When Tom Holmoe announced at BYU Media Day that head coach Bronco Mendenhall had signed a three-year extension through 2016 with the school, the biggest smile in the studio was on Mendenhall's face.
And that's where the biggest improvement will be seen for BYU fans. They even saw it that day, as the head coach pulled out several one-line zingers and jokes, including telling his entire defensive staff that "I don't really like any of them" with a cheeky grin.
Sure, three more years (allegedly) at the school for a guy with a .718 winning percentage seems like a big deal. But more of a big deal is that Mendenhall, whose contract was set to expire after this season, wants to be at BYU for that long.
"We looked at the decision in every possible way, but ultimately, I have come to the realization that I like it here," Mendenhall told the Salt Lake Tribune. "And that was a big breakthrough."
Fans don't care if Mendenhall is happy; they only care if he wins, and he expands on his eight-straight postseason bowl appearances. But the happiness factor is relevant to four fans, namely Holly, Raeder, Breaker and Cutter Mendenhall. Keeping the coach in Provo for at least three years gives stability to his family, who were reportedly ready to move to Las Vegas nearly a decade ago when BYU was about to name Kyle Whittingham as its next head coach.
Mendenhall's record at BYU has been a complete turnaround experience, especially considering the school was coming off of three straight losing seasons (and the dreaded time now known as the Crowton Era). But the Cougars' turnaround has begun to wax a bit for some circles, especially after BYU went to six straight Las Vegas Bowl trips before ditching the Mountain West Conference for football independence.
Is BYU ready to take the next step? Sure, postseason bowls are nice. But in the current model of college football, anything at or above .500 at the end of the season merits a postseason bid. In the Cougars' eight years of postseason eligibility, five of them included 10 or more wins, but they also included last season's disappointing 8-5 record that ended in the Van Noy-ihilation of San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Indeed, with arguably the most difficult schedule of its young foray into football independence coming up, an 8-5 season in 2013 would be a strong outing. With games against Texas, Utah, Boise State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Houston, a season that ends with four or five losses is a distinct possibility. Is that good enough for the BYU fans who think the Cougars should be competing for BCS bowl appearances? (Right or wrong). Could a coach with more than one stop as a head coach elevate the program to "the next level" in a way Mendenhall - who held assistant roles at Oregon State, Snow College, Northern Arizona, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico and BYU - can not?
Nevertheless, it's impossible not to see the Bronco Mendenhall Era is being something of success at BYU, considering where the program sat when he took over. And three more years on his contract is a signal to recruits and future players that Tom Holmoe is serious about Mendenhall, and improving on the next stanza of his coaching tenure.
"I am thrilled to have Bronco signed as our head football coach through the 2016 season," Holmoe said in a news release. "Over the past eight seasons, his leadership has guided our football program back to national prominence through top-25 rankings, bowl victories, All-American athletes and overall excitement at LaVell Edwards Stadium. I look forward to what the next four years will bring with the new era of BYU football."