Bronco Mendenhall is a lovely human being. His loyalty is greater than most any man you could meet. He loves and cares about his family and players. Bronco has a big heart. On everyone's account, the character of Coach Mendenhall is to be admired.
Which is why it is so confusing to me, and fans alike, that Bronco Mendenhall frequently carries an adversarial relationship with the fans and boosters of his football program.
Part of the job when you are hired as a head coach is politicking your vision for the program to the fans. Why? Because fans are the lifeblood of higher level athletics. By the time anybody competes at the college or professional level, there is an expectation from the players and coaches to receive compensation for their efforts on the playing field. While the debate rages on about compensation for college athletes, there can be no question that a head coach of a division 1 NCAA program is handsomely compensated for their efforts. A head coach must endear themselves to the fan base of their program in order to keep their compensation.
Coach Mendenhall realizes this. It doesn't seem as if he enjoys this fact, but he does realize this. In truth, Bronco has done an AMAZING job endearing himself to fans from one aspect of his job as top man in BYU's program. Have you seen this? 10 hours of service, praying on his first day, Thursday's Heroes, Spencer Hadley Prison Fireside!
Part of the unique challenge of being head coach at BYU is that those things are part of the job. You won't get hired as head coach unless you're a temple recommend holder. We are close to a decade of Bronco Mendenhall, and that part of the program has never been more amplified and broadcasted then it has during his tenure. One could argue that behind the actual religion department at Brigham Young University, the football program is the most openly religious unit on campus.
The thing is, BYU fans are totally fine with the job Dave Rose, Chris McGown, Jennifer Rockwood, Jeff Judkins, and others are doing when it comes to upholding the standards of the church within their programs. While there is certainly far more exposure for football than their respective sports, there doesn't seem to be expectation on the coaches from other sports to expand their ministry.
Regardless, it is a brilliant move by Bronco, and not just because religion is essential to growth and happiness. It's smart because it puts the results of his program in a place where measuring the success of his team seems trivial.
This quote is well travelled, but this helps, indicate a deliberate positioning of frivolity toward football.
As I stood in front of the Cougar Club, it felt like I was in front of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Sometimes what play is called on third-and-20 is more important than what we're trying to do here. My hope is that you support us with your heart as you try to find what's most important in life and see the bigger picture, and join us in that purpose.
- Bronco Mendenhall in 2011 BYU Football Fireside
I definitely don't want to be a Pharisee, much less a Sadducee. Maybe I shouldn't have written this column.
The irony is that hundreds of those Pharisees and Sadducees in Cougar Club are busy investing $25,000 into an endowment to pay Marc Bronco Clay Mendenhall more money. The organization is called the "Coaches Circle." Can you think of a less important charity to donate money to than the foundation for fattening the wallet of Bronco Mendenhall? I can't. How is that trying to "find what's most important in life and see the bigger picture?" Imagine you are loaded, how much money would you have to be giving to other things before you'd consider supplementing the handsome salary of Coach Mendenhall? 100 million? 1 billion? 10 billion? Is there even an amount of money?
On the TV show, Mad Men, Don Draper gives insight into the nature of compensation. His employee, Peggy Olson, is upset because she didn't get the kind of recognition she thought she deserved.
Don Draper: "It's your job. I give you money; you give me ideas."
Peggy Olson: "And you never said, 'Thank You!'"
Don Draper: "That's what the money is for!"
Bronco Mendenhall's job is to coach great football. While there is a spiritual component to his job, his job title still reads, "Head Football Coach." Fans invest time, energy, emotion, and the almighty dollar into his football program. Even Mendenhall himself has asked the fans to be "Fully Invested" and has blasted fans if he didn't think they were doing it right. From booing a punter, to empty seats on Senior Day, and even what color shirt they wear to the game.
Bronco just wants investment without oversight. Sort of like the federal bailout benefactors.
Besides, to Bronco, a fan's oversight doesn't matter. There are loyal fans and fickle fans. Both are uneducated and shouldn't evaluate football. So why care what they think?
Despite this, fans certainly don't think that Bronco Mendenhall is a bad guy, it is just hard to cheer for him. It's hard to have his back and give him our full support. Mendenhall's attitude toward fans reminds me of a heel wrestler.
Heel wrestlers say things like:
"Before coming to Utah, I didn't know if there were going to be more Mormons or morons. But now I can say that there are more morons."
- Christian at a house show in the Maverick Center, March 2014
"I tried. I tried so hard to empathize with all your weaknesses. I implored every single one of you to just say "no," and all my empathy got was for you to love Jeff Hardy that much more than you already did. But this will not deter me. I will stay the course; I still believe in teaching you people the difference between right and wrong. Oh, obviously it's gonna be challenging, listening to you people, and by the looks of some of you, it's gonna be a big challenge. But just like any other challenge that's come down the pipe in my lifetime, I'm gonna meet that challenge head on like a man. Whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, you deserve better. This entire world deserves better. What you need is a leader. you need a strong leader who's gonna stand up in the face of adversity and just say "no." You need a strong leader that's gonna carry the banner of the World Heavyweight Championship with honor, with pride, respect, dignity, integrity, and class."
- CM Punk on August 7, 2009 on Friday Night Smackdown
"I feel a little bit let down; a little bit betrayed by all the Jericholics and I'm going to tell you why. Over the last little while you people haven't been showing me the respect I deserve. You haven't been cheering as loudly as you should! You're forgetting that you're Jericholics!"
- Chris Jericho on November 23, 1998 on WCW Monday Nitro
"Hogan, I've been in more steel cage matches than Brigham Young had wives!"
- Rowdy Roddy Piper on WCW Nitro in Salt Lake City in 1998
Okay, so one of those doesn't apply here.
Even the way Bronco talks after losses is similar to a heel wrestler. Insisting on being only 1 play away, or not changing anything about the decisions of the game (so you wanted to lose?), or brushing off major blowout losses by saying that he's more optimistic about the team.
The reason heel wrestlers act the way they do is because they are trying to get the crowd to respond negatively. It is part of the show. Unfortunately, I don't think Bronco is purposeful in being off-putting to fans. He certainly is defensive when they show interest in his job that they pay for. His battle to hide his contempt at Cougar Club Q&As has become legendary. It seems as if the fans are the part of Bronco's job that he hates even more than recruiting.
"I think it's degrading as a coach to try to convince an 18-year-old young man why he should come to your place."
- Bronco Mendenhall
Its no small wonder fans talk about Geoff Martzen like deity.
The law of reciprocity dictates that as Bronco embraces the fans, the fans will embrace Bronco. Fans want to be in. Most fans have more brand identification with Brigham Young University than perhaps any other brand in their life. That's why ESPN pays for BYU Football. That's why fans say "we" instead of "they." What BYU football does on the field is a small part of the identity of fans. Why else do fans walk around with pride after a big win?
Despite this, the fans are rebuffed by the head coach. Bronco's lucky that the fans are just as loyal to their BYU Cougars as he is to those closest to him.
After nearly a decade of learning the idiosyncrasies of one another, both fans and Bronco Mendenhall alike have arrived at the same place. Tolerance.
And for fans, that's disappointing.