Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Bronco Mendenhall, seen here talking to former linebacker Bryan Kehl, has established himself at BYU. It may be unlikely, though, that the Cougar coach stays as long as ex-coach LaVell Edwards.

So, how long will BYU have Bronco Mendenhall guiding its football program?

It could be a short time or maybe a decade, but Mendenhall will not coach the Cougars nearly as long as LaVell Edwards and won't display the decades of perseverance we've seen from Joe Paterno.

Mendenhall will likely retire from coaching before the gray sideburns set in — and he'll still be surfing.

But in a recent conversation with the fourth-year head coach, he had me wondering what he was up to. He talked like this BYU gig could end at any time, like he expected his life would turn on a dime and he'd have to answer the call, or he had some secret malady that would snuff his vitality way before his time.

My best guess is he'd like to string together some conference championships, establish his goals as a coach, follow through with commitments to recruits, then get on with his life.

On one hand, it makes sense — retiring from coaching or playing football before it controls every aspect of your life. Heck, he was hiding out in Montana last month and got mobbed by some fans.

Being a major college football coach or high-profile player can be demanding if not downright torture. You can ride a crest when the wins pile up, but you become a pasture biscuit quickly with the losses.

Stepping out of the addictive and competitive arena can be a challenge; it's easier said than done. Ask Brett Favre.

On the other hand, Mendenhall has invested a ton of time learning to be an organizational leader. He's been labeled as one of the bright, capable, up-and-coming coaches. And it appears he's been successful.

I could see him joining up with corporate behavioral science folks and becoming a presenter at seminars. I could see him getting a call to serve as a mission president for his church somewhere, or just fading into the Montana back country on horseback, or hunkering down in a beach house in Panama.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, he talked like he was giving up the ghost or something, and I pinned him down on such a notion.

"I don't see it long term, quite frankly," he said. "It's not giving up the ghost. I'll do this as long as I feel I'm supposed to do it, and I'm not just talking about football."

An example: Some criticize him for it, but the straw he's using to stir BYU football right now is based on faith and personal growth, not x's and o's. And he finds it sits well with him.

At an orientation meeting of new players last Friday, Mendenhall told the athletes and their parents if they came to BYU for football, they hadn't been listening when they were recruited.

The reason they were accepted to the program, he said, was to influence, serve and inspire others.

So, how long does he keep this up and accomplish his short- and long-term objectives?

"I don't know what time frame that is, but I do know there are plenty of things left to get accomplished," he said. "Football isn't the only thing that's drawing me to this job. The reason I've brought in other things is I thought that is what I was instructed (to do). That's not only what I'm supposed to do, but at BYU, that is the ideal model for the program.

"At some point there will be someone else to carry this to the next phase, someone who will tag on to that."

The next phase?

"I don't know how long it will be," said Mendenhall, "but my goal, as it would be for the leader of any company who really cares about that place, is to make myself expendable, where if something happens, everything goes on."

So, what's going to happen to Bronco?

See what I mean? Does he know something about his future that isn't obvious to the rest of us?

Probably. And he's not sharing. Or just managing.

Said the coach: "My hope is that someone from within sits in my seat and it continues on and that person has the same experiences, the same results, the same benefits, and then you know you have built an enduring program over time. "

OK, so have Lance Reynolds, Brandon Doman, Robert Anae, Paul Tidwell or others been cued in? Have they got his back, literally, in case of an alien abduction or something?

Mendenhall said making such plans now is important because BYU football hasn't had that kind of test. It didn't fare well in the transition from Edwards to Gary Crowton.

BYU wanted an outsider, a fresh look. It got one, and it sputtered over time.

"BYU didn't have that test because LaVell's era was so long," said Mendenhall. He likes the idea of BYU being ready for someone else on the fly — this time turning to a Norm Chow or Reynolds or any other qualified guy, and he's trying to do the training to make sure that happens.

On the fly.

Someday.

Continued Mendenhall, "I've been so visible and vocal about what has to happen and the principles with the current staff and players.

"Again, my hope is, and I don't want to sound like I'm giving up the ghost, but the ideal is, if I were to walk out at any point — in season, out of season, the next year, or in 10 years — the program wouldn't miss a beat because of the people and how they've been trained and the vision of the program, hopefully, is firmly in place.

"To me, that would be the ultimate success rather than all this other talk that is happening right now," he said. "That is what I'm working on personally."

OK. Got it.

Sort of.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com