6 Life Principles I Learned from Bronco Mendenhall’s VA Press Conference


As a BYU Football fan, I tuned in this morning to Bronco Mendenhall’s introductory press conference as the new head coach of Virginia (UVa) Football. I was struck several times by things that he said and wanted to do a quick share that seemed appropriate for all you awesome readers.

The fact that I’m hearing some of them for the first time, speaks to one of the main criticisms leveled against him: he’s too private, making it so we didn’t ever really get to know him, or a chance to really understand his vision and strategy for making BYU football great. Part of that may simply be that I wasn’t following BYU football as closely in 2005 when he was hired. But overall, I felt like this was the most open and strategic I’ve ever heard him. It was awesome. Whether you think he’s a great football coach or not, he’s certainly a great leader, and has highly developed organizational skills.

1. Protect the Asset!

Stephen Covey would say “sharpen the saw.” Meaning take care of yourself and develop your skills and abilities. But as I’m learning reading the book Essentialism, it’s more than that. You are your greatest asset. You are the asset. Without your personal physical and mental health in good shape, you can’t do your job, run your company, create great things, or be a good (in my case) husband and father, or serve in the church without the asset, being in good shape. If you’re overtired all the time, or your body is broken down and failing, or your mind is too stressed out, or you’re not rested and refreshed, you can’t perform up to the best of your ability.

Bronco practices this as well as any successful person I’m aware of. He has 1.5hrs every day that’s “non-negotiable,” scheduled for taking care of himself. He alluded to surfing and working-out during this time, and I would imagine things like reading and learning, possibly scripture study, etc. It wasn’t clear to me if it was all physical activity, but at almost 50 years old, he’s in great shape and appears to have dealt very well with the uniquely stressful job of BYU head coach for the last 10 years.

He makes it sound like he always does these things away from his office to protect himself from interruption and distraction. He even made a joke about how if people tried to find him during this time, they’d be in trouble. It was meant as a joke, and the press laughed after he clued them in, but I think maybe it was one of those half-truths/half-jokes. You can’t do it effectively, if you let interruptions distract and detract from it.

2. Be Proud to be an Introvert

I knew this by my own observations, but it’s cool that he openly says it. America celebrates extroversion, and I’d guess some of the favorite football coaches in the country are the extroverts that put on a good show and talk a good game in front of the camera. Bronco’s an introvert and owns it. He talked about how press conferences and other public appearances, really drain him. That was one of the reasons he said that his daily regeneration time (see #1) is so important.

I’m an introvert too. It’s cool to see how he uses that to his advantage. Introverts tend to be very thoughtful and spend time learning and really understanding. He does all that, and has become an organizational master that could probably leave football and go help optimize organizations of all sorts.

He also described himself as an “intimate” person. Most introverts love people, they just prefer much more intimate, such as 1-on-1 settings. That allows them to connect individually in a way that extroverts often don’t. It also means they know and understand the people they connect with, much better. This explains the outpouring of love and sadness by current and former players at BYU. Though we didn’t get to know him very well, they did. And he understood and knew his players very well.

Want to learn more about being an introvert, or about how you can better utilize the power of introverts in your organization? I really felt empowered and extremely enlightened by the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking“.

3. Empty Your Inbox

It was his comment about how his email is empty each night, that prompted this article. When I heard that, I thought “wow, Bronco is a life-hacker.” I personally prefer to clear my inbox weekly. But daily is the preferred way do it. Bronco is a life-hacker in this area for sure. He even said he’s felt very uncomfortable the last few days, because his phone and email have been blowing up, and he hasn’t processed all the messages for several days. I wonder how many other Division I college football coaches clear their inbox nightly, or at all?

4. Simple, Clear Goals are the Key to Success

He talked about the extensive number-crunching process they went through to arrive at the “magic 24” number that he’s held as the standard at BYU for years now. It seems like a lot of work to arrive at a very simple concept. But it’s also powerful in it’s simplicity.

If you don’t know: the thing they arrived at was  that there’s some very simple numbers or goals that, if met, BYU will statistically win 85% of it’s games (or 10 games/season). That number is 24. If they can score at least 24 points, and hold their opponents to under 24, they’ll win 85% of games. It seems like an obvious answer: score more than the opponent, and you’ll win. It’s more powerful than that though: the offense can take the field with a specific goal of 24 points. The defense can do the same. They don’t have to expect perfection in every game. They just have to get to 24 points, or hold the opponent to under 24.

This kind of simple, clear goal makes everything else easier. In my business, we know that we need 4 new clients each month, and to complete 4 new websites each month, if we want to meet our overall goals.

5. Goals and Principles Make Everything Else Easier

He stated several times how their clear goals and the principles behind achieving those goals made his life easier. For example if recruits can’t wait 13 days while he finishes up at BYU (coaching them in their bowl game), then they’re probably not a great fit for his program anyway. The same with coaches for his staff. If they buy-in to what he wants to do at VA, they’ll likely follow him from BYU, or if they’re at VA already, will want to stay. If they’re skeptical, they’re going to look elsewhere. He doesn’t have to make those judgement calls very often, as they’ll weed themselves out.

This is also something my business partner and I have tried to do: we’ve spent a lot of time and money to get it down to some very simple goals. We also blog about our principles and tell people about them every chance we get. Because of that, it’s become easy for us and potential clients to know if we’re a good fit for each other. Often potential clients will just love what they read on our blog, and be “all in” with our business model. Other people are not comfortable with what we do or how we do things, and so won’t become a client. That’s a good thing, even a great thing. We don’t want to waste time working with people or businesses who just can’t love our service, simply because it’s not a great fit with their ideals and philosophies.

Bronco runs his football programs the same way. And it’s a truth that makes things easier for any organization.

6. You Can Have it All, If You Do it Right

Several times Bronco came back to the theme of “and” versus “or.” As an example, he said many people believed that BYU could either have a great program, or abide by the honor code. At UVa he implied many people think they can have very high standards of academic excellence, or have a great football team. He said he doesn’t believe that. You can have “AND.” You can have both.

He brought his family up front at the beginning and introduced them, saying they weren’t just getting a coach, they were getting a family. Later he applied the “and” philosophy to personal vs work:

I want my coaches to have a life. There’s nothing that matters to me more than being a dad for (my sons) and a husband. You can do both. A cot will not be in my office. I won’t be sleeping there.

But when I am there, I’ll be working fiercely and efficiently to help this program and these student-athletes achieve their goals and success. And I want to be a great dad and a great father and a great husband and a great man of faith and contributor to our community and a great teacher and football coach at the same time. That’s what I am aspiring to be.

I’d suggest that part of the way you get the “and,” is by doing the previous points: protect the asset; set simple, clear, and concise goals; stick to those goals and your principles no matter what. If you do those things then people, problems, and stress that don’t fit well with those, will largely go away on their own.

Final Thoughts

I know this may seem like an opportunistic post. I generally try to avoid them. I watched the press conference out of curiosity and BYU-fandom, but was repeatedly impressed by the things Bronco said. So for today, this is my exercise in “sharpening the saw,” and I hope some of you benefit from it. Despite what the detractors say, Bronco has been a great coach at BYU, and he might be an even better leader and person than he is coach. He’ll be missed, but I wish him the best of luck at Virginia.

Watch the press conference here (audio is very quiet). Or review SBNation’s transcript of it here. You can watch his BYU departure press conference here.

1 comment
  1. Great article. I was surprised to learn of his hour and half of me time a day!!! We all can’t give from an empty bucket!

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