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Is BYU's Mendenhall anti-NFL? No, just cautious and realistic

Published August 1, 2012 10:56 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It appears BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall ruffled a few feathers the other day — he's never done that before, right? — while talking to a group of youth football coaches at Alta High. My buddy at the Provo Daily Herald, Jason Franchuk, reported on the comments in which Mendenhall basically reminded the coaches that making it to the NFL often isn't all it is cracked up to be. I would provide a link, but I can't find it on the Herald's website.

Is Mendenhall anti-NFL? No, but he probably doesn't push it to his players as a career path as much as most coaches, from what I have seen and heard.

As many Cougar fans are well aware, BYU hasn't had a player selected in the NFL draft in the past two seasons. The only drafted player whom Mendenhall recruited and signed is running back Harvey Unga, and he went in the Supplemental Draft to the Chicago Bears. I can't provide much context on what Mendenhall said at Alta because I was unsuccessfully trying to hook fish at Panguitch Lake that day, but his remarks — if accurately reported — don't surprise me all that much. At BYU's football media day in June, a couple months removed from the NFL draft in which even All-American tackle Matt Reynolds went undrafted, I asked Mendenhall if he was concerned that other schools could use BYU's draft drought against the Cougars in recruiting. His answer: "People will do anything they can in recruiting to attack, or expose an area where they might have an upper hand, whether it is real or not. Five players from our team this year had a chance to go to the NFL. Excluding the first two rounds, I actually think, maybe the first three rounds — I will rephrase that. If you don't go in the first two for sure, I question the third, it is almost better for them to have a chance to be a free agent because the team that then takes you has a specific need for you, really wants you. So we had five players that had a chance this year. Five is still five. The players that are drafted, it is an interesting thing. The NFL commissioner asked us as coaches to pass on this statistic — you can verify this with them. But for players that make it three years or longer in the NFL, 70 percent of those players have all of the following: they are bankrupt, divorced, a substance abuser and disabled. So these kids, if that is their dream or aspiration, they need to go in with their eyes wide open. Our focus, absolutely I want them to be in the NFL. But then I want them to be in the 30 percent that then does make it. If they aren't, they will have a great education, they will have a great background in moral standing to really be successful. The bottom line is when players play truly to their ability, and have the ability to make it, no matter what school they are currently at, they will play in the NFL. Our focus here is fantastic football with everything else, not in place of football. ... If that costs us a draft pick or two, that's an easy choice for me. That doesn't mean it can't happen here. History has shown, even in my era, that we can put them there. But that's a fair question, I think."Someone also asked Mendenhall if the professional visits that he and other coaches were making during the summer to NFL teams — such as the Houston Texans — are a way to develop relationships with pro clubs so they would be more familiar with BYU players. Not really, he said. "Not so important in that capacity. We have a great idea of what will get them there. I am anxious when we go there to more see if there is anything they are currently doing organizationally, or within the drill work, within their teaching, within strength [development], within medical care, within film breakdown. Anything that we can glean that might be helpful that we can bring back and put into our program."————————-With preseason camp starting tomorrow (Thursday), I just went through all that Mendenhall said to print reporters at media day and pulled out a few comments that I don't believe I have previously reported. Here are some of those: On what it will take to get "over the hump" and get to the next level of success: "Just a couple of things: I have really viewed taking over the program seven years ago. I view this time period like starting over. We are one of the top programs in the country, if you use top 25 rankings and wins and those kind of things as the mark. And now what I am really interested in is starting from here: What else can there be? If you use top 25 as a minimum standard, then it goes to national championship. And so in trying to frame that to you — now what? Looking at scheduling part, and making sure we can get a difficult, diverse, intriguing schedule is certainly important. Having our coaches gain increased knowledge, and become really master teachers and true, I would say, experts in their craft. So getting in more professional visits, and getting really more detailed than we have already been. Looking at all the training methodologies that we use, in making sure that not only are we up to speed at industry standard, but beyond that in being innovative in that capacity. We are also having outside people come in and attend our meetings and evaluate us as teachers, getting that feedback. So there is nothing that is not fair game right now. So those are examples of what I am trying to articulate. So the idea of being satisfied, or staying status quo, is the exact opposite of how I feel currently. While I am not going to discount anything we've done — it has been fantastic and remarkable — but I am after more. And that's the main message to our program. And that focus for them won't be to focus on this game — it will be completely now to focus on each single day, like it was a wet towel, and wringing out every bit of water that day. And then we will do it again the next day. To put it bluntly, there is going to be more expected now than ever before." On how much he has thought about the slow starts, the 1-2 starts: "I have thought about it a lot. Not any more this offseason than offseasons before. There are some easy answers in that we have won — I don't know how many of our openers we have won — but we win our openers quite frequently. To sustain it — usually on the road against good teams — that is maybe a simple explanation. I have erred on the side of health during two-a-days maybe more than anything else over the past while. And so there might be a hair more in terms of volume of repetitions in competitive situations to increase the volume of those types of repetitions, especially as the strength of our schedule, at least the last few years, has been front loaded. So that's as far as I have really gotten, in generality, as to what I see and what we are doing about it." On whether he had any reservations about playing Boise State on a Thursday, just five days after playing Utah: "No reservations. None. This idea now is, I have really embraced the idea of standing alone. We might be one of only two programs that could do it, with our own TV network, with the worldwide fan base, that could sustain it, even if we were to never join a conference. With that, I am willing to then — knowing exposure is very, very important — concede that some elements of risk have to be inherited. Boise State has the same number of days to prepare as we do. So to me, that game, on the biggest stage — Thursday is a bigger stage than Saturday — is a great thing for our program. So I was excited about it."On how far away BYU is from having a season worthy of top-four playoff:"It's a really good question. If you judge by number of wins, not that far. If you judge by, let's say, the quality teams that we would play, week in and week out, and then the number of wins? I think that's the next step, is continuing to build our quality of schedule in a manner that has more difficulty, because strength of schedule I am sure will be one of the determinants to get into those [playoffs]. So if we can add stronger teams throughout our schedule, and keep a similar amount of wins, or more, that's what the next step is. So if you look at our schedule, we are adding better teams and more of them, a lot of them on the road. So time is going to tell. But we are not, over time, going to scale back on that. We are actually building on that. So each day, the clock is ticking, so each day is going to be in preparation for that. I think we will still have great success, remarkable success. For us to get into one of those four spots, we will have to be undefeated. Maybe anybody will have to be. But they will have to be undefeated with quality wins on the road, great strength of schedule. To me, conference championships mean nothing [in terms of making the playoff]. You could have four good teams from the same league, even. So I don't think any weight, personally, should be given to that. I am talking about the teams that win the most, against the best teams. And then head-to-head matchups, all those things need to be considered. But I like the direction. And for us, rather than getting too far out — I am acknowledging all those things because you asked me. Then it goes right back to each day — I have got to ask for more and get more out of myself, our staff, and players. Because the standard is going up, and we would like to be ahead of it." On how BYU can break through and win games it is not supposed to win:"A lot of people remember our game against Oklahoma, against the Heisman Trophy winner in Dallas' new stadium, and they are ranked third, etc. That game to me, I don't remember it any more than any of the other games. Our game against Tulsa last year was just as significant. The national perception, though, will probably require more of those types of wins, I would think, based on how it goes." On his favorite moment of independence: "Man, I don't know that I have a favorite moment of independence. Probably the favorite moments have been all the people that have seen the games. I mean, everywhere that I go, including New Zealand, it is, man, we say your game against Utah State. I can't go anywhere without people saying it is so great to see the games. And the brand of BYU, which is good for the institution, but also the church. If I would have known the impact of exposure, and could have made this choice, even when we joined the Mountain West, I would have gone independent then. And I thought Boise was wise, even though they were in the WAC, they really benefitted from ESPN's coverage — for a long time against inferior competition, and an occasional BCS [team], maybe one of those a year, because everyone was seeing them play, and I underestimated greatly the impact that would have. I would have made this move, again, even earlier if I would have known. So just the value of exposure, without a specific instance, is what I would have said. I mean, 11 of the 13 games [on national television], not including BYUtv? I just, I had no idea it would be like it is." On how he feels about the defense this season: "I think we will be good. The group finished 13th [in the nation] last year and I think this group will be capable. I like our front three, Eathyn [Manumaleuna], Romney [Fuga] and Ian Dulan. Russell Tialavea is back, so those four alone, that's a great place to start. You look at our linebackers, we move Spencer Hadley to outside. Kyle Van Noy is our other outside [linebacker]. We have [Uona] Kaveinga and [Brandon] Ogletree inside. We have [Daniel] Sorensen and [Joe] Sampson back at the safety spots. We have Preston Hadley back at boundary corner. We have the field corner to replace. I think we will be good." On the fitness level last year and whether it was lacking: "Not necessary lacking in relation to the year before. In part of this self-analysis, I am looking for the best way to do everything. And part of the best way to do everything is also the time of year oriented. So we are talking now about a time of year when I can't have any involvement with our players, a time of year where they focus on their fitness. So all I have done is ask for more in that area as well. And so they relationship with it, in response to that question, is that it wasn't a target programwide as much as right now, that's what I expect. You will see the same thing execution-wise, when we get to fall camp. You will have similar things, as far as game management by coaches. So we are kind of addressing things as the time period corresponds. I believe that, and my expectation is for us to be the healthiest and the most physically fit team in the country that plays college football. So it is a high expectation, but I don't intend to keep the expectations like they were before. Many thought they were high before. But all my staff members know that, and they are working hard to meet those expectations. So maybe that explains it." On whether the kicking game remains a concern with Justin Sorensen's injuries:"It is, yeah. Until I actually see him kick live in fall camp, all I can do right now is [be concerned]. You know, he will wander by me in the office in the second floor and say, you know, I am doing well. So, I trust him from that standpoint. I would love to see how he is really doing, etc., but he tells me he is making progress. But yeah, any time you have a back injury, and it has effected you, I have a concern." On going on so many professional visits this summer, and why the coaches did that: "Gaining knowledge. Again, preparing for a brand new stage of our program, more significant competition, more diversity of opponents, more differences in terms of areas of the country we are going to be playing in the next couple of years. And trying to improve our team. The purest form of competitive advantage is knowledge, so I have made a huge emphasis to our staff to gain more. These are all new, so we have to keep growing to be ready for more differences of who we play. It is not where you can pull up the file on Colorado State and they have the same staff you have played for five years in a row. And there might be a small change in scheme or a small change in personnel. This is now, each one is almost like a bowl game, without the time to prepare. And that's a unique challenge." On whether Timpview football hiring Cary Whittingham — brother of Ute coach Kyle Whittingham — changes anything for BYU recruiting there:"I don't think so. It is the same type of kids are still going to be there. They have grown up in this valley, they know exactly what BYU is. They want BYU, and regardless of any influence by a head coach, I don't think that will change what their opinion is. Families usually have more influence than coaching. I wouldn't anticipate it changing."