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Monson: BYU's jersey fiasco is just Bronco being Bronco

Published August 10, 2013 1:48 pm

College football • Word on back of Mendenhall's jersey should read hubris.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bronco Mendenhall needs a friend, a real friend. Not some grinning fool who will bob his head up and down at every crazy and cockamamie idea the BYU football coach comes up with. He needs somebody close to him, right next to him, who will tell him when he's thinking idiotic thoughts, somebody who won't hold back, somebody with the strength to save Bronco from himself.

Too often, he needs that saving.

Mendenhall is not a complete idiot, but, like a lot of us, has an inner idiot that must be squelched. He's a good man and a good coach. Sometimes, he just loses his way and has a hard time finding the path back to … oh, I dunno … reality. Sometimes, he's the dumbest smart coach in college football.

His quirks aren't cute or endearing. They're stubborn and zealous, as indicated by his latest man-of-genius idea that floated out on Thursday. It was a wing-dinger. He no longer would allow his players to wear their names on the back of their game uniforms and, instead, would force them to wear one of the following core values where the names used to be:

Spirit. Honor. Tradition.

I know, I know, when you're done wiping tears from your eyes, read on.

Good thing nobody included Integrity between Honor and Tradition, or that acronym would be a violation of the school's golly-gee clean-language policy. None of the players had any say in what value was assigned to his jersey. Each just got what he got.

Van Noy and Hoffman and Hill and Manumaleuna were 86ed in favor of one of the three. When the players saw what was in the works, they wanted to punch Bronco. If he had actually been able to permanently push this through, the word on the back of Mendenhall's coaching jersey should have been: Hubris.

It took an emergency player meeting Thursday night to abort the moronic idea. It was at that meeting where Mendenhall was snapped back to the realm of normalcy by his team. Prior to that, he had said the Cougars would use Spirit, Honor, Tradition as their names for the rest of his time as head coach at BYU. Afterward, he downgraded the idea to special-occasion usage, such as once-in-a-blue-moon for homecoming.

On Thursday night, then, the players saved the coach from embarrassing himself and the school from now till Kingdom Come. But for a day, Bronco was a laughingstock, seen as a coach who is out of touch with modern times and modern athletes, not just in the minds of rivals, but by his own players, his own fan base, by anyone with half a brain.

On Saturday, he apologized for the fiasco, likening his jersey idea to picking out the wrong anniversary gift for his wife. "Then you get that look, like, that wasn't such a good choice," he said.

Not only were people chuckling at the prospects of announcers broadcasting a BYU game — "Spirit drops back to pass … finds Tradition over the middle … Tradition jukes left, runs right … laterals to Honor up the sideline … Honor to the 20, the 15, the 10 … the defense loses Honor … touchdown, Honor!" — they were coming up with better three-word combinations to fit Cougar football.

Can't. Beat. Utah.

Stone. Cold. Sober.

Faith. Hope. Charity.

Bronco. Nut. Bag.

Mendenhall may have accomplished something that's never been done before. He made rabid BYU fans sound like the rational ones. One thing's for certain — he was on an island here.

Imagine how that whole thing would have played out with future high-level recruits. Not only that they wouldn't be allowed to have their names on their jerseys — that's been done elsewhere — but they would have Bronco's foundations scrawled across that space, instead.

It's just the latest example of a controlling Mendenhall driving a good idea — stressing solid values within his program — about five freeway exits past the best off-ramp. Nobody has a problem with BYU football emphasizing sound principles. Almost everybody has a problem with BYU football swinging those sound principles like a sledgehammer and hitting them over the head with it.

Think about a guy like Kyle Van Noy, who takes great pride in his family's name, suddenly having that name stripped off his jersey for some heavy-handed morality play. Not only does that make opponents hate the self-righteous Cougars, it makes the Cougars hate themselves.

The immediate reaction to Bronco's idea, which was his alone, was universally negative. BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe was surprised and bushwhacked by the move. He had no clue. He walked straight into the propeller. None of the players, when told about the idea, liked it. Former Cougars, such as linebacker Jordan Pendleton, hated it. Pendleton tweeted out: "Absolutely the dumbest thing ever."

Mendenhall should have known, but, like previous instances of indiscretion on his part — comparing BYU football players to scriptural characters, telling fans how stupid they are, coming up with slogans like "Quest for Perfection," starting two quarterbacks instead of one, insisting on playing a favored, plucky QB who's unfit to play, among other goof-ups — common sense cruised in his blind spot.

A few years ago, he brought the same Tradition-Spirit-Honor idea to his players — and they rejected it by forthrightly voting it down.

The reason they blocked it was three-fold: 1) They saw it as pious; 2) They didn't want to be laughed at; 3) They like having their names on the back of their jerseys, not for selfish reasons, rather because of the sense of satisfaction they felt in properly representing their families, without whom they never would have been playing football at BYU.

There are two ironies to Mendenhall attempting to slam this Spirit-Honor-Tradition idea down his players' throats and onto their backs: First, he would be breaking tradition to do it. Through nearly all of its glory years, BYU has had its players' names on the uniform. Second, in the very attempt to bring unity to his team, he was dividing it — against him.

Here are the lessons for Bronco to remember: Individuality doesn't have to be obliterated to conjure togetherness. In this case, the players knew that, the coach did not. And a team can pursue and represent fine ideals without having them splashed on its uniform. It's pompous overkill.

Still, it makes you wonder what's rattling around inside the coach's head. He's paid to make good judgments, sound judgments that affect an entire football program. Sometimes, he flat out goes cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, his arrogance or lack of awareness blocks his view, and those good, sound judgments are nowhere in his line of sight.

Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.