Wednesday, October 29, 2014

One Fan's Opinion on Coach Bronco Mendenhall

Let me start by saying that this is just my opinion. I am happy to allow anyone else theirs, so I hope you will put up with mine.

I have sat by patiently waiting for someone else to speak up, and maybe they have, but I haven't seen them. I'm a BYU fan and have been for as long as I can remember, which in my case is a long time. Back when I first started following BYU sports no one cared too much about football. Basketball was king. As a BYU freshman, I spent many nights in the Fieldhouse waiting in line for tickets to the next basketball game. The games were always entertaining even when we lost. President Wilkinson would come out at the start of the game and got down on the basketball court to do push-ups. This always got the crowd worked up since he could usually do more than most of the students could do.

Football season back in those days was an afterthought. Beating Utah was not really something we got too worked up about because, frankly, we rarely beat them. We got excited when we beat anyone. My freshman year of 1970 we played and lost to such powerhouse teams as Western Michigan (35-17), UTEP (17-0), New Mexico (51-8). We did beat North Texas (10-7), Utah State (27-20), and Wyoming (23-3), however, and ended the season with a glossy 3-8 record, not quite as good as the 6-4 record of 1969, but a significant improvement on the 2-8 record of 1968.

Then, of course, Lavell Edwards came along about the time I returned home from my mission and things changed. Not quickly, but there was change. We generally started to win more than we lost: 7-4 in 1972, 5-6 in 1973, 7-4-1 in 1974 with our first bowl appearance, and then 6-5 in 1975. Three out of four years having a winning season was almost too much to handle. But we got used to it and Lavell and his teams got better.

There's no point in my repeating what happened over the next few years, because you all know. We won a lot of games. We also occasionally played a team from one of the power conferences and won a few of those, but we lost more than we won. We got to bowl games, but we lost more than we won. Still they were pretty good years all and all. Still, there were the down times.

The year after winning the national championship, we lost three games. Two losses were against power conference teams UCLA and Ohio State (Tangerine Bowl). Against UCLA our defense couldn't stop the Bruins from driving the length of the field with only 1 minute left in the game even though we were playing here at home in front of a very noisy home crowd. Against Ohio State, our vaunted offense never got untracked. In both games we were right there and could have won. But then there was UTEP.  In the middle of that same 1985 season we went to UTEP and played a team that hadn't won a game, a team in last place in the league, a team we were supposed to cream...and we lost. It happens. I don't remember anyone calling for Lavell's head that season.

So, this brings us to the present and Coach Mendenhall. Just to be upfront let me say that I have never met Bronco even though I walk the same campus he does every day. I guess I should get down to the practice field more often, but going down the hill is not so easy for me anymore. I've got bum ankles. But even though I have not met Bronco, I have a deep respect for him and what he brings to the BYU football program. Yes, I like to win. And yes I can gripe about the officiating and the coaching right along with the rest of the fans. But you won't hear me complain about Coach Mendenhall.

In my role as a professor at BYU, I have had a lot of football players and athletes in my classes over the years. I teach sections of some very large general education classes. During the Lavell Edward's period I annually had coaches call me to see if I couldn't help with a student's grade or if I couldn't perhaps let a student take a test that they had missed or if I couldn't just give some extra credit. I had players come to my home in tears to plead for a better grade so they could continue to play. I watched as star players seemed to ignore the honor code and no one cared. Allowing those students to get around the standards that every other student committed to live always felt wrong. It was wrong, and I am glad that we have moved past that era.

My point in all this is that during the Bronco Mendenhall era, I have never had a coach call me, I have never had a football player come to my home to cry for a better grade, and I have never had one miss a final exam even though I still teach the same classes.

I get it that fans want to win every football game, but I am tired of the senseless, derogatory way that many fans behave. No one knows more keenly than Coach Mendenhall that in college football you have to win games to keep your job. This season has been rough and there are things that need fixing. I am confident that he will get them fixed and my vote (as meaningless as it is) is that BYU will keep him around for a long time to come because he not only knows how to win, he knows what it means to represent Brigham Young University. If we lose that, then there is no point in having a football team.


Jeffrey Hicks said...

This post adds context and perspective to my suspicions. I've been a fan of BYU sports and specifically football, for years. I've followed them every season since 1978. I sat in the old stadium in a driving snow storm to watch my team - no way I was going to waste those tickets! That same year I sat in the stadium with my (now) sweet wife and watched my team get beat by the Aggies of Utah State. I love the history of the sport for this university and that includes the bad with the good. Thanks for a great perspective on Bronco Mendenhall, BYU Football, and an extrapolation on college athletics in general.

Karen said...

Well said! (not that my vote matters either)