There’s been a lot of talk lately about how perhaps it’s time for Bronco Mendenhall to move on to other opportunities in the coaching universe. He only has one year left on his contract and it would be very easy to either let him finish it out and not extend it, or buy out the remaining year and wish him the best.
That would be a mistake.
First we need to look at BYU football from a point of view other than as fans. It’s tough, because we are fans, but football at BYU isn’t like football at LSU, Alabama, or Ohio State. BYU is owned by the LDS church, which has already said that the point of football (and basketball) at the school is to raise awareness of the Church – not to win a National Championship every year. Those are a bonus, to be sure, but not the number one goal.
Those who run the school and ultimately call the shots regarding the athletic program aren’t as interested in going 12-0 and playing in a BCS bowl game as the fans are. If they were BYU would never have gone independent. They would have played ball with the Big 12 instead of taking the hard-line approach regarding TV revenues and BYUtv broadcast rights. For BYU it’s all about exposure – hence the 8 year ESPN contract. This year alone BYU has been on national TV 8 times, and it will be 9 with the bowl game.
BYU’s goal is to be on as many televisions as possible, as often as possible. Bronco Mendenhall has helped to make that happen. Under Bronco the Cougars have won 73% of their games, have received 7 straight bowl invitations, and won 5 of the last 6 of those bowl games. They’ve beaten Oklahoma on ESPN in the first ever game to be played in the new Dallas Cowboys stadium. According to ESPN, their Thursday night broadcast viewership is 300% higher in the games BYU have played in than any other Thursday nights.
Bronco’s influence isn’t only on the field and on TV. In the seven years he’s been the head coach, BYU consistently received the most academic all-conference honorees each season while members of the Mountain West, and is behind only Penn State and Nebraska in the number of ESPN Academic All-Americans.
Something else to remember, even though many of us have tried very hard to forget: Bronco’s predecessor. The Gary Crowton era was nothing short of a disaster. After a fast 12-2 start, Crowton went 14-21 the next three seasons – none of them better than 5-6. I’m thinking that 8-4 or 7-5 isn’t so bad compared to those years.
Bronco has also been able to avoid the honor code violations that plagued Cary Crowton during his tenure at BYU. Crowton’s plan was to recruit the best athletes possible, try to explain the honor code, and hope they lived it. Bronco’s method is to recruit the best possible athlete that he knows can fit inside the system and live up to the higher standards set at BYU. It’s number one on his checklist for recruits, with playing ability second. What good is a 5-star blue chip athlete if he’s suspended due to honor code violations? Tradition – Spirit – Honor… it’s not just a t-shirt slogan with Bronco.
Bronco Mendenhall is young, has the respect of his players, and is doing everything that BYU is asking of him. Why wouldn’t we want him to stay? What guarantee is there that the next coach is going to be able to do better?
Is Bronco flawed? Yes – most certainly. He’s been loyal to a QB that had no business being the starting quarterback at a major FBS college program. His choice for Offensive Coordinator is still learning how to do the job. All of that falls on Bronco’s shoulders. Riley Nelson is gone next year and I liked what I saw from Taysom Hill this year before he got injured. Brandon Doman will hopefully continue to improve his play calling (that’s an entire separate subject).
Bronco has done well with his time at BYU, and he deserves the opportunity to continue what he started.