Prepare yourselves: I'm going to love on Bronco Mendenhall for a moment.
I know my Bronco-love was questioned last week when I wrote a controversial piece about Mendenhall's apparent disdain for the Cougar Club, but in the words of Michael Scott: The hand strikes, then gives a flower.
I listened to Bronco Mendenhall on Jim Rome today (for a full recap please visit www.CougarCrazies.com), and I was most impressed. I moved heaven and earth to be able to listen to the interview, as my two favorite figures in the sports world finally came together. At first I wasn't sure how Rome's "Shock-jock" style would mesh with Bronco's no-nonsense personality, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised.
Bronco was honest, sincere, well-spoken and an all-around solid representative of BYU. Jim Rome, likewise, was respectful and allowed Bronco plenty of time to explain his thoughts.
More than how he said it, though, I was very impressed by what Bronco had to say to Romeo.
The two spoke about a lot of different things, but Bronco dwelt mostly on the BYU program. Let me tell you a little bit about what I've seen Bronco Mendenhall do for the BYU program.
First, he changed the culture. A lot of times when new coaches are hired they have a bit of leeway in their first few seasons. The rallying cry is always "Wait until he gets his guys," meaning a new coach shouldn't be expected to win with another coach's recruits. Bronco, however, didn't make one excuse about the players he inherited. He instead instilled in them the confidence they needed to win games. He brought BYU out of its worst period in recent memory, and brought them back to national prominence. Just imagine what he'll do with "his recruits."
Second, Bronco brought domination back to LaVell Edwards Stadium. The Cougars don't lose at home. Period. We all know that now, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case. We lost frequently at home under Gary Crowton, and during Bronco's first year we lost to TCU and Utah in Provo. Home field dominance soon became a hallmark of the Mendenhall administration, though, when BYU would go two straight seasons without a loss at home. Now every BYU player, opposing player, coach and fan knows BYU will not lose at home. It's that simple.
Third, Bronco has improved every single year. In 2005 he brought the team out of a sludgy three-year streak of losing seasons. In 2006 he brought the MWC championship back to BYU and won our first bowl game since 1996. In 2007 he finally got a win in his opening game and repeated his 2006 success with a completely new crop of players. This year he notched his first 3-0 start, including his first out-of-conference road win since 2002 (and the program's first-ever win in Seattle).
Fourth, Bronco has aligned the BYU football team with the mission of Brigham Young University. BYU, according to its mission statement, seeks to "aid individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life." Perfection and eternal life? Does this kind of speech pertain to every part of BYU or are the athletic programs excused from this quest? Bronco Mendenhall's actions shout a resounding "No." He embraces the mission of BYU, and implements its practices in the football team. As a result, he is turning out some pretty amazing student-athletes. He is mentoring these young men to be intelligent, spiritual, mentally strong contributors to society, in addition to some of the best football players in the country. What's more, he does not apologize for his actions. Utah fans, media members and even members of BYU nation criticize him, but truth be told--in the grand scheme of things--Bronco Mendenhall is doing more good for the football program and its players by embracing the values of BYU than any other coach could possibly do otherwise.
Bronco Mendenhall has done an incredible job at BYU, on and off the field. He's a great coach, but based on his values and the emphasis he places on his players' physical, mental and spiritual well-being, he's an even better man.