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Dick Harmon: The message behind the message in Bronco Mendenhall's T-shirt

Published: Wednesday, July 1 2015 10:49 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall cheers on his team against  Ole Miss  in Oxford, Miss  Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. BYU won 14-13. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall cheers on his team against Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. BYU won 14-13. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

PROVO — Why does BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall wear that nylon T-shirt during football games? On national TV, can't he go with a nice golf shirt, white or blue with trim? Heck, some coaches wear bow ties and vests.

Is Bronco dressing down?

Inquiring minds wanted to know this week. I got requests to find out why.

Well the short answer is that Mendenhall often does things that are symbolic, the deed or object represents something he believes is important.

If you want the long answer, here's a stab at it.

Last year after the loss at Utah State, Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and took over coordinator duties himself. He wanted to reunite his defense and forge a close bond. He evoked a slogan used before the 2006 season, "A Band of Brothers."

That phrase comes from a verse from William Shakespeare that reads: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother …"

The T-shirt Mendenhall wears has that phrase on the back and most players wear that shirt underneath their shoulder pads.

"The coach wants us to know he considers himself like us, that he's got our back and we have his, that we are brothers, a family," said center Terence Brown.

Outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton takes it a little further because he practices underneath Mendenhall's rule.

"Knowing him and the guy he is he does it for us, the team," Pendleton said. "He wants us to know he isn't any better than any of us, he's our coach and we all respect him but he's just one of us.

"Last year when we were going through a tough time, we decided to wear the Band of Brothers shirt underneath our pads. If you go back to our games last year, you see that gray shirt hanging underneath our jerseys.

"That Band of Brothers is something we take to heart, it's something we take serious and that's his motive in wearing it in games, like he's one of our brothers."

Pendleton said he considers Mendenhall the best defensive coordinator in the country and his players love him.

"He demands a lot of us but at the same time, it just makes us better," Pendleton said.

Pendleton gives the example of how Mendenhall "tests our will" every day.

At the end of practice, if the defense has messed up, or if he just wants to see what players have in the tank when tired, he asks a little bit more. Often it is painfully challenging — a test to see who gives up first or endures.

In fall camp, Mendenhall absolutely tests the will.

"He wants to see who is with us and who is not, who gives up," said Pendleton. "Some guys don't like what he does and they want to quit. He sees quickly who stands at the end."

It can come in the form of wind-sprint gassers, "crazy" obstacle courses, jumping over garbage cans, doing "burpies" or up and downs and going and touching field goal posts.

"It comes at the end, when we're all tired, when we've about given everything and we're tired and thirsty," Pendleton said. "It makes us accountable for how we played.

"It makes it so when we get in games like last week at Mississippi, when things aren't looking good, when it's 13-0, which team can survive the longest, who is going to play the hardest. I think we were the team in better condition and we are expected to play harder longer.

"It's a matter of playing hard in the fourth quarter and being capable of playing just as hard if we go into overtime."

Pendleton said in the second half of the Mississippi game, he felt BYU was playing harder than the SEC opponent and that's why the Cougars scored 14 straight points to win the game.

"In the game I was like, 'this game is easier, it is easier in the game than it is at practice,' " Pendleton said.

"Some of the practices I go through I want to pass out," he said. "During the game, I was breathing OK and felt fine. It's crazy but that's the point — to make sure in a game we are ready, we can play with our instincts and we aren't worried about catching our breath or being tired. We're only worried about our assignments and playing as hard as we can. It was good."

It is one thing to speak platitudes about being together and working hard, but it's another to do it. Perhaps this aids Mendenhall in getting Pendleton and others to believe they can go harder than they realize.

"We trust him," said Brown.

Mendenhall's gray T-shirt does have the Nike swoosh, as do his shoes and hat, as per his equipment contract to display the corporate goods.

But fashion has absolutely nothing to do with the message printed on the back.

He may look like he just got out of Gold's Gym, but its supposed to be that way.

A bow tie just wouldn't do.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company