Nobody knows that better than his seniors, several of whom have been with Mendenhall from the time he took the reins of the Cougar football program. Many of the seniors who will finish up their collegiate careers on Dec. 22 against Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl (6 p.m., ESPN) have witnessed the changes in Mendenhall first-hand.
Their college football careers have paralleled Mendenhall's head coaching career — they've gone through trials and triumphs, and the coach and the players have grown together.
Defensive lineman Brett Denney remembers being in high school when his older brother, John, played for the Cougars. Mendenhall had just arrived to serve as BYU's new defensive coordinator in the winter of 2003. Brett Denney heard horror stories of 6 a.m. practices outside in the bitter cold.
"Coach Mendenhall was working people to death with all that crazy stuff he was doing," Denney recalled. "My brother Ryan (another former Cougar) said, 'He's going to be great for the program. I'm glad he's not my coach, but he's going to be great for the program.' I came to BYU that fall and I remember coach Mendenhall was very involved, and very intense, in the weight room. A lift with coach Mendenhall hovering over you and a lift without him hovering over you was very different."
Defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen, who redshirted during Mendenhall's first campaign as head coach, said, "even into my freshman year, people were scared to death to have a conversation with him. They were scared to approach him. If you made a joke to him, you just didn't do that."
But, the seniors say, Mendenhall is not that way anymore.