Provo • BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall has at times been criticized as an inflexible and stubborn leader who doesn’t listen to the concerns of his players as much as he should, but on Thursday night he changed his mind on an issue that had Cougar fans and players alike yelping in disgust.
Five or so hours after saying the core values of his football program — Spirit, Tradition and Honor — would adorn the backs of BYU’s jerseys during every game this season, rather than players’ last names — the coach decided it would be for one game only after listening to the concerns of players in a team meeting.
"Talked to my team tonite [sic]. They want to wear tradition spirit honor on jerseys for homecoming only. Last names for rest of the year. PERFECT!," Mendenhall wrote on his Twitter account.
The players — and seemingly everyone else in the program except Mendenhall — first learned of the change when they found their 2013 jerseys hanging in the locker room on Thursday afternoon and walked into the school’s Indoor Practice Facility for the annual photo day.
A third of the jerseys had Spirit on the back. Another third read Tradition, and the last third Honor. The players said they didn’t even get a chance to pick the value they would wear.
Many players were stunned and incredulous as they filed into the indoor practice facility to get their pictures taken in their new jerseys. Several players with negative things to say about the change refused to comment publicly.
Others, such as All-America linebacker Kyle Van Noy, chose his words cautiously.
"I am not really sure how I feel about them yet," he said. "One thing I have enjoyed about playing here at BYU is having the last names on the backs of the jerseys. … So it is going to be different. I don’t know if it is for sure yet. I think they might be testing it out. I don’t think anyone said it is going to be there all year."
Shortly after the photo day started at 2:30 p.m., Mendenhall met with reporters and spoke as if his plan was to have the players wear the jerseys with the values on them in every game.
"We have identified [Tradition-Spirit-Honor] as the core principles of what the program is going to be. After eight years and the successes we have had to this point, after year two of independence, and the vision I have for this program and what I see going forward, I intend that to be very visible for anyone who wants to know about our program and what it stands for, on the biggest stages," Mendenhall said. "I would consider it a relaunching of those, and a re-emphasis on those same values that have helped us be successful to this point. "
Asked whether the change was permanent, or for this year only, Mendenhall continued:
"It is for the program [going] forward. As long as I am the coach here, that is what we will emphasize. I think it reflects consistency. It has been on our stadium. It has been really at the core of everything we have done. My point is simply to identify that we are going to be very consistent. This is what the program represents, and if anyone was wondering if we are going away from that, just look on the back of the jerseys. Your answer is right there."
BYU football spokesperson Brett Pyne verified the legitimacy of Mendenhall’s tweet on Thursday night and confirmed that the jerseys will be worn only on Oct. 12, when the Cougars play host to Georgia Tech in their homecoming game. Players will wear jerseys with their last names on the back in the other 11 games, as they have done as long as anyone can remember.
The words Spirit, Tradition and Honor are spelled out in large letters on the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and were on the South side of the stadium until new scoreboards were installed last summer.
News of the change drew mostly a firestorm of criticism on Twitter and other social media outlets, and even several former Cougars weighed in that it was a bad idea, including ex-linebackers Brandon Ogletree and Jordan Pendleton.
Current players who agreed to speak publicly to The Tribune during photo day were careful with their words, but it was evident they were not thrilled with the change.
"This is a new thing, and guys are a little uncomfortable with it," said senior running back Mike Alisa. "I have never seen anyone else do anything like it. So in that regard, I am for it. I think it is a cool change that distinguishes us from the rest of the nation, makes us different. Which we are."
Defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna said it would take some getting used to among BYU’s many Polynesian players, because having their family names on their backs has always been a source of pride.
"All of us wanted our names on our backs," Manumaleuna said. "We weren’t expecting this. ... But it is a good way to keep us unified and keep us as a team together, both offense and defense. It also lets people who are watching us know what we are about. We are about tradition, spirit and honor. So this is probably a pretty good way to do that."
For just one game, anyway.
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