PROVO — When BYU hired Bronco Mendenhall as its head football coach in December 2004, the Cougars were experiencing one of the darkest periods in the program's history.
Six players from the 2004 recruiting class had become embroiled in honor code and legal issues, and BYU had suffered three consecutive losing seasons, resulting in Gary Crowton's resignation.
Mendenhall's promotion from defensive coordinator was met with significant skepticism, considering he was one of Crowton's assistants, he had never been a head coach and, at the time, he was the second-youngest FBS head coach.
Two months after his hiring, Mendenhall told the Deseret News his plans for the program.
"If you look at the mission statement that we came up with for the football program, I think we're the flagbearer of the institution," he said in February 2005. "I'm passionate about my faith and I'm passionate about principles of truth and virtue and character. Those things represent BYU and BYU's football program. We're on the front line, representing all of those things. I intend to carry that flag up high, not on the ground. If I do my job right, this place will be one of the most dominant programs in the country, as it once was."
Since then, Mendenhall has coached 99 games, posting a 71-28 record. He will coach his 100th game on Nov. 10, when the Cougars host Idaho.
During Mendenhall's tenure, BYU has enjoyed five seasons with at least 10 wins and it has finished in the final top 25 rankings in at least one of the two major polls in five of the last six years. The Cougars have also played in a bowl game every year under Mendenhall, going 5-2 in those contests.
One of Mendenhall's biggest wins came in 2006 when BYU traveled to nationally ranked TCU in 2006 and knocked off the Horned Frogs, which led to a Mountain West Conference championship. Other memorable and significant moments include dramatic victories over Utah in 2006, 2007 and 2009. And BYU opened the 2009 season by registering a huge upset over No. 3 Oklahoma in the first game at palatial Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
Yet some observers point to Mendenhall's lack of wins in big games.
Under Mendenhall, BYU has played 17 teams ranked in the top 25, posting a dismal record of 4-13. The Cougars have dropped six straight games against ranked opponents, including losses to Oregon State and Notre Dame in October. And since 2010, BYU has lost three straight games to arch-rival Utah, including a humiliating 54-10 loss at home in 2011.
There have been disappointing seasons as well.
After back-to-back MWC championships in 2006 and 2007, BYU seemed poised to earn a BCS bowl bid in 2008. The Cougars opened with a 6-0 record, but lost by large margins at TCU and at Utah that season. Then, in 2009, after the upset of Oklahoma, the Cougars were blown out at home by Florida State and TCU. In 2010, BYU went 7-6 after losing four consecutive games early on.
In 2012, BYU has lost three games by a total of seven points, with a handful of plays changing the course of the season.
While Cougar fans aren't happy with the team's current 5-4 record, there's no doubt that Mendenhall has BYU's program in a much better place than when he became the head coach in December 2004.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company