Dick Harmon: Bronco returns Y. to its roots

Published: Thursday, March 24 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall applauds a performance in spring football drills this month in Provo. (Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News) BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall applauds a performance in spring football drills this month in Provo. (Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News)
He hovered around the last players on the field doing rope pull-ups after Tuesday's practice before talking to reporters in a drizzling rain outside the new Student Athlete Center at BYU.
Bronco Mendenhall just finished his first 100 days on the job. It's been a blur. In this time, he's dealt with personnel issues, brought his focus points to the squad, designed a management strategy, took his vision to the public, finished recruiting and mapped out a plan for spring drills that includes installing a new offense.
So, what's been the toughest task?
"I would say a constant state of readiness is the thing, an ever present, a feeling a decision is to be made at any minute or any hour that's what I feel most," Mendenhall said.
"It's a constant state of readiness. It may not be an increase in demand or the workload in a given day, the knowledge that it could at any time turn is something.
On the field or off, Bronco Mendenhall has tried to get as close as a perspective as possible in the Cougar football program. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News) On the field or off, Bronco Mendenhall has tried to get as close as a perspective as possible in the Cougar football program. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News)
Sounds like stress — or pressure — a natural outbreak of new job duty.
"The pressure I feel isn't any more as I've felt the past few years under coach Gary Crowton," Mendenhall said.
"What I do feel is the weight of responsibility and scope of my assignment. What my job covers is so far-reaching that I really want to represent this institution and this football team correctly with the right attention to detail that that in itself becomes a tremendous job and it's 24-7, is what I've learned.
"It's exhilarating and after this 100 days is over, I've learned more about my self and this football team — I hope is only the beginning."
Behind the scenes, Mendenhall watchers are impressed. "He's a remarkably good listener," said one aide. "He values the opinions of others and he is anxious to learn."
Breaking down the 100 days, here are a few Mendenhall tracks in the sand.
Mendenhall has sought counsel from inside and outside. He's tapped in to traditional BYU sources and invited advice from professional organizational behavioral scientists including Paul Gustavson, a former football player who's San Jose-based Organization Planning and Design, Inc., has serviced the likes of National Semiconductor, the Veterans Administration, AT&T Credit Corp and NASA.
Mendenhall has broken down every aspect of BYU football, operations, budget, personnel and evaluated efficiency. He's tweaked every part of BYU football from communications, academics, workouts, practices and staff assignments to summer camps.
Mendenhall has implemented strategy. For instance, all 117 Division I football teams recruit, have academic programs and practice.
Mendenhall wants to create a sustainable competitive advantage by doing these routines better than 116 competitors.
To dig deeper into this strategy, take recruiting. BYU doesn't and will not recruit like other schools. So, Mendenhall designed a plan of attack unique to BYU.
BYU has a database of 1,700 former athletes. They've targeted them with letters, inviting their involvement. They've sent out invitations for former players to attend practice, breakout meetings and scrimmage on April 1. They've had response, the oldest, a player from 1934.
The idea is to spread ownership of the program, pay respect to tradition and those who've already invested. In the process, Mendenhall has a map of the country marked with former player locations, men who could help identify talent and have agreed to be eyes and ears of BYU football.
For instance, if he clicks in talent-rich California, goes to Orange County and clicks on Costa Mesa, the names of two former Cougars pop up. They are Steve Sanders and Jeff Wilcox. These guys can't "officially" recruit for BYU under NCAA guidelines. But they can watch, evaluate, be bird dogs and report on any LDS or non-LDS player who fits BYU's profile within a ward or stake boundary. Mendenhall's crew with then finish the process.
"These former players know what life is at BYU, they've experienced it. They know if an athlete will fit in. They can be a great resource," director of football operations Duane Busby said.
In essence, Mendenhall is installing a network that existed but was never organized at BYU.
Another strategy is on the academic front. Rather than check on missed assignments and classes by players several times a week, such checks are now daily.
While BYU football coaches have written letters to players on LDS missions for years, Mendenhall has formalized that to production of monthly letters from his staff, organized the campaign with defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi in charge, and each coach is assigned a month to produce correspondence. A staff communication system has been extended to letters to former players, current players, recruits and a group never before targeted — parents of players.
Mendenhall's practices are taken from the best he's seen personally, and portions of Texas Tech and other schools. One single enhancement to organization of practice sessions is increasing reps. For instance, BYU quarterbacks throw significantly more passes than they have in the past during one practice session — at times, splitting the field with two QBs tossing simultaneously, increasing receiver participation.
In recent weeks, Mendenhall has had former BYU players, now in the NFL speak to his squad, including Chad Lewis, Ty Detmer, Steve Young and Ryan Denney.
"That might be the most prevalent theme of his first 100 days — to return and study what it was that traditionally made BYU great — and tap those resources," Busby said.
Mendenhall walked off the field, one of the first on and last off, a personal trademark. On the back of his shirt is a logo, a symbol. It is the old "Y" insignia on helmets worn in BYU's glory days.
Two weeks ago, Mendenhall ran his team up the mountain that faces Utah Valley and once perched near the block Y, he told his team to look out at the view. He told them the vista is much more beautiful to see from above.
It was a subtle reminder of where he wanted the squad the next 200 days.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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