Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
BYU outside linebackers coach Nick Howell watches a drill with his linebackers going against tight ends Wednesday.

Bronco Mendenhall's latest hire came few feet away.

The sixth-year BYU coach hired Nick Howell as the new outside linebacker coach.

Young, energetic, idealistic, and a hard worker with a thing for the BYU brand, Howell — a Mendenhall clone — replaced longtime defensive coach Barry Lamb, who stepped down this past winter to take care of personal business.

The reviews coming in on Howell, who is only 30, are glowing.

"He's young but very smart," said top outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton.

"He's intense all the time, and if you aren't ready for it, good luck, because it will be a very long day."

Pendleton says he relates to Howell and respects him. "I've had a lot of coaches who've cared about me, but with Howell, well, he's taken a very personal interest in me and my life, from calling me to texting me all the time. He is concerned about me as a person, and that means a lot to a player."

The Ogden native and former Ben Lomond coach, Howell says this new gig, which came after toiling as a graduate assistant the past two years, is all about representing the school and getting players to do likewise.

"This is a good opportunity," Howell said. "I believe in what coach Mendenhall is doing. I'm excited as can be to represent this school and get the players to do the best they can."

Howell is in charge of nine outside linebackers.

"They are a bunch of young guys fighting like crazy with everything to be good, all willing to listen," Howell added. "They are athletic and hungry."

Howell is sold on Bronco's mandate that no offensive or defensive players (other than quarterbacks) can gain major playing time until they prove it on special teams play.

"Playing is a rite of passage, and the way you earn it is on special teams. Special teams is everything."

Mendenhall said when Lamb left, he didn't even consider a nationwide search for the hire.

"If I went out and did a nationwide search, I wouldn't find anyone who knows more about our program, or cares more about it, loves football or is as prepared," said Mendenhall.

"I can't work him hard enough. Players love him. He's great, and I'm really impressed. I didn't need to open it up, I was hoping for an opportunity to add him. I'll always look inside first."

Mendenhall said Howell worked as a defensive end and this is his third season on his staff, two of them working with Micha Alba, now at Fresno State whom Mendenhall considers the best graduate assistant he's ever worked with.

Mendenhall would have hired Alba but had no opening. Howell, trained by Alba in breaking down film, preparing tendency reports, working on game plans and preparing the defense for games and practices, said Alba wanted him to be better than he was.

"That's the thing with GAs here, they want to help the guy that comes after be better than they were. He was that way, and I tried to do the same with Kelly Poppinga, who is now here."

Howell said his depth chart isn't established yet but Pendleton and Jordan Atkinson are the most experienced players. Others pushing for positions include Jamison Frazier and freshman Kyle Van Noy.

"It is a good group," Howell says. He needs to find a replacement for Coleby Clawson, whose hit on Oklahoma's Sam Bradford last September changed the Big 12 and Heisman races and became an ESPN repeat clip all season.

"Coaching is all about relationships," he said. "The players are why I coach football. It is relationships. I work hard, they trust me, I care about them. Coaching is just relationships."