Dick Harmon: BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, UConn coach Bob Diaco share same approach to shaping athletes

Published: Monday, Aug. 25 2014 6:30 p.m. MDT

Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco, left, stands with player Reuben Frank, right, as he talks to his team during the first NCAA college football practice Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Storrs, Conn.

Jessica Hill, AP

In UConn football coach Bob Diaco, BYU will go up against a man cut from the same cloth as Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall.

The two have never met.

They are a pair of guys who believe that off-field development, concepts of behavioral science, leadership and teamwork can be as valuable as X’s and O’s.

In other big-picture ways, although both can be very controlling, they aren’t quite in lockstep.

In the past three years, BYU has followed a nationwide trend of limiting media access to practices and players. However, Mendenhall opened more BYU practices this summer than at any time in his tenure. At UConn, no practices are open to the media at all. A few weeks ago, Mendenhall was surprised when receiver Devon Blackmon announced his suspension for Friday’s game on Twitter. Diaco’s policy is that every player on his team shuts down their Twitter account when they come to school.

Both men abhor entitlement in athletes; they believe no individual is greater than the team or the whole. Both are principle-driven, strategy and organization design-oriented coaches.

Diaco recently named his starting quarterback, but he brought all four QBs to the press conference so they could be interviewed equally as a reward for competing. Mendenhall also likes the broad praise approach/opportunity.

Mendenhall has been known to quote scripture, use Book of Mormon characters and icons like the Sons of Helaman and the Title of Liberty. When given the chance, Diaco openly declared his Christianity to the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce after being asked about a controversial quote from his former assistant coach, Ernest Jones, who said players were going to understand that “Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle.”

Diaco said he is two parts. He is at a school representing diverse beliefs, interests, socioeconomic backgrounds and religious disciplines where everyone is allowed to “chase their interests,” change their interests, and “reshape” their minds.

“Then, you have this other side that is Bob Diaco. Bob Diaco, the person, is a Christian. And I read the Bible because I believe in the Bible. I also feel the Bible is one of the most spectacular leadership documents from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Is it our playbook? It is not. It is not our playbook. We have black books. We have offensive playbooks. We have defensive playbooks. We have special teams playbooks.”

Mendenhall loves the warrior motif. He’s read the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” which is filled with quotes like “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy,” “a leader leads by example not be force,” and “strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory — tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

This spring Mendenhall embraced the “chairman of the board” head coaching role, believing leadership is an active role — a choice, not a position — and that it can be shared; thus Nick Howell is the “legitimate” defensive coordinator this season.

Diaco has brought in motivational speakers to address his players. He himself has a passion for motivating, and during his chamber of commerce speech, challenged those in the audience to face anxieties and fears that can be paralyzing.

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