This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Bronco Mendenhall's a new man. At least he's acting like one.
Or maybe he's just being himself, again, which is what he always should have been, should have done.
Hurtling now toward UCLA at the Rose Bowl, BYU famously is 2-0, with a combination of two of the best wins in college football so far this season. The Cougars are two-fer on a couple of Hail Marys. And for anyone not wanting to give BYU credit for what it has accomplished or to write off its victories over Nebraska at Lincoln and Boise State at home merely as good luck, he or she should remember that the Cougars put themselves in position to gain good fortune both times. They have themselves a quarterback who makes unlikely things possible a guy still learning his own offense, but with an arm that delivers throws many others cannot deliver. That's not the entire story, but it's the most dramatic part of it.
And Mendenhall knows this.
That realization and the stirring results of those two remarkable wins seems to have shaken the man out of his cosmetic coma and into his true self.
Immediately after Tanner Mangum hit Mitch Mathews for a 42-yard game-winner in the season opener, Mendenhall ran around the field at Memorial Stadium like a maniac. You saw him. He acted like a kid tasting Funky Monkey for the first time. Once he got to the locker room, his cover was fully blown. He turned the corner, his players crammed into a relatively small space, waiting for him, and when he appeared, they roared. Mendenhall's reaction was where the truth was revealed. Inside of a nanosecond, he exploded into their arms, and then exulted as he surfed the crowd of players, lying back, his arms raised, his head bobbing, screaming with unadulterated joy.
You can't fake that.
It was automatic.
Automatic for the people.
With a camera rolling, capturing the whole thing, outsiders discovered more about Mendenhall in that single moment than they had in more than a decade of controlled demeanor, scripted press conferences and mind-numbing postgame interviews. It was a clear look at who the dude really is.
For most of Mendenhall's years as head coach at BYU, he's been someone he's not. He's talked cautiously, almost reverently, like a bishop or a general authority or like some kind of new age corporate manager. It's been as though he read in a book the way he was supposed to act, suppressing his real self, and then used a bunch of words that seemed clumsy and convoluted.
Awkward is the first description that comes to mind. Clunky is the second.
He used terms like "teachable moment" and "position mastery" and "higher level of execution" and "assignment sound" and "program failure" and "stewardship and accountability" and "knowledge of assignment" and "manifestation." He used the word "manifestation" more than any coach in any sport ever has or ever will. He blew the lid off the world record for using variations of that word.
When Bronco's team won again on Saturday night, defeating Boise State on another deep ball from Mangum, he was darn near floored. He looked like he'd just been hit upside the head by a two-by-four, as though he'd been drug through some kind of car wash called the "Miracle Maker." No telling what he did in the locker room with his players this time.
Point is, the drama seems to be pulling the authentic Bronco out of his 10-year stupor. No longer is he, or at least not as much, the coach he thinks he's supposed to be in public, he's the coach, the man, he actually is.
Back before Mendenhall was named head coach at BYU, when he was the defensive coordinator, he was more natural, more himself. He was emotional and a little bit wacko. He did things like wear a T-shirt and shorts to offseason practices in sub-freezing temperatures just to prove to his players what a real man did, how a real man was unaffected by things such as frostbite. After a big win, he once, on the field, repeatedly slammed his body into the chest of one of his players, sharing and celebrating the victory like two Neanderthals fighting over the last piece of meat. When he was a graduate assistant, he lived in his office for months, never using his car. He parked it somewhere on campus, forgot where it was, and later reported it as missing.
That's just part of the wonderfully maladjusted focus that's really buried somewhere deep in the man, and that resides there, still. Mendenhall has learned some things and grown up through the years and made himself a better coach. That's all good.
But what would be better is if the real Bronco was always on display, all that passion, all that emotion, all that raw authenticity. Not what he thinks his bosses at BYU or the board of trustees at LDS Church headquarters want their football coach to be, rather what their football coach actually is.
He's not LaVell Edwards, so he shouldn't act like LaVell stone-faced and nearly emotionless on the sidelines. He should be the controlled madman that he is, disgusted by lack of effort and losing and overjoyed by execution and winning.
Ironically, there were those who criticized Mendenhall for running around the field at Nebraska, saying that was somehow boyish, classless and inappropriate. I call BS on that. It was Bronco being human, instead of Bronco masquerading as some automaton, or some ecclesiastical leader, or some clinically trained specialist in corporate management.
He's a football coach. Let him be that.
Win or lose, but especially win, it would usually play well with his team, with his team's fan base, with his bosses, with almost everyone.
Bronco should be Bronco, not a man hiding behind a façade. Nothing's better than being an original. If you've got something to offer, nothing's more effective than being what you really are.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
The Mendenhall record
Year Finish Bowl game
2005 6-6 Lost Las Vegas Bowl
2006 11-2 Won Las Vegas Bowl
2007 11-2 Won Las Vegas Bowl
2008 10-3 Lost Las Vegas Bowl
2009 11-2 Won Las Vegas Bowl
2010 7-6 Won New Mexico Bowl
2011 10-3 Won Armed Forces Bowl
2012 8-5 Won Poinsettia Bowl
2013 8-5 Lost Fight Hunger Bowl
2014 8-5 Lost Miami Beach Bowl