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Patrick Kinahan: BYU fans owe Mendenhall a warm welcome home

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall watches the first half of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall watches the first half of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Lynn Sladky, AP Photo)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

PROVO β€” Setting aside his quirky mannerisms and some awkward interactions with the fan base, Bronco Mendenhall was an excellent football coach at BYU.

The current Virginia coach provided the stability and direction at the exact time the program desperately needed it. And so, without hesitation, the BYU faithful owe Mendenhall a warm welcome when he leads the Cavaliers onto the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium for this week's game with the Cougars.

Anything but a nice round of applause is rude and a misguided show of ingratitude. Even if some locals never fully embraced him during his tenure in Provo, Mendenhall is one of their own.

The temptation is to view him like Kyle Whittingham, the Utah coach who doesn't exactly seize the opportunity to reminisce about his time as a great BYU linebacker 40 years ago. For obvious reasons, namely Utah dominating the rivalry for over a decade and poaching recruits, BYU fans have a strong disdain for Whittingham.

To say Mendenhall and Whittingham weren't on friendly terms is a massive understatement, but the truth is they share one factor relative to BYU football. Whittingham rejected BYU's offer to replace the fired Gary Crowton, taking the higher-paying option in 2004 to coach at Utah.

Mendenhall left BYU in 2015 for a substantial raise at the Atlantic Coast Conference program. But the similarities stop there.

Inheriting Virginia's three-game series, Mendenhall to no avail asked BYU to get out of the contract. The active Latter-day Saint has no problem recruiting players of the faith but would rather not coach against his old team.

"I'll always have a hard time not pulling for them because of my faith," Mendenhall said in a Deseret News interview.

Never forget that BYU was an absolute mess during the time Mendenhall served as Crowton's defensive coordinator. The program had suffered three consecutive losing seasons and was mired in a host of Honor Code issues that embarrassed the university and, by extension, its sponsoring church.

At the time, BYU needed a strong disciplinarian willing to hold the players accountable and lay out a clear mission statement. Without any previous head coaching experience, Mendenhall was a pick that generated a fair amount of skepticism.

Until the administration had a late change of heart, it appeared Lance Reynolds was the choice. The longtime loyal assistant to Edwards had the support of former players, some of whom had cut videos intended to be played at the press conference announcing Reynolds' promotion.

In the end, athletic director Tom Holmoe and his superiors made the correct decision. Starting in Mendenhall's second season, BYU enjoyed four consecutive years of double-digit win totals and two conference championships.

Arguably, Mendenhall's most impressive coaching job came as a rookie in 2005, when he coaxed six wins and a Las Vegas Bowl appearance out of a team primarily consisting of the same holdover players from the year prior. Almost immediately, he was able to pull together a disjointed program in which the players β€” particularly on offense β€” lacked the necessary respect for the coaching staff.

By 2006, after a 1-2 start, BYU posted an 11-2 record and went 8-0 in the Mountain West Conference. The next year, when Max Hall replaced NFL-bound quarterback John Beck, the Cougars again rolled through the MWC unbeaten and also finished 11-2.

Despite decent success in the ensuing seasons, BYU couldn't match those early years under Mendenhall. The major difference was BYU left the conference affiliation to become an independent in time for the 2011 season.

Mendenhall was at odds with his superiors, publicly stating multiple times displeasure at being an independent. He didn't believe the path was sustainable over the long term, a situation the administration changed last month by accepting an invitation to the Big 12 beginning in 2023.

While BYU and Virginia each are 6-2, the two head coaches couldn't have more different styles. The extroverted Kalani Sitake never passes up an opportunity to hug people, a trait Mendenhall doesn't share.

But don't mistake Mendenhall's reserved personality as being standoffish or aloof. His burning desire to win, as he did at BYU, and run a reputable program manifests in a manner true to him.

More from Patrick Kinahan:

About the Author: Patrick Kinahan

Patrick Kinahan is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. To read more of his articles, visit Patrick's author page.


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