Dick Harmon: Bronco Mendenhall and Cecil O. Samuelson have been working together for a long time

Published: Monday, June 17 2013 6:45 p.m. MDT

BYU's Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall talks to the media as BYU wraps up their spring football practices Friday, April 5, 2013 with a scrimmage game for the alumni at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

I recently laid out a number of reasons why Bronco Mendenhall wants to renew his contract as BYU's head football coach. I also wrote about why it hasn't happened yet, even though both sides seem interested in extending Mendenhall's deal beyond Dec. 31, 2013.

Here's one possible reason why Mendenhall hasn't put pen to paper on a new contract yet: Both parties could be waiting for current BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson to hand his duties off to a new president.

Samuelson may continue to lead the university this coming school year and perhaps the year after and so on, and like before, he would be the one to deal with Mendenhall's new contract. But if history means anything, many folks at BYU were surprised Samuelson wasn’t released from his post at the end of this past school year.

I remember passing him in a hallway, exchanging greetings, and he indicated his presidency was near an end. That was a year ago.

Samuelson is immensely popular on campus. He has been a company man. For almost all of his tenure at BYU he served as a general authority in the First Quorum of the Seventy — a very key ecclesiastical calling in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (He was given emeritus status in October 2011.)

He has served a very long and meaningful term as the university’s president with a myriad milestones. In fact, his tenure has been of abnormal length. He has been BYU's president longer than anybody in the past 42 years. That’s saying something about the value the board of trustees places on his leadership.

Right now Samuelson has been BYU’s president for 10 years (2003-13). That is longer than the man he replaced, Merrill Bateman, who served seven years; Rex Lee, who served six years; and Jeffrey R. Holland and Dallin H. Oaks, who both served nine years. As it stands now, Samuelson has served the longest in his post as BYU president since the 20 years filled in by Ernest L. Wilkinson from 1951 to 1971.

Samuelson may not even know when his time will be up. Or maybe he does.

Could it be before the new school year begins in the fall? If so, it makes sense that Samuelson hand off his football coach to a new president who signs papers and makes the handshake with the words, “You and I are working together now, and the two of us will be responsible for the program — you as coach, and me as the president.”

That kind of a relationship is important. Samuelson knows it. Mendenhall knows it. So does the new president, if one is due to be appointed this summer.

Samuelson’s work at BYU has been significant. It has impacted the athletic program, mostly for good. And we’re talking about more than his popularity with the student section in the Marriott Center during free-throw shots.

Under Samuelson, BYU did away with separate athletic directors for men's and women’s sports and hired Tom Holmoe.

Under Samuelson, BYU elevated two assistant coaches to lead its major revenue sports — Mendenhall and basketball coach Dave Rose.

Under Samuelson, BYU decided to leave the Mountain West Conference and go independent in football, carrying the ESPN brand as part of the venture.

Under Samuelson, BYU made sure that handshakes and verbal agreements over television exposure will never be taken for granted again, especially when negotiating conference membership.

Under Samuelson, BYU completed major student housing developments on campus to keep a strong student body presence just a walk away from the Marriott Center and LaVell Edwards Stadium — a key in attendance challenges that many commuter universities struggle with.

Under Samuelson, the university constructed a state-of-the art building to house BYUtv, a worldwide opportunity to market the school’s brand, of which athletics is a prime cornerstone.

So, who knows if Samuelson will give the extended handshake to Mendenhall? He has been Samuelson's man.

In the short term, it probably doesn’t matter.

But symbolically, either way, it is an interesting aspect of this Mendenhall contract renewal, and it will be curious to see if it plays a part.

It is rumored that one aspect of the contract under discussion is whether BYU puts a buyout clause in Mendenhall's five-year contract, which would be in his favor for security. That is, if there is an early change in the head coach before five years, would/should/could the school pay the coach a chunk of change?

If Bronco comes to an agreement in the next few weeks, would an announcement be postponed to accommodate a potential change in presidents?

Probably not.

But it is something to watch.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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