SALT LAKE CITY —
Looks like Bronco Mendenhall really is fully invested.
Prepare for a few more years of press conferences that sound like a walk through the thesaurus.
With BYU spring football beginning on Monday, Mendenhall told Deseret News beat writer Jeff Call that he intends stay beyond 2013, the final year of his current contract. He added that school officials are working on the terms of the extension.
So the critics will have to stand down. Broncoball is sticking around — which, at least for now, is a wise move for BYU. Barring a return by the Cougars’ all-time greatest coach, LaVell Edwards, there couldn’t be a likelier fit. Honest, true, chaste, benevolent he’s all those things.
Incidentally, Mendenhall’s career winning percentage is also better than Edwards (.718 to .717).
While it’s true Mendenhall’s record has been helped by playing small fries like Idaho and New Mexico State, those 20th century games against UTEP, UNLV and Wyoming weren’t exactly barn burners, either.
That’s not to say Mendenhall is as popular as Edwards. It’s a different era. Edwards had his coach’s show, which brought out some oddball comments. But it was nothing compared to the Internet criticism Mendenhall has endured.
Truth is, he hasn’t been perfect. For instance, his insistence on starting Riley Nelson at quarterback and the breakdown with Jake Heaps, who transferred. That was a case of liking a player for his pluck, more than his talent. Mendenhall allowed Nelson to start even when his back was too sore for him to be effective.
Mendenhall has lost three straight and four of the last five against Utah.
Meanwhile, there is his always-controversial contention that winning football games is only fifth on his priority list, behind spiritual development, academic achievement, character advancement and service.
“And then after that, I asked them to be really, really good at football,” he said on National Letter of Intent Day in February.
His admission of priorities might rankle wild-eyed football fans, but it’s a priority in Provo. BYU isn’t likely to become a football factory. As Mendenhall put it, “The intent, really, is to design the most complete program in the world. I didn’t say best, I said most complete.”
Rest easy, Alabama.
Joking aside, this isn’t merely Mendenhall’s vision, but that of his administration. Today’s trivia question: What’s better than a hard-hitting, competitive football team? A hard-hitting, competitive team that asks the “golden missionary questions” after sacking the quarterback.
Feel free to answer after the ringing in your ears stops.
But if there’s any concern that Mendenhall’s priorities will keep BYU from progressing, his record doesn’t show it. It’s true he has failed to get in a major bowl game, but otherwise the numbers are impressive: 74 wins and 29 losses, including five seasons with 10 or more wins. Previous BYU teams struggled to win bowl games; Mendenhall is 6-2 in the postseason.
It’s not as though Mendenhall lacks respect. His name has appeared in connection with several FBS job openings and he has admitted to turning down at least one. Still, some BYU fans remain restless. They think the program can reach higher and play for national championships. They want BYU in a major conference.
Some believe a former player such as Ty Detmer should be the Cougar coach. Interesting as that sounds, it wouldn’t necessarily work. Brandon Doman was a fine BYU quarterback and played in the NFL, but his time as an offensive coordinator ended in dismissal.
The lesson: A famous name doesn’t often make up for inexperience.
So here comes the immediate future, starring the guy from the immediate past. Get ready for more Friday-night firesides and scriptural analogies; more quests for perfection, remembrance coins and bands of brothers, too. That’s not for everyone and Mendenhall readily admits it. He’s not for everyone, either. But he’s earned the right for his sleepy-eyed, monotone delivery to be the face of BYU football for at least a few more years.
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