This is the first article in a three-part series on BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his unique Summer 2007 fireside tour.

What do you do for an encore when you’ve just led your football program to its first conference championship in five years and first bowl win in 10 years? If you’re Bronco Mendenhall, head coach of the BYU Cougars, you spend a good chunk of your offseason on a public speaking tour among the faithful.

In the vernacular of the LDS faith, these public speaking engagements are called “firesides.” A fireside is essentially a faith-oriented public speaking event that is usually held at a church facility. The firesides are open to the public and free to attend. The tone of these meetings is generally reverent and respectful, with occasional bits of humor appropriate to the setting.

Contrary to what you might think, football is not the primary topic discussed. And yet, every stop along the fireside tour to date has either been packed or close to standing room only, leaving thousands of uplifted attendees in its wake.

Mendenhall’s ambitious fireside schedule will conclude this weekend with two engagements in Hawaii. Seven other events have already taken place on the mainland. One or more current or former BYU football team members have also participated as guest speakers at each of these events.

Here’s what the complete Bronco Mendenhall Spring/Summer 2007 fireside schedule looks like:

No. 1 Orlando, Fla. , Sunday, April 29

No. 2 Newport Beach, Calif. , Tuesday, May 1

No. 3 Chandler, Ariz., Sunday, May 6

No. 4 Sacramento Calif., Wednesday, May 9

No. 5 Colleyville, Texas, Sunday, May 13

No. 6 Torrance, Calif., Tuesday, May 15

No. 7 Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, May 20

No. 8 Honolulu, Hawaii, Saturday, June 9

No. 9 Laie, Hawaii, Sunday, June 10

I attended the fireside held in Sacramento, Calif., on May 9. Former Cougar receiver Scott Collie was the opening speaker, and he was followed by his sons, Zac and Austin, and then Coach Mendenhall.

Zac recently signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles after his senior season with the Cougars. Austin, who was a freshman All-American receiver in 2004, recently returned from an LDS mission in South America, and he will be a sophomore at BYU this season.

Part II of this series will report on the overall fireside experience, as well as the individual messages and lessons each of the speakers shared with the audience. Part III includes a Q&A with Coach Mendenhall and an analysis of the impact this groundbreaking fireside series is having on the BYU fan base and the program’s ongoing recruiting efforts.