BYU coach, players answer questions at fireside

Published: Friday, Aug. 29 2014 2:00 p.m. MDT

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall greets friend Kenneth Jones as members of the BYU football team arrive for a fireside in Seattle on Sept. 5, 2008.

Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News

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BLOOMFIELD, Conn. — For BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, perhaps the first real surprise of the season came during Thursday night’s traditional pre-game fireside here prior to Friday’s season-opener against Connecticut.

Senior tight end Devin Mahina, who organized the fireside, called an audible and changed the format. After a few players shared some remarks, as they usually do, this time, those in the congregation were invited to ask the team questions. “I learned about the format,” Mendenhall told the large crowd at the Hartford Stake Center, “when it was announced from the podium.” Mendenhall and his players addressed a variety of topics, from independence and the Big 12, to what makes BYU different, to returned missionaries being an advantage for the program.

Here’s a sample of the questions and answers:

Question: Is the principle of councils in the church used within the BYU football program?

Mendenhall: “I have very bright men, I have spiritual men, I have compassionate men and wise men (working with him). They speak to me and provide solutions and counsel and we usually find resolutions of what needs to happen on behalf of these young men who I’m entrusted to be the steward over. However, at a different level, there are four captains on our team. There’s also a leadership council member of each position group. This year, we’ll meet together every Tuesday at 11 o’clock. The idea being that, as a head coach, my job is make myself as expendable as possible, meaning giving as much of the program as possible the ownership of our team to team members so they can learn and grow and take ownership of the direction of the program. Then it becomes sustainable — it’s not tied to a leader, it’s tied to principle.”

Question: Some people view having returned missionaries in the program as an unfair advantage for BYU. Is it an advantage?

Mendenhall: “There’s a very simple principle regarding that. I would view it as an amazing advantage in this capacity — the young men that I coach are more mature intellectually, they have amazing spiritual backgrounds. Over 80 percent of my team the last three years have served missions. Over 70 percent the past nine years have served missions. Anyone in the country can sign LDS players. LDS players don’t have to come to BYU. They can go elsewhere. It’s amazing that less than 7 percent of those that go elsewhere actually serve missions. If it’s such an advantage, then why don’t those coaches promote those kids into going? In fact, they’re discouraged from going because it becomes football first. We’ve had young men that have come back three days before training camp. You might ask them if it’s an advantage as their bodies are trying to catch up to their spirits and their minds. It takes approximately a year for their bodies to recapture what they once were. Ultimately, I think it’s a huge advantage because of balance in our lives. In the world of college football today, there isn’t much balance. It’s moving more toward commercialization and money. It’s what can you get, not what you can provide for others and what service you can give in your education. Our program is focused on those things at its core. I love that approach in terms of preparing them to go on (in life). Whether it helps us win a game or not, I’m not sure that’s even relevant. But I do think it prepares them for life.”

Question: For any players who aren’t LDS, what’s the difference between your experiences with this team and your experience with other teams, and how has it helped you?

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