PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – It will be a homecoming this Saturday for former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
The second winningest head coach in BYU history, behind only LaVell Edwards, Mendenhall is bringing his 6-2 Virginia Cavaliers to Provo to take on the 6-2 Cougars.
Mendenhall coached BYU for 11 years from 2005-2015, and won 99 games. He led the Cougars to bowl games in all 11 of his seasons, and looks back at his time in Provo fondly.
“BYU is near and dear to my heart,” Mendenhall said Monday. “They gave me an opportunity too be a head coach. It’s an amazing experience to be able to return, but its been six years. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities I was given. I would just like to express gratitude for that opportunity, and that really allowed me to come to the University of Virginia and be ready and capable. It’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”
However late in the 2015 season, Mendenhall surprised a lot of people by accepting the job at Virginia, eventually paving the way for Kalani Sitake to take over the Cougars the following year.
Mendenhall, along with former BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae and several other former BYU assistants, have helped turn around the Virginia program. After going 2-10 in their first year in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers are 28-17 in the last four seasons, including a 6-2 record this year.
But this experience of returning to Provo will be a new one for Mendenhall, and one that he hasn’t necessarily been looking forward to. In fact, he never wanted to play the Cougars in Provo, and actually wanted it to be taken off the schedule.
“I do remember when I got the job that I wouldn’t play this game,” Mendenhall said. “I didn’t know how to make it any clearer. But that didn’t happen, and I’m not the one who decides. I’ve been through all the emotions. I’ve had six years to go through the emotions, and my job is to do the very best I can for my team.”
Mendenhall doesn’t have many connections to the current BYU team, but he said he did recruit quarterback Jaren Hall when he was there. But other than that, he doesn’t know any of the current Cougar players.
“I’m much better now because very few players are left,” he said. “There’s very few others on the roster that I remember and that makes it easier. Not easy, but easier.”
When BYU went independent in 2011, Mendenhall famously said that was “not sustainable.” Now that BYU is joining the Big 12 Conference in 2023, Mendenhall said he is happy for the program.
“I am glad that there has been some realignment, and that BYU is acknowledged,” he said. “I think it is great for the institution and it is great for college football. Man, did I want that to happen bad when I was there, and it is great to see it come to fruition. Yeah, pretty cool.”
While Mendenhall had a stellar overall record of 99-43, a .697 winning percentage, he was never really embraced by the BYU fans. So he doesn’t know what kind of reception he will get on Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“I really can’t control what kind of welcome I do or don’t receive,” he said. “What I can express is gratitude, and that’s what I intend to do. I’ll do the very best I can to prepare my team so they can have success, and continue on the goals that we have for this program and this team this year.”
Sitake expressed nothing but respect and gratitude for what Mendenhall meant to the BYU program.
“I have tons of respect for Bronco Mendenhall and what he’s done here at BYU,” Sitake said. “The type of man that he is, the leader that he is, he produces great people in his football programs. It’s been a pleasure for me to be here and to take over as a new head coach in a program that he established and laid the foundation and was able to really do some great things. So I have some deep appreciation and gratitude to him.”
BYU and Virginia will kick off at 8:00 p.m. Saturday night.