Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One program's quest for perfection

Had a post 30 days ago about BYU's coach, Bronco Mendenhall, a fascinating guy who's led the Cougars into the top 10 with a 6-0 record this season.

Clearly, Coach Mendenhall is one reason for the team's success. But his program is unique in that, as one player puts it, "it's not all about football here."

Owned by the Mormon Church, the school stresses "moral virtues as integrity, reverence, modesty, self-control, courage, compassion, and industry."

With that in mind, Coach Mendenhall "encourages the players to keep football fifth on their priority list — behind, in order, faith, family, knowledge and friends."

According to an article from yesterday, "The entire team, coaches included, takes Sundays off. No practice lasts longer than 90 minutes. Coaches leave their offices by 6:30 p.m. every day, including Mendenhall, who has three sons, ages 8, 6 and 5."

BYU's slogan for this season is "Quest for Perfection," which comes straight from from the school's mission statement. But it's more than perfection on the football field. Says Coach Mendenhall: "This idea is a philosophy of what we're trying to accomplish in general."

Since many of BYU's players have served on church missions, it has an older roster. According to the article, "Eighty players on BYU's 105-man roster, including walk-ons, have served church missions. A player's average age is 21 years, 1 month. Thirty-three players are married, and three are fathers. For comparison, the average age of players at No. 4 Southern California is 20 and one is married."

Perhaps because his players are older and more mature, Mendenhall can give them a high level of ownership in the program:

To ease the coaches' burdens and to give ownership to the players, Mendenhall has formed a players leadership council, with which he consults regularly. Players run the team meetings three times a week. Each special-teams unit chooses a captain, who is in charge of naming starters and backups.

"Players make a lot of the decisions. It's a unique place," says [one BYU player], noting how much missions help players learn responsibility and gain independence.