Bronco Mendenhall negotiated a BYU contract so he doesn't have to go recruiting.

True.

Well, it's not quite that black and white, but that's the gist of Mendenhall's pact if you add up frequent flier miles, hotel points and receipts for eating out while away from his home and family.

Mendenhall got out just once this past recruiting season. On a critical day a week before signing, his services were called upon. He hopped on a jet and dropped in to deliver a speech. He was to work on former Arizona starting defensive lineman Vince Feula at Cerritos Community College in Southern California. The pitch worked, and Feula committed to the Cougars shortly after the visit.

BYU hired Mendenhall to coordinate the Cougar defense in 2003. To that end, he is a manager, leader and kind of a corporate vice president in charge of operations on that side of the ball. His job description doesn't include chasing all over the United States — but to administrate and put pieces in place.

Last fall that apparently worked pretty well. Before Mendenhall arrived, BYU ranked above 60th in total defense in 2002. Last year that improved to No. 13, surpassing even New Mexico (18th) from where he was plucked by Gary Crowton.

Back to recruiting.

In the Cougars' 2004 class, Mendenhall went after speed to fit in his 3-3-5 formation. His approach is based on a model used at New Mexico where he, as coordinator, pulls some strings. Mendenhall also stays home to keep an eye on the men at home and their academics. No use going shopping if the fruit at home spoils.

Then, Mendenhall dissected videos of prospective recruits. Using a formula, he ranked every prospect from top to bottom. From that list, BYU constructed a visit list, an offer list according to priority. It was an orderly game plan. Guys on the road could adjust, get updated and chase where needed on the fly. He stayed home as puppet master.

Some of BYU's unique 2004 class included players whom the Cougars weren't necessarily battling USC, UCLA, Oregon or Colorado for down the wire. It piques interest and makes for debate. Just how good are guys like Texans Karland Bennet and Billy Skinner? And what about the two Lovely brothers from Foothill College and their teammate Justin Luettgerodt? And what's the deal with Ibrahim Rashada, Eddie Scipio and William Turner? Or Pennsylvania's Grant Nelson or Box Elder's Matt Putnam and the Isley Filiago kid at Timpanogos. And Feula?

That remains to be seen for every recruiter and the recruited.

In Mendenhall's system for rating players, recruiting competition doesn't register in the mix. He doesn't care. "It has no bearing," the coach said.

At New Mexico, his MWC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American Brian Urlacher, now an all pro NFL linebacker for the Bears, had only one offer: the Lobos. This past year, Bronco's former UNM squad ranked 18th nationally in total defense. It was a unit composed of Mendenhall's formula and model for signing them. Seven of those Lobo starters were walk-ons.

"What I care about is that they meet the criteria we have at this place," Mendenhall said. "It's enough ability with the right mindset and effort. Now, if we could have more ability with the right mindset? Obviously that's what we're looking for, but I trust our evaluations, and the system of me being off the road a lot allows quicker and more effective evaluation of the recruits."

Mendenhall said his model takes coordination and organization. "To make it work, you have to have coaches who are willing to go out and hit the road and make it happen. Fortunately, we have that.

"I was hired to coordinate the defense, and that's a big part of it," Mendenhall said of his system.

"There are checks and balances among our staff. One is to rank the players. I put them in front of the entire staff to verify the rankings. I don't want to make it sound like it's a one-man show because it is not. But once I get them how I want them, we all watch them in order as a quality control procedure."

Sounds like assembly line jargon.

Is it working in Provo?

It apparently worked in 2003 without Mendenhall's recruiting formula. He only got to put his spin on the practice field. Mendenhall said Crowton implemented this management model on offensive recruiting as best as he could for 2004. Coordinators Robbie Bosco moved on and Todd Bradford hit the road. Without a full-time coordinator through the heat of recruiting in December and January, the offense managed. "It will come," he said.

Even so, Crowton appears to have done a decent job with the "model" on offense. He got offensive weapons — particularly receivers — last Wednesday.

What's it mean?

Right now, absolutely nothing.

This isn't an exact science. But it's fun to break it down.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com