Message to Coach Mendenhall – Let Your Cougars Loose!
During BYU’s road trip to face Florida State this weekend, I learned a few things about the uphill battle that the Cougar football team (and athletics at BYU in general) constantly faces that I don’t think I understood very well. earlier than what I experienced for the past two days. I grew up in Tallahassee, playing my first two years of high school football at Lincoln High before moving to Utah and finishing at Orem High.
When I moved to Utah, I noticed a huge difference in attitude and approach towards soccer. As a linebacker in Tallahassee, I was taught to do a quick read when the play started, fly where I thought the ball was going, and punish everyone I could on the opposing team. After a good play, I was encouraged to celebrate with my teammates.
During drills, if a fight broke out between offense and defense, it was a good thing. It was an indicator of intensity. In fact, if one of our fellow defenders didn’t step in to help someone who was involved in a fight with an offensive player (this is on the same team, mind you), they would send him running laps. I remember one time our linebacker coach, when an all-out fight broke out in practice, yelling “Get in and get some! Get in there and get some!” while forty or fifty high school players took their frustrations out on their peers.
When I moved to Utah, I found myself in a much more reserved style of playing soccer. Dancing after doing a play was frowned upon. Teasing and bullying were not very well accepted either. Rather than being praised for acting that way, I quickly learned that it was better to tone it down.
What does all this have to do with BYU football? I made some curious observations while watching the last three games between BYU and Florida State.
The Cougar soccer team hosts a bonfire (a gathering where spiritual talks are given) before each of their soccer games. I went to the one held in Tallahassee on Friday. Before the fireside, I had heard of BYU and Coach Mendenhall’s unique perspective (winning is not a top priority) regarding the soccer program, but until last weekend, I was never aware of the concept at the Bronco’s own words. Paraphrasing, this is what he said. He’s far more concerned about a player swearing or throwing his helmet off than giving up the touchdown that caused the tantrum. Coach Mendenhall also explained that the purpose of the soccer program is to teach discipleship, to raise questions from soccer fans around the world about who the players are and how they could perform at such a high level when many of them are Eagle Scouts, Return. missionaries, husbands and fathers, family men.
I appreciate that mission. I’m glad the BYU soccer team strictly enforces an honor code that requires them to cut a guy like Harvey Unga (who they desperately could have used on Saturday) because he doesn’t meet standards. It’s great to have role models on a sports show who can show that you don’t have to be a bully to be an athlete.
However (you knew this was going to happen), I am sure BYU will never have the ability to truly convey its message to the level it could by putting such an impractical and demotivating governor on its team, as I have witnessed while watching the Cougars. . That difference is especially noticeable when BYU takes on a team like Florida State, known for its straightforward, bad-boy style of playing soccer. Each of the games played in this most recent series at home and outside BYU seemed like a futile exercise, even before soccer was played on the field. In Provo last year, I took a walk around the stadium behind the BYU sidelines before the game, and mentioned to my wife that the players looked more like they were preparing for a devotional than a soccer game. The same stood out this year. As FSU gesticulated, wandered, and otherwise made it known that, in Peter Warrick’s words, “It’s show time, baby! That’s what it is!” BYU’s mood looked like Eeyore at a funeral. Not much excitement. No intimidation attempts. None of the mind games that characterize soccer and that give your own team an emotional boost.
So if I had any advice for Bronco Mendenhall (and what BYU fan doesn’t?), It would be this: Let the dogs out on Saturdays. You are a soccer coach. It’s an emotional game, one that begs for adrenaline if your team wants to win, if your team wants to spread their message and that everyone cares what you say. I’ll forgive a “dang” or a “devil” every now and then if it means that players can mentally take their game to the next level. I can miss an occasional late hit if it means my players are playing hard. Players don’t have to sacrifice integrity to play fierce soccer. Leaving the Mountain West Conference may be a great opportunity, but it means you will face fewer Wyomings and more Florida states. If you don’t teach your men to let you go in the field, your message likely won’t reach an audience very far from Provo.