10 Questions With: BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall
As hard as it may be to believe from the outside, Bronco Mendenhall is about to enter his ninth season as BYU's head coach. With a 74-29 career record, Mendenhall was the recipient of a contract extension that will keep him in Provo through the 2016 season on Wednesday.
We talked to Mendenhall about life in independence including BYU's treacherous 2013 schedule, the way he motivates players, his relationship with LaVell Edwards and more in today's edition of 10 Questions With.
To view past installments of 10 Questions With, please visit the archives.
1) What does your contract extension say about the job you've done now eight years into your career?
I know exactly what I'm getting into, not only for this job but for the direction of my life. I've been a head coach for eight years and over that time I've contemplated not only leaving coaching or maybe coaching somewhere else, and now after eight years of experiences I've determined not only do I like coaching, I love coaching and I love coaching at BYU. To have the opportunity to continue here and to lead the program into the next phase of independence, I'm really excited for.
1a) How seriously did you think about walking away from coaching?
Very seriously, at least two times in my eight years. The pressures on a head coach are great. The visibility, especially at BYU with the worldwide religious affiliation, is great, and wondering if it was really what I was supposed to do. At least two different occasions over my eight-year span, my wife and I have considered strongly doing something else. After eight years, though, we are unified and anxious and believe not only what it's what I want to do, what I love to do, but believe what I'm supposed to do.
1c) Do you know what you would have done if not coaching?
I think coaching is nothing other than teaching. Without the visibility, coaches are able to nurture and grow and develop young people and help them become the best versions of themselves. That's what I would be doing. I realized I'm not only doing that, I'm doing it probably on a lot bigger stage, reaching more people and hopefully I can measure up to that task.
2) BYU announced a three-game series with USC today. How important are marquis series like that to forming a successful independent schedule?
It's very important not only that it's USC, but that it's USC in November. We have very little difficulty finding great opponents in the first half of our schedule in independence. What we've been working hard to do is add teams like Notre Dame, like USC and others toward the end of our schedule to make the season more fun from beginning to end for not only our players and coaches, but the fans. As we continue to schedule with more and more difficulty and higher and higher ranked opponents and on more frequency, I'd like to just see it from beginning to end. That's what I believe is necessary for our program. This upcoming season will be the most difficult schedule BYU has ever played in the school's history. This is just the beginning of the direction we're going.
3) Do you have to coach differently without a conference championship to motivate your players?
Possibly, if I hadn't set the expectations similar to what John Wooden established of personal best. We belive, regardless of which week we're playing and which opponent we're playing, that that is the ultimate goal and it's the ultimate accomplishment, is doing the very best you're capable of. That framework has been in place for even two years before I became the head coach as the defensive coordinator, so that's 10 years of history with that in place. I don't think it affects how we play, but I do think it affects some of the fun that's around each game before you play in terms of attention. But I think our team plays the same each week.
4) We saw a quote from your athletic director today saying that your contract extension means BYU is serious about playing for a national championship in the future. Where do you think BYU fits into the upcoming College Football Playoff structure?
It's the same as it was for the BCS, we have to be undefeated. If we play the kind of schedule that we are playing, the quality of opponents, and let's say that we beat Virginia, we beat Texas, we beat Boise State, we beat Georgia Tech, we beat Wisconsin, we beat the University of Utah, we beat Houston, then all of a sudden there is no reason, with an undefeated season and that quality of an opponent, that we're out of the mix. And so certainly there's risk because those are all very, very good teams, but there's also great opportunity.
5) How has independence and the ESPN contract that came with it changed the way you recruit?
The exposure of the ESPN contract puts us in 99-plus million and then the BYU TV station puts us in 55 million more, and so our exposure is phenomenal worldwide because of the church membership as well. We do recruit locally but, again, because of our religious affiliation at BYU we have a more national recruiting base on a year-to-year basis than probably any school in the country because of not only alumni membership, but church membership. That's how it becomes different for us and it sure helps that because more and more people that follow us, and that are church members, can see our games.
6) Kyle Van Noy played about as well as a linebacker can play in your Poinsettia Bowl win last season with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception, a blocked punt and two touchdowns. How do you challenge a guy like that heading into this year?
I don't think I challenge him, I just think I point out to him areas of his game that I think he can improve. I think I suggest things that I think might improve his stock for the NFL. I think I suggest things that I think might help our team win and the role he might be able to play. Ultimately, I believe in the power of choice and a good teacher, I think, just presents the choices and consequences and then, to really capture someone's heart, they actually have to be the ones that chooses to do that. By Kyle choosing to come back, he's already showing that he's willing to listen and so I'm anxious to help him.
7) How often do you talk with LaVell Edwards?
Not very frequently. Early in my career I was kind of overwhelmed, I talked to him a lot. Now we probably only talk twice a year but when we do I usually unload all the questions and issues that I have and listen to his perspective and wisdom. Almost every time I just feel so much better when I'm done talking to him because he's had so many great experiences and can pass on ways that he's handled it to me. I just feel calm when I'm done with him.
8) In what ways will your offense improve this year?
I think first and foremost we'll collectively play with more effort. I think they will certainly play faster, and I think they'll be more difficult to defend in terms of type of plays, complimentary plays, and I believe production in terms of points. That's the intent and that has a lot to do with the reason why I made the coaching changes and my hope is that's what our fans see and the world sees.
9) You've mentioned your schedule, which includes Virginia, Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Houston, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. With a slate like that, what needs to happen for 2013 to be a success for you?
We gauge success differently. Even though I've been the coach for eight years and only 11 teams have won more games than us over those eight years, winning and losing certainly has some weight as a key metric in whether we have success or not, having said that, my greatest joy is seeing guys try hard. I love seeing human potential and I love seeing players try absolutely as hard as they can. We had a goal line stand this past year with four downs against Boise State and that will be one of the highlights of my coaching career and last season. I love moments like that, regardless of the outcome of the game. What I really focus on is, are our players committed and doing the very best they can through the effort they're giving?
10) What's one piece of advice you got as a young coach that's stuck with you through the years?
That's a good one. I don't know if there's any specific advice that I've received that has shaped me other than a clear reflection or epiphany that it would be to coach and treat others the way that you would like to be treated, which is simply the golden rule. But I see so many coaches, because of power, because of position, because of ego, with the yelling, with the screaming, with the profanity, and sometimes even putting their hands on players, I don't think there's any place for that. If coaches are nothing other than teachers, what I've tried to do is just model my coaching after the master teachers. That's the direction I'd like to go.
10a) You mentioned the decorum that you coach with, is that something you go over when talking with a prospective assistant coach?
I put expectations very clearly in front of our assistants but that doesn't mean there's not a time, especially in a critical teachable moment, to gather attention or gain attention. Sometimes that is necessary, but not frequently. I believe once you raise your voice once, you have to continue to raise it to get the same effect over and over again. I think if you build great relationships and if the players respect you with an understanding that you know your content, that you care about them, very seldom do you have to do that and so it takes a very high threshold for that to happen. I try to explain that to my coaches, I don't want to hear it much but when you do do it I'll know there has to be a real significant reason why that's happening and I'd like them to tell me why.