PROVO — BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall unwittingly caused a big distraction for his team Thursday during the program's annual media day by telling the media that his players would be wearing one of three words, "Spirit," "Tradition" or "Honor" — rather than their last names — on the backs of their jerseys this season.
His players were less-than-thrilled with that move.
But by early Thursday night, after discussing the controversial decision with his players, Mendenhall decided to reverse course. He sent this message via Twitter:
Talked to my team tonite. They want to wear tradition spirit honor on jerseys for homecoming only. Last names for rest of the year. PERFECT!— Coach Mendenhall (@BYU_Football) August 9, 2013
So the "Spirit, Tradition, Honor" jerseys will be on display for just one game — the homecoming contest against Georgia Tech on Oct. 12.
After photo day, as part of team meetings, Mendenhall listened to his players' concerns, and a compromise was reached.
Since taking the reins of BYU's football program in 2005, Mendenhall has stamped the “Tradition, Spirit, Honor” motto all over the program.
Up until Thursday evening, Mendenhall had decided to take that a step further, as those three words, the three pillars of the program, were set to be even more ubiquitous — on the backs of his players' jerseys.
Cougar players were on the receiving end of a huge surprise Thursday when they showed up for photo day festivities. Instead of sporting the players’ last names on the backs of their uniforms — which has been the tradition at BYU — each jersey had either "Tradition," "Spirit" or "Honor" sewn on the back.
It was Mendenhall's decision, and he didn’t announce the change to his players beforehand.
“I haven’t told them or anyone else. I haven’t addressed it yet,” the coach said Thursday afternoon. “It will be interesting to see what they think.”
So how did his players react? Several expressed equal parts shock, support and disappointment.
“It caught us off-guard,” said senior defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna. “It’s up to (Mendenhall). I think it’s a good idea for us to be unified, and when people see us on TV to see what we represent. That was the main idea. With that in mind, it’s a good idea. If everyone knows the purpose behind this, I think they’ll understand. Right now, I think the players are just mad that they don’t have their names on the back of the jerseys.”
“It just surprised everybody. It’s such a unique thing,” said senior wide receiver Cody Hoffman. “You don’t see other programs, what they live by, on the back of their jerseys. It’s unique and different.”
Mendenhall had said Thursday afternoon his team would wear the "Tradition, Spirit, Honor" jerseys “as long as I’m the coach here. That’s what we’ll emphasize. I think it reflects consistency. It’s been on our stadium. It’s been at the core of everything that we’ve done. My point is simply to identify that we’re going to be very consistent. This is what the program represents. If anybody was wondering if we were going away from that, just look at the back of the jerseys and your answer is right there.”
Mendenhall explained that "Tradition, Spirit, Honor" should be synonymous with BYU football.
“We’ve identified it, I think from my very first year on, as the core principles of what the program was going to be,” he said. “After eight years and the successes we’ve had to this point, and after year two of independence with the vision I have for the program and what I see going forward, I intend that to be very visible. For anyone that wants to know about our program, and what it stands for on the biggest stages, I would consider it a re-launching of those and a re-emphasis on those same values that have helped us to be successful to this point.”
Sophomore running back Jamaal Williams, who wears “Tradition” on the back of his No. 21 jersey, tried to come to terms with the decision.
“I’m adopted by Tradition. So, my name is 'Tradition,'” Williams joked. “When people see me now, my name will be Jamaal ‘Tradition.’ It’s whatever. Hopefully people will still know what my last name is. Hopefully they won’t just call me 'Tradition,' though. I think they did it to show how much of a team we are, to emphasize that. It’s all right by me.”
How did his teammates deal with the new uniforms?
“It’s iffy,” Williams said. “We understand what they’re trying to do, but we still want our last names on there. It’s not just a name; it’s our last names. If they change it back, we’re cool with it. If they don’t, we’re going to have to go through it and play the season.”
“We didn’t expect it, obviously,” said junior wide receiver Ross Apo. “I think it’s different. I guess it just makes us all a team and nobody’s individual with their own name on their jerseys. We’re all connected in some way.”
Apo said he was somewhat disappointed by the decision to drop last names.
“A little bit. But like coach Mendenhall says, 'You’ve got to give up important things for the team,'” Apo said. “If it’s taking your name off the back to put on something you stand for, whatever. You just roll with it.”
Hoffman said the "Tradition, Spirit, Honor" uniforms could provide a unifying element.
“Maybe dedication to the program and shows what we stand for here,” he said. “Everybody’s going to know.”
"I'm not really sure what I think about it yet,” said senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy. “I've never had a chance to have my last name on my back of a jersey. That was one thing that I thought was really cool that BYU did was to have their last name on the jersey because it not only showed the 'Y' off on the front but also carried your last name — something that people take very honorable when you play football. It's going to be different and it’s going to be getting used to. We'll see how it goes."
Asked if the players could change’s Mendenhall’s mind about the decision, Williams said, “No, I don’t think so — especially not me. I’m a sophomore. The seniors, maybe. Coach has his reasons for doing things, and I trust whatever he does, even if I don’t like them. I just have to trust what he does.”
As it turned out, the Mendenhall did listen to his players' concerns and reached a compromise. And a fall camp distraction disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared.
BYU football camp
Day 5: The Cougars donned full pads for Thursday’s practice, but the media was not allowed to watch. After practice, players and coaches participated in the annual photo day.
Coming up: BYU will hold closed practices Friday. The Cougars will stage a scrimmage Saturday at 10 a.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium that is open to the public and the media.