Being the Bronco Mendenhall guy I am, I have been doing a lot of soul searching over the past few days after rumors of BYU's head coach departing to the Pac-12 have grown louder and louder. I have no doubt in my mind that Bronco Mendenhall could rebuild and improve any BCS job he was offered.
The administrative angle of managing the BYU Football program is beyond anything in college athletics. Missions, Honor Code, no Sunday work for assistants who would choose to, and pressures simply from being the face of BYU Athletics are taxing. I've wondered how good Bronco's defense could be if he were able to recruit top-level, BCS talent at every position. I'd love to see it.
I want Bronco Mendenhall to coach BYU as long as he desires. He was hired to clean up a football program that was on a path toward organizational shutdown in 2005. A recent incident at Rancherito's aside, the program is in a better place now that it ever has been before. I am sure the Brethren in Salt Lake City are thrilled with how the football program has changed. Mendenhall's decision to embrace, with open arms, all the aspects of LDS culture into the BYU Football program have been beneficial to the program a whole. He wins more games than he loses, represents the Church in a positive way, and can have the job for as long as he wants.
And there's your threshold question: Does Bronco want to stay in Provo?
On many occasions, Mendenhall has commented that he does not see himself as a lifetime coach in the mold of LaVell Edwards or Bobby Bowden. He wants to put in his years and then do something else with his life. So, when Mendenhall interviews with Colorado about its vacant coaching position, is this a sign that Bronco wants or needs a change? Especially after showing interest in the UCLA job last winter.
Many have concluded that he is simply interviewing to either gain leverage with BYU, aiding him in acquiring a raise in salary or to simply honing his interviewing skills for the future. I'm not sold on either. I've always assumed, and maybe wrongly because as a private school BYU is not required to release its coaching salaries, that Mendenhall could claim a higher wage on the open market anyway. It would seem that BYU would have a ceiling that it would pay its football coach. Football is neither the preeminent nor the second nor...(you get the picture) goal of the institution. Additionally, college coaches who are happy don't just interview with random schools to stay sharp.
With LaVell coaching at BYU through a full dispensation, and Gary Crowton getting run out of town after just four seasons, I think we forget where BYU stands on the totem pole of coaching jobs nationwide. For some it may be a dream job. For those outside the program, it may be an upper-mid level job to use as a way of securing a BCS job. How does Bronco look at it? I used to think he would only be a head coach at BYU, and then take a Defensive Coordinating job when he decided to move on. Now? I don't know.
The overwhelming criticism, both right and wrong, that Bronco has been subject to this season may have gutted his desire to steer the program any further. My man Brett Hein noted that during Bronco's post-game press conference after the loss to San Jose State, 8-year head coach was basically saying to his detractors: "Come at me, bro! You think you can do better? Be my guest." Maybe Bronco is calling BYU fans' bluff and simply wants to feel wanted by someone on the outside. Again, only Bronco knows. Every coach will be the brunt of criticism when times are not so good. Every job has this pressure. But, anecdotally, with BYU fans it just feels different sometimes. 1984 might have been the best/worst thing to ever happen to Brigham Young University Football.
Why Colorado? With the way the administration cut Jon Embree off at the knees, Bronco would be able to negotiate a great buyout and basically guarantee himself the five years it would probably take to rebuild the program. No way CU would cut a second straight hire off in the midst of his contract. No way Mendenhall would run into disciplinary problems either, which is the only other way he or any other coach could get run out of town before the contract is up.
Boulder is a nice place to raise a family, and the folks at CU would be eating out of Bronco's hand if he took them to a bowl game in Year 2. And finally being a football coach without any of the baggage of leading a Church-owned institution may just be a breath of fresh air for someone who has given his heart and soul to BYU for the past decade-plus.
Time will tell whether Mendenhall is ready for a change. One thing is for sure: Bronco Mendenhall beats to the rhythym of his own drum. Here's to hoping he stays. There are few men I respect more than Mr. Mendenhall, and that will not change whether he stays or goes. Assuredly, BYU Football will miss him greatly when he's gone -- whenever that might be.