Bronco Mendenhall’s move to Virginia says lots about BYU

Some insist there is no such thing as perfect timing, that it’s not a trait you can teach, but rather that which you hear in your head.

I’m thinking Bronco Mendenhall heard five years for nearly $17 million and thought things were pretty perfect.

Money reportedly wasn’t the lone factor. Neither was being able to lead a college football program in a Power 5 Conference, which in today’s playoff world is really the only believable path to chase a national championship. Neither was the fact many of his wishes for changes and upgrades at his current job were denied over the years. Neither was the fact he was never really a Brigham Young guy and that his wife was never a girl from Utah, and that the idea of moving their family to one of the nation’s most beautiful and historic towns was far too attractive an option to deny.

It was all of it and more.

In the wake of Virginia firing head coach Mike London, you could have asked any college football writer nationally to submit a list as possible replacements in Charlottesville and not seen one mention of Mendenhall. You would have seen names like Mark Richt and Tom Herman and Matt Rhule and Kendal Briles.

But when Mendnehall was announced as the hire earlier this month, it became clear why he will coach his final game for BYU on Saturday afternoon at 12:30, when the Holy War meets the Las Vegas Bowl and the Cougars play No. 20 Utah at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Virginia is looking to move away from those factors that has produced no bowl appearances since 2011, the program’s longest such drought since it first reached the post season in 1984. The Cavaliers need to be more disciplined, better prepared, far more successful on the road and not as apt to be on the losing end of games decided by a touchdown or less.

It needs, more than anything, direction and the strong hand of structure, things it hopes to have discovered in a place 43 miles south of Salt Lake City along the Wasatch Front.

“This is what Bronco is built for,” said Dick Harmon, sports columnist at the Deseret News. “He wants to see young men develop in stages. He did it at BYU and he can do it at Virginia, which has been a mess. It appeals to him to go in there with his coaches and build it. That’s a big deal to him.”

It’s a big deal for any head coach today to at least believe his team has the opportunity to reach the College Football Playoff, and there is no denying that an independent such as BYU would not only have to go unbeaten against an incredibly challenging schedule to be considered in any year, but also receive some good fortune from a selection committee that protects those from Power 5s like a polar bear does her cub.

If you go undefeated at Virginia, you’re likely getting in.

It’s the same sort of road map Urban Meyer once followed when departing Utah for the riches of Florida, this sort of acceptance that to ever be considered among the game’s giants, you have to be coaching a Power 5 team.

“It wasn’t necessarily about getting to (the Power 5),” said Mendenhall, who spent 11 seasons leading BYU. “I like change. I like growth. I like challenges. It was just simply time. I think the emotions of it played out before we left (for Las Vegas). From the time the announcement about (Virginia) was made until we started practicing again, things have really flattened out now and I think it’s just going to be about game mode as a head coach in a rivalry game. Any emotions are specific to this game. Maybe it will be different after. Maybe.

“I want this team to have success in this bowl game against the in-state rival. I want it for our players, our captains, our seniors. I want the program to have success and continue to move forward. BYU players and BYU recruits come to the university for a very specific reason that is bigger than any of us.”

Mendenhall is 49 and once played for Snow College and then Oregon State. He was not wanted out of high school or junior college by the program he will try and win his 100th game for as head coach Saturday. Harmon says it’s important the Cougars next hire a coach with more intimate BYU ties, and yet one (Ken Niumatalolo of Navy) decided on Wednesday to remain at the academy and not pursue any further the position in Provo.

It’s a different place, BYU. You hear that all the time.

Now, it needs a football coach, the one it has had for more than a decade on his way to a beautiful and historic town and the reality of millions of dollars several times over and working in a Power 5 conference and receiving all the bells and whistles and support that come with it.

Which means that while timing might not ever really be perfect, it’s darn close today for Bronco Mendenhall.

Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney

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