With its un-Christian, hypocritical and marginalizing gay policy, with its questionable essays, and with its heinous and un-explainable excommunications, perhaps the institutional LDS Church became something that Bronco Mendenhall could no longer represent?
Mendenhall left the church’s Brigham Young University for Virginia. He recently said this:
“It’s hard to always remain authentic because of the scrutiny. One of the things that’s been a unique dynamic to me personally is allowing and trusting [the real me] to be shown to those I’m not sure that I trust, what they’re going to do with that information. What I’m finding is, the energy that it takes to be on guard all the time, it’s hard to keep up. It’s just something I’ve got to continue to reconcile and figure out how best to do this really unique job.”
Read Gordon Monson’s Salt Lake Tribune piece, “Gone from BYU, Bronco Mendenhall can be Bronco again“:
Bronco Mendenhall said all along he wouldn’t be a lifer at BYU.
And he was right about that.
Now, he’s a goner.
A new opportunity has called him away to Charlottesville, a place that is beautiful and historical in darn near everything it is and does — except for football. Not completely unlike BYU a little over a decade ago, after Gary Crowton messed over LaVell’s legacy, when Mendenhall took the wheel there, Virginia has sucked for a while now — 4-8 this season, 5-7 the year before, 2-10 the year before that. Bronco helped turn the Cougars around, now he’ll try to redirect the Cavaliers.
He also said he’d know when it was time to go.
Turns out, everybody else knew, too.
It is time.
Time for Mendenhall to coach someplace else, probably a freeway exit or two past time.
Let’s say it all plain here: Bronco used up what he had in Provo, saw some success, learned some lessons, went through some rough stretches, and reached the limits of where he, personally, could take the Cougar program. There was nothing left, nothing better that he could do. Maybe somebody else can do more.
What Mendenhall did wasn’t great, but it was rock-steady good, in spite of the goofiness along the way — the cracking open of the Book of Mormon at press conferences, the delusional talk of winning national titles, the chafing at criticism from fans and commentators, the strategic errors, the change in personality from crazy-faced coordinator to general authority-style head coach, the quests for perfection, the whole “Honor, Spirit, Tradition” jersey thing, the firing and rehiring of assistant coaches, the embracing of walk-ons, the Riley Nelson-lovefest, the weird speech patterns and clunky terminology. Still, the man’s teams won 99 games and lost 42. And he cared about his players.
Every once in a long while, he’d even beat a quality opponent, but, in truth, mostly he loaded up that stellar record by way of dusting marginal teams. Weak SOS under the coach wasn’t a compromised distress signal, it was an open road to a long-term, $3-million-plus-a-year deal in the ACC.
At his press conference on Friday night announcing his departure, Mendenhall was filled with a mix of melancholy about the past and excitement for his future. He wasn’t so much burned out, just turned off, ready for something new, tired of the scene in and around BYU football. And the scene was tired of him, too.
No longer will Mendenhall have to slam his fists and head against the wall, trying to find a Power 5 league for his team to compete in. He won’t have to call players into his office for wearing their hair too long, or for drinking a couple of beers, or for sleeping at their girlfriend’s apartment. He won’t have to worry himself over issues that are a normal part of life at most campuses. And he can recruit accordingly, no longer searching in sparse corners for seminary graduates and Eagle Scouts. Weekly fireside talks and ecclesiastical endorsements are in his rearview.
He can hope for more realistic, educated fans at UVA. Remember that oldie-but-goodie: “The level of criticism usually matches the level of education, and the fans, the people it comes from.”
And if it doesn’t work out that well in Charlottesville, he can bank the extra money and go in search of the perfect tasty wave at beaches around the globe for as long as he wants.
Primarily, though, at Virginia, he’ll be able to go back to just being a football coach. He can take what he’s learned in Provo and untwist himself from the knot he became as BYU’s contorted leader.
Back when he was defensive coordinator, Mendenhall talked about his philosophy of what he called “complete disruption.” He said it like this: “I hope the defense is a reflection of my personality. If I’m not passionate or energetic out there, how can I expect the players to be? How can the coach not be emotional and disruptive? I’m kind of saying to them, ‘Follow me.'”
As head coach at BYU, he tried to be what he thought LDS Church leaders wanted him to be, not what he actually was. At times, he sounded less like a coach and more like a corporate manager who read too many organizational behavior guides and often he was awkward and clumsy. One player described him as “an odd duck.”
Mendenhall won’t be that way at Virginia.
A while back, he said: “It’s hard to always remain authentic because of the scrutiny. One of the things that’s been a unique dynamic to me personally is allowing and trusting [the real me] to be shown to those I’m not sure that I trust, what they’re going to do with that information. What I’m finding is, the energy that it takes to be on guard all the time, it’s hard to keep up. It’s just something I’ve got to continue to reconcile and figure out how best to do this really unique job.”
Now, his job won’t be so unique.
Finally, he can be a football coach. He can be Bronco Mendenhall, again.