It was fun. Too much fun.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall got so much out of calling defensive plays on the sidelines of games, he must have fought nasty inner demons prying those reins out of his hands the past few months.
He’s Jekyll hiding the Hyde. Something Robert Louis Stevenson couldn’t do in his novel.
Mendenhall wants to climb on the proverbial helicopter and hover over the BYU program as full-time overseer, working on the big picture. Get out of the trenches. Periscope up.
Most years, the veteran defensive coordinator has toyed with this idea. He did so with defensive coordinator Jaime Hill before he fired Hill midseason in 2009 and took back the tether.
His defenses since that day have ranked among the top in the country.
Now, after a decade as head coach, he’s opted to make that title his job description in word and deed. He wants to be the chairman of the board like most coaches, legendary LaVell Edwards in particular. In the past few months, he has delegated defensive responsibilities to coordinator Nick Howell.
After Saturday’s open scrimmage in LaVell Edwards Stadium, Mendenhall admitted he still had the itch. He found himself getting mad when the offense made big plays. As he suppressed his natural inclinations, he worked his eyes to the other side, to blocking linemen, running backs, quarterbacks, play action, delivery, protection and execution.
I bet he had to uncross his eyes.
After BYU’s first practice of fall camp, I asked him what he did during the two-hour session.
“My role is shifting and a little bit different. It’s interesting. When I had time, that time used to be spent in the defensive staff room. It’s amazing how much happens now with recruiting, fundraising and development, and other things that can fill that time pretty quickly.
“So, my focus was from a broader perspective, widening the lens to see what does this football team look like, not only from an athletic perspective but a commitment perspective, a chemistry perspective and then how best to evaluate where that is at — then design the next practice collectively. I have been pretty strongly tiltled one way, as you know. But I think my perspective now will end up being better for the whole team. I’m able to provide input offensively, not necessarily in recognition of what the defense is doing but why they are doing it and hopefully that will keep us one step ahead.”
In Howell, Mendenhall believes he has a coordinator clone.
“No one thinks like I do and knows what I want like he does. So I think it is time. But man, it’s not easy, because it’s fun. I love coaching defense and calling plays, and I think I have a direct impact on game day on kids I recruited, but I’ve been basically helping half (of the players) and ultimately, for the program to move even farther, what I’m banking on is helping more players move forward at a higher level.”
So from the hover position, what does he think BYU’s offense needs?
“More points against the best teams,” he said.
Eight practices into fall camp, Mendenhall admitted Saturday he didn’t think he’d have said it a week prior, but he loves the role he’s currently embraced.
“I still get mad if the offense scores in a scrimmage situation, but it doesn’t last nearly as long as it did when I was calling plays against it. Nick is doing a really nice job, and I like the staff I’ve surrounded myself with.”
Mendenhall praised new foot soldiers on his staff, calling his operations guy, head trainer, finance, film and personnel guys “excellent” fits.
Said he, “I’ve been able to focus on that part (organization), which, in addition to football, is making our program better. It will need to be heading into a new era of college football.”
So, it’s a new Mendenhall era of sorts.
It’s too early to see if he grabs back his toys, nudging Howell aside, or if this will lead to better season starts, more wins and success on and off the field.
But it worked for Edwards. He was a master chairman of the board in his day.
We’ll know if Mendenhall gets there when he lets reporters sit in a golf cart with him during practice.
Don’t hold your breath on that one.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].