduling, but the coaching changes."
Mendenhall added that he's working with a sense of urgency because he wants the program to reach its full potential in all areas — spiritually, academically and athletically. He wants to help produce young men with high character who serve in the work force, in communities and in the LDS Church.
But that's not all.
"I want to see the program absolutely dominant on the football field," Mendenhall said. "I've learned a lot in eight years and I've grown tremendously. I'm excited and optimistic for the continued growth and expansion of the program. I didn't make any of these changes for them to be on a short-term basis."