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Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Miss Bronco Mendenhall at BYU

Love Bronco. Respect Bronco. There's no need to shed tears over his departure, though.

This Saturday will definitely provide a unique situation for BYU — and not just because it’s wearing its ninth uniform combo of the season. Let’s be real: the biggest talking point for the weekend is the fact that the Cougars will be welcoming former head coach Bronco Mendenhall back to LaVell Edwards Stadium. Only this time, he’s coaching on the opposing sideline.

The “return” of Bronco Mendenhall has given us plenty of opportunity to reflect on the ups and downs of his time as BYU’s head coach. And while there are still some who seem to worship the man, the reality is, BYU fans shouldn’t really be missing him — they should be more than happy with Kalani Sitake instead.

1. Bronco Wasn’t Forced Out

Let’s start by busting one of the myths that just won’t seem to go away: the idea that Bronco Mendenhall was somehow forced out of his role as BYU’s head coach. Bronco was hired by the University of Virginia in December 2015 after former head coach Mike London resigned. Bronco was still BYU’s head coach at the time, and even stayed on for the lousy 2015 Las Vegas Bowl.

BYU Football helmet

The thing is, the idea of Bronco leaving BYU wasn’t something that came completely out of the blue. After he signed a three-year contract extension in 2011, Bronco notably said, “BYU wanted to make it longer term than that […] I'd like to coach here as long as I'm wanted and as long as where I feel it's where I'm supposed to be.” And while he did stay longer than those three years, these comments make it clear that he wasn’t planning to stick with BYU forever. Contrast that with Kalani, who has said he plans to be the Polynesian LaVell Edwards.

2. Kalani Has Proven to Be a Great Developer of Talent

Much has been made of BYU’s recruiting rankings since Kalani Sitake took over. During Bronco Mendenhall’s final few years, BYU’s recruiting rankings generally hovered in the 60s. And while many expected Sitake to improve those rankings, that actually hasn’t been the case. According to 247Sports, BYU ranked 71st in 2021, 81st in 2020, 84th in 2019, and 78th in 2018.

But those recruiting rankings don’t tell the whole story. Zach Wilson (remember him?) was part of that 78th-ranked 2018 recruiting class. So were now-NFL receiver Dax Milne and former walk-on/current offensive star Tyler Allgeier.

Clearly, Kalani and his staff have an eye for potential talent — and then helping that talent blossom. It’s something that will only pay even bigger dividends as BYU enjoys a recruiting bump from its new Big 12 membership.

3. Bronco Had Plateaued as BYU’s Coach

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Kalani’s success in talent development leads straight into one of the reasons why many fans were fine when Bronco Mendenhall left for the Virginia job. He had seemed to plateau in his role at BYU. From 2006 to 2009, he enjoyed major success getting BYU to double digit wins and a top 25 end of season ranking each year.

Beginning in 2010, BYU’s results began to taper off significantly. BYU snuck into the final Coaches poll at #25 in 2011, but otherwise, the Cougars never lasted long in the rankings. Three straight bowl losses from 2013 to 2015 certainly didn’t help, either. Recruiting — particularly in the trenches — had also dipped, something that Kalani and his staff have since made a priority.

4. The Streak

The long losing streak against Utah finally ended this year. And while it took Kalani Sitake five tries before he could end the streak, the fact of the matter is that BYU’s losing ways against its biggest rival began under Bronco’s tenure. The timing of the streak came just as BYU was entering independence and Utah was getting set to join the Pac-12. Losses like the 54-10 game in 2011 and the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl helped the narrative that Utah had left BYU behind in terms of competition.

Bronco ultimately went 3-7 against Utah. Maybe the fact that he felt the rivalry game was “no different for [him] than any other” had something to do with it? You can’t argue that Kalani had plenty of passion on the sidelines during this year’s rivalry win.

5. Comparing On-Field Results

We can’t really have an apples to apples comparison between BYU and Virginia since Bronco Mendenhall left. Virginia competes in the ACC as a P5, while BYU has continued to chart its (soon to be over) course as an Independent. Still, results matter.

From 2016 to 2020, Bronco Mendenhall and the Virginia Cavaliers only achieved a winning record twice. While the team went to the Orange Bowl in 2019, this was only because conference champion Clemson was going to the College Football playoff (UVA was blown out 62-17 against Clemson, and then lost the Orange Bowl against Florida 36-28). UVA has had six players drafted during that time, primarily in the 5th round or later.

Kalani Sitake after Utah

Yes, BYU’s best season in Kalani Sitake’s tenure came in part thanks to the disruptions caused by COVID. But you can’t dispute a #11 final ranking. Or the fact that BYU has been to four bowl games during his time as head coach, winning three. Or that the Cougars saw five players selected in the 2021 NFL draft alone. All of that has garnered national respect, so even though both teams are 6-2, the Cougars are ranked going into this matchup.

When Bronco Mendenhall left BYU, this was the game he hoped would somehow never happen. But here we are, with Bronco and the Virginia Cavaliers about to come into town to take on Kalani Sitake’s Cougars. One thing is sure, though — BYU has the right head coach on its sidelines.