Y., U. coaches have history
Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham didn't have much of a history together until this past year, mixing at two coaching functions.
But about 15 years ago, they almost worked on the same staff. As Idaho State's defensive coordinator, Whittingham was interested in hiring Mendenhall as a secondary coach.
"I got overridden by the head coach," Whittingham said. "He had a friend of his he wanted to hire. But Bronco was my first choice to bring in as a secondary guy. Ever since then, I've had a great deal of respect for what he does."
At the time, Mendenhall was coaching at Snow College. From there, he coached at Northern Arizona, Oregon State, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico and then Brigham Young.
He became BYU's head coach last December.
Whittingham moved from Idaho State to Utah, where he was named head coach after the Utes completed an undefeated regular season. The two men meet as head coaches for the first time Saturday.
"He's a good man and a good coach," Mendenhall said.
The coaches have another connection. Mendenhall's brother, Mat, played for Whittingham's father, Fred, at BYU.
Mat Mendenhall was a defensive lineman at BYU from 1975-79 and also played in the NFL. Fred Whittingham was an assistant coach at Utah and BYU.
"He still to this day considers [Fred Whittingham] the best coach he played for," Bronco Mendenhall said of his brother.
During a conference call Tuesday, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson stopped short of saying the Las Vegas Bowl needs BYU. To maintain good standing with the NCAA, the game must draw a crowd of 29,000.
"It's best whoever will help them get their attendance commitment, because certainly they are in jeopardy somewhat with the NCAA," he said. "So we just have to make sure that they hit that number and they stay healthy and happy and in business."
Thompson plans to pick up Tina Kunzer-Murphy, the game's executive director, Saturday at the Salt Lake airport before going to LaVell Edwards Stadium. There's a good possibility she will invite BYU after Saturday's game.
Even if the Cougars lose to Utah, they likely will play in a bowl game.
"In the conversations with our bowl people, BYU's a very attractive team," said athletic director Tom Holmoe.
The Houston Bowl continues to show strong interest in conference champion Texas Christian, which also is a candidate for the Liberty Bowl. TCU could make more money playing in Houston, Thompson said.
TCU's hometown game, the Forth Worth Bowl, could select a Mountain West team if the Big 12 fails to qualify a team. The Big 12 will fall short if Kansas doesn't beat Iowa State and Texas A&M loses to No. 2 Texas.
Still the same
Mendenhall emphasizes he has not made any changes to BYU's routine to prepare for Utah.
"Even though the interest around the game is very high, our preparation and our model for our success should remain the same," he said.