SALT LAKE CITY — It’s hard not to read between the lines on stories such as the one in the Deseret News, this week, by Jeff Call. The headline said: “BYU, Bronco Mendenhall still discussing contract extension.”
Discussing? Does that mean, like, negotiating?
Wow, when did this happen? I kinda thought coaching at BYU was like it says on the missionary papers: “You are hereby called ” and then he signs on the dotted line.
Now we find he’s negotiating. Well, well, well. LaVell Edwards mostly worked for whatever BYU wanted to pay him, until near the end of his career. Gary Crowton got recruited and the stakes rose, but aside from that first year (12-2) his teams were never good enough for him to drive a hard bargain. In fact, he was fired.
A similar story on Mendenhall’s negotiations appeared in March, saying the parties were working on an extension. I mention his contract because this means a couple of good things for BYU. First, the university expects to be in major football business for a long time. Apparently nobody at BYU, or on North Temple, likes the idea of making athletics into intramurals, a la BYU-Idaho.
So the Cougars are negotiating to retain their coach.
Second, it says Mendenhall has done well enough (74-29, six bowl wins) that he can actually be choosy. Last time he was asked about a new contract, he said he’d prefer a three-year deal, though he could have gone for five. But he also said he wants to continue.
So BYU wants Mendenhall and he wants BYU. Which brings up an interesting question: Which needs the other more?
With one season left on his contract, Mendenhall has the Cougars at his mercy, so to speak. It’s true he’s settled in after eight years at the helm. It’s also true he’s loving all this Ziggy Ansah-to-the-NFL business. But if Mendenhall asked BYU for Pac-12-level money, what’s the school going to do, punt?
It at least has to get close. Mendenhall’s name comes up every year when vacancies occur at other schools. He became a hot item in connection with positions at UCLA and Colorado, though he shot down the Colorado rumor last December by saying he had no interest. He has flatly admitted to turning down at least one FBS offer.
Truth is, the man has options.
That’s what I mean about BYU needing Mendenhall more than the other way around. It needs him doing LDS firesides on Friday nights. It needs him coaching and recruiting LDS athletes such as Ansah and Kyle Van Noy, to avoid slipping down the college football rabbit hole.
As Crowton can attest, it’s not a job just anyone can do.
BYU isn’t entirely without options. Even if it never worked out a deal with Mendenhall, it could try Ken Niumatalolo, the head coach at Navy and LDS returned missionary. Indications are he would represent BYU well. Beyond that, he might make BYU’s Polynesian connection even stronger. However, recent news reports say three of Navy’s players are being investigated in connection with the rape of a female midshipman. That sort of controversy, though unrelated to Niumatalolo, could hurt his chances.
Another regular on the BYU rumor circuit is Charlie Stubbs, the head coach at Nicholls State.
BYU also has Robert Anae, who has starred as an offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and Arizona.
There are other assistant coaches who could be considered if Mendenhall ever left, including Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks.
Still, the field of qualified candidates is small and starting over wouldn’t be easy. The fact Mendenhall hasn’t signed a contract extension is good news for the Cougars. It means he’s been good enough to have bargaining power. Utah athletics director Chris Hill likes to say of his coaches: “I’d rather have someone that everyone wants than someone nobody wants.”
In that sense, if I were BYU I’d hastily find a way to get this done. What the school can’t or won’t afford, I’d wrangle from big boosters. If he wants oatmeal and cream daily at 8 a.m., I’d make it happen. If he wants a jet for recruiting, I’d work that out with a booster, too. Maybe, just to sweeten the deal, they should assign a flunkie to fetch him Big Gulps or orange juice.
That sort of attention may seem strange at a place like BYU, where football is — by Mendenhall’s own estimation — only fifth on the priority list. At the same time, it needs to happen, soon. No need tempting fate.
It’s not like he couldn’t get all that stuff somewhere else.
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