Singer Kelly Clarkson is shown posing coyly in a huge photo adorning the LaVell Edwards Stadium press box. It’s promoting her July 4 appearance in the home of Tradition, Spirit and Honor.
Provo and the rest of the world always have coexisted somewhat awkwardly, and that’s true of the reason for the 64,000-seat stadium’s existence. BYU wants to play big-time college football, but under its own terms. There’s the market for coaching salaries, and then there’s BYU.
Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall, who was in a good mood Wednesday, owing to a convergence of his new contract, his upcoming vacation and his overhauled offensive staff, laughed when I asked if his salary remotely approached market value.
He turned my use of "remotely" into a cell phone coverage comparison. "Let’s keep that analogy," he said. "It’s not four bars."
It’s probably more than two bars, representing a significant amount of money — but nothing like the salaries of two former BYU players who are coaching elsewhere. The annual numbers for Washington’s Steve Sarkisian ($2.55 million) and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham ($2 million) are way out of Mendenhall’s league. It’s at least debatable who’s done the best work among those three, and no question about who’s the best bargain.
Mendenhall in recent years has mismanaged his offensive staff, handled the quarterback position poorly and botched some in-game decisions. In that sense, with his contract expiring after the 2013 season and general dissatisfaction among fans regarding his recent performance, this was not the best time for him to be negotiating.
Yet considering his 74-29 record over eight seasons and the fact that so much is asked of him in a coaching job that’s viewed by the school’s administration and ownership as a church leadership position, Mendenhall absolutely is everything BYU ever could want.
He’d like to be paid accordingly, which is why extending his contract through 2016 resulted only from months of negotiations. He’s not being mistreated, I’ll make that clear. But he’s also earning everything he’s making in a profession that now pays many high-level assistant coaches more money than Mendenhall.
He likes his job. An offseason of staff changes and self-study reinforced that belief. Yet Mendenhall’s like anybody else, to a degree. He reminds me of a young John Stockton, whose one-time employment of pro basketball’s most aggressive agent once seemed contrary to his nature. Stockton may have loved the game, but "You don’t want to be the only sucker in the league," he said.
That explains why Mendenhall sought more money, trying to match up his rejuvenated attitude with BYU’s appreciation of his work and see "what numbers that looked like," he said.
The result: Lots of zeroes, but starting with a smaller first number than comparable coaches’ contracts.
"I do think that BYU did everything they possibly could do to help me remain," he said. "But to say that’s what any other school would do, that’s not the case."
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said the extension is "proof of the things that we’ve done" on the field and creates "a new era" going forward.
Mendenhall feels valued at the school.
"I’m here because I’m supposed to be here, and I want to be here," he said.
It’s good for both sides that an agreement came in time for the annual BYU Football Media Day, about five weeks before preseason practice starts in August. And Mendenhall now can go about the business of living up to his own standards.
"I have higher expectations for the program than, I think, anyone in the world," he said.
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