PROVO — A few years ago, BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall was offered a five-year contract by BYU and chose to sign for three. He thought it best for both parties. Now, he and the university are finalizing another three-year extension.
Mendenhall, who admits he’s not a lifer at this job, wants to keep leading the program, and his boss, Tom Holmoe, agrees he should.
So, what’s changed?
From personal observations and discussing Mendenhall extensively with those who know this intensely private man, here’s a list of reasons why Mendenhall seeks to extend his BYU contract past the Dec. 31, 2013 expiration:
In no particular order:
He doesn’t feel his work is finished. His role as a football coach who has embraced the challenge to add a spiritual layer to his job has challenged him personally and professionally.
He has marveled at how the 2012 defense progressed and performed, finishing in the top five or 10 in numerous categories, the best he has coached in eight years. He believes the 2013 defense and future versions can enjoy similar success, and he’s eager to prove it. His gamble to take Houston Texan and Pittsburgh Steeler concepts and adapt it to his own defense in 2012 worked. He is anxious to see more of it in the future and a key is returning safety Daniel Sorensen.
He is energized by the fact that BYU’s offense may mirror the effort, intensity and culture of his defense because of changes he made after the 2012 season. It completes his football philosophy.
He did make painful changes, but he believed his operation was perfectly designed to get the results it did in a mediocre 8-5 season in 2012. He is anxious to work with new personnel to push forward. He let go likable, beloved gentlemen who were respected, then hired likable, beloved gentlemen who have “barracuda-like” personalities.
As an admitted introvert, Mendenhall’s self-directed assessment from his players shows he needs to be more approachable to be effective. He’s accepted that challenge.
He is revitalized by the vision presented, sold, laid out and implemented by new offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who willingly left the program to go to Arizona, then returned. The loyalty Anae displayed in returning impressed Mendenhall. Anae came with a concrete mission in mind for the offense. It included well-defined steps and strategy based on things he learned at Arizona with up-tempo guru Rich Rodriguez. As an expert on defense, Mendenhall respects the problems this offensive philosophy can cause defenders. He sees players like Taysom Hill, Cody Hoffman, JD Falslev, Jamaal Williams and others as solid building blocks and believes Anae has invigorated the offense.
In trusting assistant Nick Howell to mirror what he’s established as defensive coordinator, he believes he can more fully concentrate on duties as head coach. Howell is his protege. It resonates with him that his entire team is on the verge of equal offensive and defensive effort and accountability, something he hasn't yet achieved in his eight years. And that’s his fault. He believes this galvanizing development will elevate the program.
He believes in the power of alignment. BYU’s sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, desires the football program to be aligned with the mission of the university. Mendenhall has worked hard to align himself, but he’s equally challenged to see that his entire operation, not only off the field, but among coaches and players on the field, is aligned accordingly, a task every decent coach seeks.
He is far more educated about BYU recruiting, what specific strategies and targets work and are needed for a unique sell. He believes recruiting, the lifeblood of the program, is on a solid future track.
He knows he has detractors, those who wish he were LaVell Edwards and possessed his personality and aura. A series of “fan fests” across the state and embracing social media (Twitter and Facebook) are part of a new strategy to engage directly with Cougar fans. So far, both have been successful.
He loves what Holmoe is doing with independence in terms of scheduling and exposure on ESPN and BYUtv. His experience at the NFL draft with Ziggy Ansah excites him for possibilities with Cody Hoffman and Kyle Van Noy this coming season. Taking BYU football to all corners of the country rings his bell.
He knows he can be a better manager and leader — to coach his coaches as well as players — and he’s looks forward to improving.
He knows he cannot ask the administration for more resources unless he fully utilizes what he has and gets the results that expectations dictate for a Top 25 legacy program. Much has already been given. If he doesn’t make it work, it is his fault.
Mendenhall is recharged and prepared to extend. I can’t picture him doing the Riverdance, but if you’ve seen him recently, he’s picked up his pace.
Since the end of the 2012 season, I’ve spent a lot of time with BYU fans and spoken to many groups at Rotary, Kiwanis and Exchange Clubs and others — just taking the pulse. There’s plenty of frustration over BYU football. The heat hasn’t subsided over spring and early summer.
Folks are confused about why local icons Brandon Doman and Ben Cahoon were not retained. They wonder why Riley Nelson played with a broken back when two healthy quarterbacks won four of BYU's eight victories and could have won at least one more at Boise State or San Jose State. They wonder why the offensive line struggled with injuries. And of course, they wonder why they lost to their archrival. Again.
Plenty remains for Mendenhall to prove. Many wonder if Anae is really the answer on offense. Others loved that move.
So, when will BYU and Mendenhall announce this contract extension?
Well, his agent, Dan Van Woerkom, has hammered out a proposal and BYU’s administration is working with it. Van Woerkom is also Ansah’s agent, so he’s had a pretty good spring.
I think the details — demands by both parties — will be easily resolved and an announcement will be forthcoming at the best “marketing” bang-for-buck time, when football interest is high and key people return from vacations and working camps.
It could be June 26 during BYU’s media day, but more likely it will come once two-a-days begin in August with its accompanying build up to the opener at Virginia.
Come to think of it, I’d like to see Bronco hop off his Harley and do the Riverdance when he signs.
The ensuing viral YouTube video would do him wonders.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].