Coach Mendenhall addresses independence

BYU football was in the air on Tuesday as national and local media sat in roundtable conversations with past and current football players and coaches alike. It was a smorgasbord, if you will, of candid conversation revolving around the very serious topic of BYU going independent.

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall fielded many questions on media day, addressing a variety of topics including independence, his team's status and coaching changes. He also addressed an interesting aspect of BYU's first media day as an independent.

"Oh, I've already noticed a difference already because it's specific to BYU," Coach Mendenhall said. "Folks are only coming to talk BYU football and the relevant issues about our program. [In the past] we're not one of the stops unless the media is going from table to table to table."

With BYU's broadcast building set up with table stations that allow various media to access coaches for conversations, Coach Mendenhall spoke on how the new venue will not only allow BYU to promote their message and brand of football to the nation, but also allow him to be more candid about things he wouldn't otherwise be.

"This is a single stop in a facility that's designed to promote our message, so I love the thought of a designated day where we can highlight all that is unique and special about this institution. I intend to be as open as possible to do that, where amongst conference members sitting table by table listening in on what you have to say, there is a much more guarded nature about that.

"With the independent move, I feel so much more liberated in terms off having the freedom in these settings to say and be and interact in a manner that's truly reflective of our program and our institution."

BYU is now sailing the ship of independence straight into uncharted waters for BYU football. Although Notre Dame is another independent football program, Coach Mendenhall hasn't contacted their administration or football program for consultation.

"While there is a commonality of independence, I stand on the platform that it's very clear that this institution is unlike any other in the world," said Mendenhall. "Ninety-nine percent is of one faith. Over 70 percent speak another language, and the number of married students that are here and the type of faith is so different.

"The tradition of Notre Dame in terms of the national landscape is still quite different, even though we believe we have a strong tradition. We believe we are carving into that. There are some points of relevance, but I want to focus more on our distinctiveness than what we have in common and try and leverage that and get those issues addressed before the others."

Mendenhall said that convincing potential recruits to come to BYU and motivating current players to perform at the top of their ability, despite having no conference championship to compete for, has not been an issue in the least bit.

"One of the things that's been interesting is I haven't been asked by a single member of our team or by a recruit about not playing for a conference championship. I have been asked about that six or seven times by media, so it really made me think before I framed it before our team [about] how big of a deal is that really?"

Although conference titles and accolades will now go by the wayside with BYU's move to independence, there are a few progress markers that Coach Mendenhall does feel need to be and can be established.

"It makes complete sense to me that we need to win our state," Mendenhall said. "We have an in-state rival that's a good program, and we have another in-state rival in Utah State that played us well and beat us a year ago. That in and of itself gives you some immediate markers. We've already won conference championships and we've already had 10- and 11-win seasons, and quite frankly the team now, besides those immediate markers which I would qualify as a state championship, they only want BCS access.

"I think even if we lose two or three games, and I'm able to balance the best teams throughout that schedule and the next big opportunity is still coming to prove they're capable of playing on the big stage with the most fans and with the best people, that then still shows we're still making progress towards the ultimate goal. I think scheduling is going to have to do a lot with it as well as in terms of the immediate markers without a conference championship."

If BYU ends up with a record of 6-6 and plays in the Armed Forces Bowl, or a record of 11-1 and still ends up in the Armed Forces Bowl, how would he view progress as being made?

"It'll be interesting to see," Coach Mendenhall quickly said. "If we go 11-1 it's still significant progress. If we go to the Armed Forced Bowl, hopefully we will dominate or would clearly win in a convincing matter against anyone we played against. Let's say we finish in the top 10. Well, that's the top 10. When we haven't won a conference championship, the other teams that we've lost to recently in the Mountain West are finishing in the top five, so we're not that far away and we just raised the bars as far as who we are going to play.

"Let's say we went 11-2 against a stiffer quality of opponents, and let's say the rankings do have something to do with it. So, instead of a conference championship, and we finish eighth, that's eighth in the country, and that is still closer than what 112 other teams would have been. That's still a good sign and it's still moving us forward. Let's say the preseason rankings and all that stuff come out for the next year and if we're ranked in the top 10, that's progress. Again, from a holistic viewpoint, that's how I would put that."

What remains to be seen is exactly how BYU will now be treated by the BCS.

"I'm very intrigued while acknowledging their standard is to be undefeated," Mendenhall said. "We've been 11-2 three times and still didn't get there, and we've gone 10-3, which isn't good enough."

Regarding teams going from the Mountain West Conference to BCS conferences, Mendenhall said "my guess will be they will be treated as how they have been. Eventually that will come back to elevate programs like us in terms of this exclusive system, that maybe 11-2 is good enough, that maybe our 11-2 is as good enough as everyone else's 11-2."

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