PROVO — Not long after BYU found out it would be meeting Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21, Bronco Mendenhall placed a phone call Tuesday night to talk to Gary Crowton.
Crowton, who is the Ducks' offensive coordinator, and Mendenhall have maintained a relationship even though Mendenhall replaced him as BYU's head coach two years ago. Mendenhall refers to Crowton as "a friend and a confidant."
"We've talked a number of times through the year. The friendship and relationship has been ongoing since coach left to go to Oregon," Mendenhall said.
It was Crowton who convinced Mendenhall to leave New Mexico after the 2002 season and become BYU's defensive coordinator.
When the two talked during the season, it was Crowton who called him. "A word of advice after a Boston College loss, a word of encouragement, a congratulations after different marks," Mendenhall said. "He's followed the program very closely. He is encouraged by what is going on here, just as this program and players are happy for the successes he's having there at Oregon."
Mendenhall doesn't want the Crowton saga to overshadow the game.
"While the schools are different and our roles are changed, our relationship remains the same," he said. "My hope is that all those that are covering the game would simply acknowledge that relationship that's always been intact.... This is about the teams, not about us. I think we're on the exact same page in sentiment about that. Both of us are in this business for our players, not necessarily about personal gain."
BYU quarterback John Beck, who played for two seasons under Crowton, hasn't spoken to his former coach since the night before Crowton resigned. "Coach Crowton is someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for," Beck said. "When the game's done, I'm probably going to give him a big hug and tell him thanks for everything he's done for me. But when the game's going, it's BYU vs. Oregon. That's all that matters."
While many people focus on BYU's three losing seasons under Crowton's watch, Beck hopes they remember that it was Crowton who brought Mendenhall to BYU.
"One thing I don't think everyone understands is, if coach Crowton wasn't the coach here, coach Mendenhall might not be the coach here right now," Beck continued. "It's because coach Crowton has such a good relationship with coach Mendenhall that coach Mendenhall accepted the invitation to be the defensive coordinator here. Coach Crowton has done many good things for this school. I know there was a time when things were tough. But if you went and talked to the guys who know coach Crowton, they all liked him."
Said senior linebacker Cameron Jensen: "Everybody (on BYU's team) respects him. A lot of us were recruited by him. and thanks to him we are here. We just have a lot of respect for him and a lot of thankfulness for him for bringing us to BYU."
Mendenhall is happy about the success Crowton has had the past two seasons in Eugene. "He appears and sounds happy," he said. "That's all I wanted from the beginning."