Bronco Mendenhall's Future at BYU

Recent comments by Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall may indicate what will influence when he decides to leave the Y.

Mendenhall has always been hesitant to publicly discuss any timeline for the end of his career at BYU. Two parameters are certain: 1-He doesn’t expect to be at BYU as long as LaVell Edwards (29 years), and 2-He was not willing to sign a contract longer than three years. The first parameter provides no help in pinpointing when Mendenhall’s last season will be. The second parameter opens the door to the possibility that he may leave BYU sooner rather than later.

The bottom line is that no one really knows what Mendenhall is really thinking. However, his comments at meetings held on national signing day, February 1, 2012, were a window into Mendenhall’s mind and what he wants to accomplish before leaving BYU.

Like most people, Mendenhall wants to excel at his profession. He holds himself to a high standard, and wants his success to be validated. During his seven years as BYU’s head football coach, Mendenhall’s success has been validated by his employer (contract extension) and his colleagues (five USA Today Top 25 finishes). Validation from some fans has been harder to come by, and Mendenhall has noticed.

On February 1, before introducing the 2012 recruiting class, Mendenhall spoke briefly about the state of the BYU football program. He explained why he thought finishing ranked in the Top 25 five of the last six years was commendable, followed by the comment, “some [people] have a threshold that maybe you have to do it 20 years before you are recognized or acknowledged, for others it might be 15.”

That same day, Mendenhall also said, “I think we have excellent players and we win a lot of games because of them. Maybe the BCS is the level we have to reach before we’re crowned as an elite level team, but I don’t think we are far away” (as quoted by the Daily Herald, emphasis added).

The fact that Mendenhall is aware of these sentiments held by some fans (and boosters?), and that he brought them up in his speech is telling. My interpretation is that he doesn’t want to leave BYU until he has cemented a lasting legacy with all parties—the school, the fellow coaches, and the fan base. If Mendenhall won a national championship or even just a BCS bowl game next year, then he could retire with a lasting legacy in all circles.

Mendenhall can cement a lasting legacy without a national championship or a BCS bowl game on his list of achievements. However, it is going to take more winning. Currently, Mendenhall has a 66-24 record at BYU. The feeling I get is that Mendenhall has his eye on the 100 win mark. That is 34 wins away, which will probably take him four more years (2015) to reach. If Mendenhall reaches 100 wins during the 2015 season, he will be responsible for a decade of high quality football, and he would have reached that milestone faster than Edwards.

Will that be enough for Mendenhall to hang it up?

At the end of the 2015 season, Mendenhall will be a few weeks away from his 50th birthday. That is still plenty young to continue coaching major college football, but retiring young has its benefits, too.

Another consideration is that Mendenhall would have 13 years total as an employee at Brigham Young University. Two more years and he would reach 15 years with the school. Generally, fifteen years has some sort of longevity and retirement bonuses attached to it. That would keep Mendenhall at BYU through the 2017 season, or six more years, and put his win total close to 125 (assuming current averages continue).

At that point, I think Mendenhall’s decision to stay or step down would depend on where BYU fits into the college football landscape. If BYU is still independent, then the school will have one more year left in its eight-year broadcasting agreement with ESPN. That is not the ideal time to change head coaches. If Mendenhall expresses a desire to retire after 2017, then I think BYU successfully persuades him to stay at least two more years to finish the current agreement with ESPN and ensures BYU is in the best position possible for the first year of the next agreement.

Maybe, BYU joins the Big XII around the year 2014. After 2017, Mendenhall may survey the situation and feel BYU has made a successful transition into the new conference and any unwritten obligations that he has to the school have been fulfilled.

Identifying a specific year is difficult, but Mendenhall’s comments give the impression that when he doesn't want to leave until he has won at least 100 games and done enough collective good to have a lasting legacy that is resoundingly positive.

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  1. I don't think he's referring to fans in this quote. I would say he's referring to national media & the credibility they assign to teams as truly perennial national powers. I don't think he's planning on hanging it up that soon, and I especially don't think he's waiting for all Cougar fans to enshrine him.

  2. He would not be eligible for retirement at BYU with 15 years.


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