Bronco Mendenhall has been the focal point of heavy criticism as of late. Some of his greatest critics are beat writers who have never played a game.
Apparently, all a person needs nowadays to be a so-called expert of football is media credentials; a seat in the media press box or a good perspective on the sidelines; a keyboard; and a platform to share his or her findings during game days.
Although we all have a right to share our thoughts and feelings as to how we perceive the reality of the game of football or even Mendenhall's case, a critique of his coaching prowess. Unfortunately we all don't have the deep understanding of the game or how good a coach really is because only a handful of us can say that we have lived it and experienced it.
These same by-standing beat writers try to tell a story of a struggling coach who has failed the last three years because he has only led the BYU football to three 8-5 seasons. I am one of the few who can say I know what happens in a game or how good of a coach Bronco is because I lived and experienced what is was like to play for him — and for some of the greatest coaches in the game.
I will tell you this, Mendenhall is a top-five football coach. I am not saying top five in college, I am saying top five in all of football, in both college and the NFL. Many will automatically think that I am biased. I could bore everyone with Bronco's record since he took over a floundering BYU football program. The default argument against his staggering record is always a question of strength of schedule. I won't go there.
A better way to convey how good of a coach Bronco is would be to share with you a conversation I had with a player who played under Bronco at New Mexico who went on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career with the Chicago Bears: Brian Urlacher.
While at an event for Fox Sports, he and I had a chance to sit down and talk shop. As we were talking, without me prompting him, he began to share in fondness and gratitude for Bronco Mendenhall. He said, "He is by far the best coach I have ever played for. He just wouldn't accept anything less than making you the best."
I nodded in agreement. I told him the following story that I you can find in my book.
The pursuit drill is one of Bronco’s most famous and challenging drills to see who is willing to play with this high-energy, fanatical style. It is a drill that weeded out the weak of heart. It tests recall, conditioning and attention to detail of a player while he is deathly tired. If you made it through this drill displaying good conditioning, toughness, speed and attention to detail, you earned a huge amount of respect from Bronco.
The pursuit drill started with the first-team defense lining up on the sideline in a sprinter’s stance. As soon as Bronco blew the whistle, you would sprint out to assume your respective position on the field. For the cornerback and safeties who had to run to the other side field, it was extra brutal. If Bronco felt the group didn’t run as fast as it could or if he just wanted to test you, he would make you sprint out again and again until he gave you the OK.
As soon as we all got lined up, Bronco would grab a stick with a football connected to it on the other end. He would a call a certain defense that would indicate what responsibilities we were to carry out at the snap of the ball. Since he loved to blitz most of the time, he usually would call a blitz. He would do a cadence to see if he could draw the defensive lineman or blitzing linebacker offsides. He then would pull the stick, emulating the snap of the football. Those who were the rushers had to explode upfield toward Bronco for 5 yards. The other defenders who formed the coverage had to drop to their respective zones. Then, Bronco would fake like he was throwing the ball to one side of the field, you had to immediately turn and run in that direction as fast as you possibly could. To that side, there was a player who would then run down the sideline toward the end zone, mimicking an offensive player running the football. We had to chase that mock runner with proper angles — again — with fanatical effort.
While we were pursuing this mock runner, every so often Bronco would blow the whistle, which meant we had to flop onto the ground, hit our chests and abruptly get back on our feet and accelerate to pursue the mock ball carrier. Twenty to 30 yards downfield, he had some orange cones set up. Every single defender had to run all the way through the cones without slowing down and to the outside of the cones. After the first team went, then went the second team and so on, until every defender had their chance. If only one player on any of the teams didn’t follow through with every one of the aforementioned requirements, Bronco wouldn’t say who it was or what the infraction was. All he would say was, “Again.” We had to do it either until Bronco felt it was done to perfection or until he was satisfied.
Bronco’s objective was to see if he could break our minds and our spirits. Once he felt he had broken us enough, he started to build us back up. It was like those old horse-training tactics. Since Bronco had vast experience working this training technique on horses with positive results, he used it on football players with equally as successful outcomes. He wanted to create the most challenging practice environment known to man so that, in his words, "Playing in the games would seem easy compared to what we did in practice."
We weren’t the only ones who practiced with a fanatical effort. Bronco was the type of guy who wanted to lead by example. If you watched any practice Bronco conducted, you would notice that he too was running up and down the field, encouraging, teaching and guiding his players every step of the way. On one of these early morning spring practices, Bronco started get a little sick. Maybe it was because in frigid temperatures and sideways-blowing snow or because he was wearing shorts and a sweatshirt instead of snow pants, snow boots and a heavy coat. But who knows?
Bronco would never ask us to do something he wouldn’t be willing to do himself. He wanted us to be tough and fight through discomfort, so even though he was sick, he fought through it as though nothing was bothering him. At an instructional portion of practice where Bronco was going over fundamentals and the intricacies of the defense, spit was flying from his mouth like a sprinkler. One glob of spit landed right on his chin. My attention shifted away from what he was telling me to this glob of spit just sitting there. "If I were in his shoes, I would want someone to warn me about a glob of spit sitting on my chin," I thought.
I interjected into his coaching points and said, "Coach, coach, I can’t take this anymore — you have a huge glob of spit on your chin."
He stopped, wiped his face, looked at us, and said with his Clint Eastwood type voice, "It’s part of the deal." He picked up right where he left off. I realized then that Bronco not only taught a fanatical, high-energy and tough defense, but he embodied it.
For those who say Bronco has failed these past few years and he should be fired is a good sign of someone who lacks expertise on being able to identify a special coach. From two guys who have lived playing under some of greatest coaches in the NFL, who think Bronco is the best of them all, we say enjoy the time you have as Bronco as the coach of BYU because there isn't many like him.
Brady has played for the Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys. He has worked as a motivational speaker and studied business management at BYU.