BYU football, Bronco Mendenhall keeping reunion in perspective
It’s been six years since Bronco Mendenhall chose to leave his position as the head coach of the BYU football team to take the same job at Virginia.
At that time he said he didn’t want to have his Cavaliers face the Cougars in 2021 — but now the week of that game is here.
“I announced that I wouldn’t play this game,” Mendenhall said in his weekly Virginia teleconference. “I didn’t know how to make it any clearer but that didn’t happen. I just learned I’m not the one who decides. I made my stance clear but here we are and that’s OK.”
Mendenhall said that since six years have passed, he doesn’t have connections with many of the players any more and he is fully committed to his Cavaliers.
He did, however, have good memories of being in Provo.
“They gave me an opportunity to be a head coach,” Mendenhall said. “For 13 years I was at Brigham Young University. It’s an amazing experience to now be able to return. But it’s been six years, and I’m the coach at the University of Virginia and so thankful to be here and to continue to learn and grow and progress. I’ll always be thankful for the opportunities I was given by BYU and its unique set of values that align with my faith and the development of young people.”
Mendenhall noted that he and current BYU head coach Kalani Sitake followed a similar path, going from being defensive coordinators to head coaches.
Sitake is now preparing to face the coach he replaced and expressed his gratitude for what Mendenhall did for BYU.
“I have tons of respect for Bronco Mendenhall, what he did here at BYU and the type of man he is, the leader he is,” Sitake said. “He produces great people in his football programs and 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, where he laid the foundation and was able to really do some great things. So I have a deep, deep appreciation and gratitude to him.”
While the Sitake-Mendenhall connection gets a lot of the attention, Sitake pointed out that the Virginia staff has many coaches who wore the blue-and-white during their playing days or as coaches, guys like Mark Atuaia, Robert Anae, Jason Beck, Kelly Poppinga, Shane Hunter, Garett Tujague and Nick Howell.
“There’s a lot of BYU guys on that staff, so there’s a great connection between our staff and their staff,” Sitake said. “Guys have played football here and guys have put in a lot of effort and energy and sacrifice during their time here at BYU. We’re always going to be supportive of them. We tend to watch a lot of the Virginia games because we want to support those guys and we’re friends with a lot of them. We still consider all those guys BYU guys.
and so you know we we support Virginia and we want to see them win and whenever we have games and we just, we have success. It’s pretty much a given that we’ll get a lot of praise coming from back east and a lot of the guys on that staff and then people that reach out to myself and others on our team, with congrats and so just a classy, organization and it’s because their head coach, and what he does as a leader. And so he tells players love them. He does a great job and, and, you know, I like this style of coaching and leadership I think he, he gets the most out of these young men, and they love him, and so that’s always going to be good with me and I have a I mean, you know, if you look at the last 16 years or so there’s, there’s been two guys in that seat, and he’s one of them so I think if there’s anybody that would understand a little bit what I’m going through the UPS guy. So I’m looking forward to connecting with him pregame and I’m going to give him a warm welcome that he deserves because of the time that he spent here and the things that he’s done for this organization being a BYU fan myself, have tons of appreciation for that for him on that, once the game starts, we’ll go back to the game that had been about the players, and once it’s finished, regardless of the outcome that that level of respect and appreciation and love will still be there for him and his staff.”
As much friendship and appreciation as there is, the bottom line is this is a football game and both sides are going to focus on emerging victorious.
“We were arriving to play a football game and I’m charged with helping my current team win,” Mendenhall said. “This is just about two teams trying to play well and to have great seasons. That is really paramount, so I’m trying to keep the focus there.”
When asked if too much is made about coaching history and friendships prior to games like this, Sitake said he appreciates the unique aspects of those moments.
“I’ve been where you come back to a place you spent time at,” Sitake said. “For me being a former player to come back here and coach was different, but it was pretty cool to see the familiar faces and things like that. It’s a really cool experience for me. I think everybody can handle it however they want but I hope fans would just be thinking about the energy, the time, the sacrifice, the hard work that Bronco and his staff did here. It deserves great gratitude and appreciation and love.”
SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald