Almost 200 Cougar Club faithful gathered at the contemporary Entrada Country Club for a catered meal and oration by newly appointed Athletic Director, Tom Holmoe and Head Football Coach, Bronco Mendenhall.
The Banquet was preceded by a golf tournament that included nearly 80 local golf and football fans, including Tom Holmoe and Bronco Mendenhall. The events of the day were organized and hosted by Kurt Bracken, the president of the Southern Utah Chapter of the Cougar Club.
Before the start of the Banquet, Bronco Mendenhall and Tom Holmoe worked the room making themselves available for most anyone interested in conversation.
My wife and I found ourselves at a table full of… how would you say… ahh… "Deep Pockets". These were not just fans, these were fans that put their money where their mouth was. We're talking million dollar donors, the kind of fans that can be thanked for doing their significant part in funding the new athletic facilities and practice facilities.
It didn't take long for Bronco to find his way to our table where it was clear he recognized a number of the benefactors. He was straight forward, not mincing words. He explained he understands their interest in the success of this football program, the stewardship and mantle he now bears.
What a Fan Wants
The questions that came from this table were insightful. These are people that understand the mission of the football team involves much more than wins, conference championships and bowls. These are fans that want a team that represents BYU and the LDS Church. They sincerely believe that if the coaching staff can maintain a quality character team, the wins will follow.
Bronco believes what they want to hear. More than once, Bronco made it clear that he believes his players must be in line spiritually, academically, and athletically, in that order.
"Prove to me why I should take you."
He related to people at our table that players that come to schools for recruiting visits, are so used to being pampered and wooed, that they are surprised when he first asks them, "So what can you do for BYU? Why should we invite you here? Prove to me why I should take you." Bronco describe how mouths drop, and most remain quietly stunned. After time, he said, most of them want to answer the question, but at first it's shocking.
Bronco doesn't mind the straight forward interrogative approach. He wants to identify what kind of loyalty they have toward BYU and the program right away. He doesn't want players that aren't fully committed to being here.
When asked about how Ben Olson approached him about not returning, Bronco was very blunt. "Ben Olson never talked to me," he said. "I got a call from his father. There was a sense of entitlement that I'm not willing to give to any of our players. I'm fine with his decision, its better for him and better for us."
You could tell Bronco didn't think any thing of it. If they don't want to be here, he doesn't want them, he doesn't want to waste a moment thinking about it. It's a new way of thinking at BYU. "We're not going to recruit like anyplace else, we're not going to practice like any place else," Bronco declared.
Bronco explained that freshmen will no longer be allowed to get housing off campus. "Freshmen will be required to stay in BYU dorms," he said. "They will be integrated in the school, and be living the BYU lifestyle".
He also said that he is initiating a Big Brother program that will create mentors for new freshmen who will be positive examples for them.
Strength of our Culture.
Coach Mendenhall made no bones about BYU being a school representing the LDS church, and the football program being the most visible flag bearer for the school. "The strength of our culture is the spirit," Bronco said. "The University is founded in the spirit."
What went wrong?
Bronco, as if he could sense everyone wondering the same thing in the room, asked the hardest question for himself: "What went wrong?"
BYU got away from being a peculiar school, Bronco acknowledged. The school decided to compete with everyone else, they must recruit like everyone else, practice like everyone else, they must resemble everyone else.
Bronco doesn't believe that. His ensign for the team is "Return to Glory". This doesn't include just the uniforms, it entails recruiting the very best LDS athletes; making sure the athletes are of the highest caliber spiritually and academically; finding athletes that love BYU and have a great desire to attend it; and finding players that are willing to sacrifice and put forward a positive attitude when they practice and are representing the church.
From his end, he wants to develop a relationship between the university and previous players that will form a net where in quality players are identified early on so BYU can approach them. He was very blunt in crediting this new network of former players as big reason that BYU already has so many quality early commitments and offers.
He put a chart up on the screen that identified nearly 70 LDS athletes that had chosen other schools. Most of the listed players were in the PAC –10, followed by the Big 10 and Big 12. Under the old system, Bronco said, "Many of these same players may not have gotten an offer until the last hour or not at all."
A new attitude
According to Bronco, the requirements for being successful on his team are, faith, intellect, character and skill. Wow! We are talking about football, right? Bronco claims that the expectation level coming from this team includes almost every player, and that there is still room to improve. "Not only is their still room to go before we reach our potential, we're not even close."
Now, that might seem negative, but the impression was not so much that the players have failed to reach their potential, but rather as well as they've done, Bronco senses they can find even more to give. This effort has as much to do with attitude as anything. Confidence, faith, energy and power will all be improved with attitude.
Bronco reported that Shaun Nua recently showed up in office to brag that the work ethic he learned at BYU has made him a favorite player among Steelers' coaches in Pittsburg. "Their practices aren't even close!" said Nua.
Brady Poppinga came from Green Bay to report to Bronco that, "It's a joke! They don't even try hard."
Brandon Heaney echoed the same thought after time with the Falcons, "They don't even practice hard!"
This pleases Bronco, knowing that he's able to get this kind of effort from his team, and yet he still sees an opportunity for them to give even more.
Coming in Part II
Missions beget leadership
Get your own missionary program!
Honoring the Honor Code.