BYU ushers in new ESPN, independent era with media day
College football • Cougars coach recently inked 3-year extension.
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Provo • Unintentionally, BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall stole the headlines at the Cougars' heavily planned football media day Tuesday when the school was more interested in touting its eight-year agreement with sports television giant ESPN, pumping up its own television network's capability of exposing its sports worldwide and showing off its expansive new broadcast center.

After a nationally televised opening — broadcast by BYUtv, of course — that featured Mendenhall, athletic director Tom Holmoe, ESPN vice president of programming Dave Brown and Derek Marquis of BYUtv discussing BYU's first season as a football independent, and how at least eight of its 12 games, maybe more, will be televised by ESPN or one of its platforms, Mendenhall spilled the beans to reporters far away from television cameras.

He quietly signed a contract extension during the offseason.

"I extended after last season for three more years," Mendenhall said, when asked whether he was happy with the way he was compensated as BYU's coach.

The coach, entering his seventh season, said he asked Holmoe not to publicize the extension when it was signed last January. Amazingly, that Mendenhall's contract was about to expire was not announced or reported last December and January when he shook up his offensive coaching staff.

"As BYU's coach, there's enough attention," he said. "I just didn't want that to be another story [in January]. But I am completely happy here. I want to coach here as long as I am wanted, and as long as I feel like it is where I am supposed to be."

Mendenhall made it sound like he turned down a long-term deal when he said, "I mean, how can you sign a 10-year deal?"

Later, he clarified that he was not offered that long of a deal.

Holmoe said he approached Mendenhall about the extension months ago and suggested a five-year extension, but Mendenhall wanted three years.

"Would I have signed him to a five-year contract?" Holmoe said. "Sure, if the terms were right. ... But he liked three years. I think three years is great."

Mendenhall stressed that his agreeing to a three-year contract doesn't mean that he plans on retiring, or leaving, after three seasons. For the time being, he will continue to act as defensive coordinator, he confirmed.

"I am not saying I won't go farther than that," he said. "I am willing to lead the charge through independence and then re-evaluate. That's where I currently stand."

The day, which also featured appearances by former coach LaVell Edwards, former BYU greats Ty Detmer, Trevor Matich, Bryan Kehl and Steve Young (via satellite) and West Coast Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, came and went without any major announcements, much to the chagrin of Cougar fans who were hoping for more scheduling news, if nothing else.

Although BYU has announced nine opponents for the 2012 season, Holmoe said 10 are contracted, but would not divulge the 10th opponent, and wouldn't elaborate.

"We have irons in the fire, but it is complicated [to set up games]," he said, citing factors such as radio and television broadcast rights for delaying some negotiations.

In the opening session, Brown called ESPN's relationship with BYU "a great moment for us" and said ESPN wants the partnership to extend past 2020.

"We are excited ... to get Cougar football in front of as many fans as we can," he said.

Mendenhall called scheduling, especially finding "late-season balance," the Cougars' biggest challenge now that they don't belong to a conference. He said he's been involved in scheduling more in the past three months that he was in his first six years.

Big name schools "are taking our calls," Holmoe said. "They are listening right now, but we have to be persuasive."

Later, he said BYU hasn't ruled out playing a game on foreign soil. "We are exploring that, but it is hard."

Mendenhall said there had to be a reason that ESPN wanted to partner with BYU, and that reason is the school is a national brand with a national following.

"Our job is to make sure we uphold our end of the bargain," he said.

The Cougars made available more than a dozen current players for interviews, including quarterback Jake Heaps. The sophomore said he isn't even thinking about leaving early for the NFL, noting that in his mind he will be at BYU "all three years."

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay Mendenhall's record by season

2005 — 6-6

2006 — 11-2

2007 — 11-2

2008 — 10-3

2009 — 11-2

2010 — 7-6