SALT LAKE CITY — Things Bronco Mendenhall can work on until 2016, when his contract extension expires, in no particular order:
• Fix the “Utah” problem.
• Beat ranked teams.
• Smooth out his one-liners. (Not everyone gets to be Bill Cosby.)
Otherwise, the man is busting down doors. His 74 wins are the 12th most in the nation since he took over in 2005. BYU is 8-for-8 in bowl invitations, 6-for-8 in bowl wins, including four straight.
Besides, he’s Bronco. Who wouldn’t want a coach it can identify by a single name?
So Bronco it is. His deal was announced at Wednesday’s BYU media day. If BYU does win a national championship — an unmitigated goal — he’ll be moving into single-name, rock-star status, along with icons such as Bono, Madonna and, of course, LaVell.
“There’s not a timetable on it,” Mendenhall said of a championship, “but I think it’s possible.”
To some, the chance of BYU winning a national title falls in the likelihood of time travel. But Utah finished ranked No. 2 in the nation in 2008, and arguments were made that it should have been No. 1. Eight years into the Bronco (one name, please) era, the Cougar and Ute programs aren’t far apart. Utah has been to bigger bowls (Sugar, Fiesta) and won more head-to-head games (5-3) — including three straight — but BYU hasn’t missed a bowl invitation and hasn’t had a losing season. Preseason rankings have BYU rated higher, though neither is in the top 25.
For all practical (or impractical) purposes, extending Mendenhall’s contract was a good move. He not only espouses BYU’s mission, he embraces it. At the team’s media day on Wednesday, he quickly referenced the university’s reach and appeal to values-based athletes, LDS and otherwise. He promoted the school’s academic standards and its quality of student-athletes.
All in a day’s work.
Although Mendenhall raises eyebrows for openly stating his championship aspirations, the approach makes sense. It wouldn’t be cool to say the team’s biggest objective is to win the Beehive Boot, symbol of instate supremacy.
The point is to aim high, especially if there’s not much to aim for in between.
With four opponents ranked in preseason polls, and five big-conference teams on the schedule, it’s not as though the Cougars could go undefeated and still not merit title game consideration. Athletics director Tom Holmoe said Mendenhall and basketball coach Dave Rose both claim their main goal is to win a national championship.
“A lot of teams won’t say that, but we will,” Holmoe said.
While Holmoe acknowledges the difficulty of scheduling games as an independent, there is one more difficult thing: winning them, which is a Mendenhall area of concern. He is 4-13 all-time against ranked teams, his last wins coming in 2009. He is 0-6 since then.
This year’s schedule is widely considered BYU’s most difficult, despite having a game against Idaho State. Notre Dame, Texas, Boise State and Wisconsin are in the top 25 preseason polls. The last time BYU played that many ranked teams it went 11-2, beating Oklahoma, Utah and Oregon State but losing to TCU in 2009.
Including instate contests against Utah and Utah State this year, plus big-conference opponents Georgia Tech and Virginia, makes the schedule bodacious enough for almost any coach — even one with a matinee idol name.
Mendenhall said that early in his career he wasn’t certain he’d be a coach for many years. Now he’s thinking differently, calling the latest contract extension “not a restart, but a re-launch.” It was an appropriate choice of words, considering BYUtv’s references to global TV coverage. How far can it be to “interplanetary?”
Toss in the “higher level” remarks and the point was pretty clear: BYU is shooting for the stars. In the process, it has re-upped Mendenhall, which was, well, the only way to fly.
It seems over time, he has decided BYU really is a good place to land.
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