BYU coach leads Mormon service in Academy chapel

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Don Branum
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
On the eve of Air Force's decisive victory over BYU on the field, cadets sat alongside Brigham Young students for a Mormon worship service in the Cadet Chapel led by Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

The service, held here Sept. 10, also included a presentation by Coach Mendenhall's wife, Holly Johnston, and musical performances by the Cadet Choir and BYU student Walter Kahaiali'i.

Coach Mendenhall opened by telling cadets how impressed he was with their determination.

"I'm amazed by what you do," said the coach, who is in his sixth year as the Cougars' head coach. "I marvel at the mission you have taken upon yourselves, and I marvel at the workload that you carry."

He said most people who make a difference in others' lives are motivated by one or more of three factors: autonomy, or the love of doing something on one's own; mastery, or a passion to become the best at what one does; and a purpose beyond oneself. Air Force Academy cadets and Brigham Young students share some of these motivations.

"For some of you, the question is, 'How can I serve my Father in Heaven?'" the coach said. "For some, it's, 'How can I serve my country?' All great acts in this world come from something beyond self-interest."

Coach Mendenhall faced a daunting task when he first arrived at BYU to coach the Cougars. The football program had suffered three straight losing seasons, and players had accounted for 18 egregious violations of the school's strict honor code, which mandates honesty, clean language and adherence to and prohibits sex or ingestion of illicit drugs, tobacco, alcohol, tea or coffee, all of which are proscribed by the Church of Latter Day Saints' Word of Wisdom.

"I was interviewed about my testimony and my belief," the coach explained. "'Is this young man authentic? Is he capable?' Not a single question was asked about football. At that point, I didn't want the job, because I didn't think I could live up to the standard." He was later told that he was selected for the job because he didn't want it.

Mrs. Johnston, in an earlier presentation during the service, said leadership brings with it adversity and tests of character.

"When we face those challenges, we have to remember why we're here on this Earth," Mrs. Johnston said.

In some ways, Coach Mendenhall said, football is the least important part of his job.

"I believed I was there (at BYU) to clean up the program so a real coach could come in after me and win football games," he said. Instead, the Cougars have gone to 50-16, including their win against Washington Sept. 4 and their loss to the Falcons Saturday. But the coach said faith, not football, comes first at Brigham Young.

"When I meet my savior, do you think I'll be asked, 'What was your football record in 2010?'" the coach asked rhetorically. "I think I'll be asked about the stewardship of my family and whether I kept the faith.

"Football is fifth on our priority list," he continued. "Number one is faith and developing our relationship with our Father in Heaven. ... Number two is family. There are coaches who sleep in their offices, apart from their families. Does it help them? Not against BYU. Third is education: I believe that when you leave this Earth, you take with you your collective knowledge and experiences into the next life. Number four is friends, because they influence your decisions at such a high level."

The coach said he believes that how BYU represents itself on the field reflects whether people will inquire further about the students' beliefs.

"Hopefully, we can say we played well, that we had academic excellence and demonstrated good sportsmanship on the field," Coach Mendenhall said, reflecting a balance at BYU similar to the athletic, academic and military standards required of cadets at the Academy. "If what you do and what we do inspires people to ask, 'What do they believe?' then I think we've done our work."