Fans of college football in general are probably aware of the raging dumpster fire that is Michigan football right now. From the offensive ineptitude to their poor handling of Shane Morris, the natives are restless. Virtually everybody expects the program to fire current head coach Brady Hoke by the end of the season, if not athletic director Dave Brandon as well.
The Wolverines are wildly expected to go after one of the Harbaugh brothers, or LSU coach Les Miles, but all are considered to be relative longshots. From there, there isn't an obvious other target for Michigan to go after, and a few national writers have been floating an out of the box name.
Bryan Fischer at NFL.com suggested Bronco might be on the list of potential candidates. Apparently Colin Cowherd recently did the same. By the time this article publishes, another national name may have joined the fray.
As somebody who often writes about the intersections of the Big Ten and BYU, and who is very familiar with the Michigan football program, let me just say this.
That would be a terrible idea. Don't even suggest it.
I can see, on paper, why some might float the guy. Mendenhall has been consistently successful over the past few years, making a bowl game nine years in a row, while amassing an 86-34 record. He has been lauded as a defensive guru, and for a program mired in controversy, and still prides themselves as mostly doing things the right way, bringing in a guy like Mendenhall could make sense. It's easy to imagine, after all, that Mendenhall would have handled the Shane Morris situation better, and that he shares Michigan's commitment to academics.
But a closer inspection shows a whole lot more warning signs.
First, Mendenhall has no connection to state of Michigan, or even the entire midwest. Outside of his one year stint as the defensive backs coach at Louisiana Tech in 1997, the entirety of Mendenhall's coaching career has been in the west. BYU's main recruiting territories are also in the west, in places like Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho, and increasingly, Texas. Those aren't Michigan's natural territories, as most of their players come from Ohio and other midwestern states, New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida. Without having spent time developing relationships with the right high school programs, Mendenhall would already be behind the eight-ball on the recruiting trail.
That's a problem, given that Mendenhall doesn't exactly have the reputation for being much of an elite recruiter himself. Since 2007, BYU's average recruiting class ranking per the 247 sports composite is 56th, and they've only cracked the top 50 twice. New Mexico did a little better on the recruiting trail when Mendenhall was there, but there isn't any evidence that he has the capacity to bring in the elite athletes needed to compete at a place like Michigan. Mendenhall's teams have been more about maximizing talent and player development, which is a great strategy for a BYU, but doesn't scale up easily.
It would be difficult for Mendenhall to try to use his western roots as some sort of recruiting inefficiency. Two of the best coaches in the Big Ten, Urban Meyer of Ohio State and Gary Andersen of Wisconsin, both have roots in Utah and shared the same recruiting footprint that BYU has now, meaning they have developed relationships with those same coaches, and can still pull kids out of those areas if need be.
And again, recruiting is critical. Mendenhall has been very successful at BYU, Since the 2010 season, Mendenhall's Cougars are 37-19, but per recruiting rankings, BYU has had "better" players in 25 of those wins, and had comparable talent in another five. The Cougars have amassed a somewhat gaudy win/loss record in large part because they've been able to play a lot of MWC caliber squads that recruit even worse than they do. Against teams with equal or greater talent, again, as defined by recruiting stars, the Cougars are 11-15 since 2010 (although they are 3-0 this year). In a hypothetical division against Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Maryland, the importance of recruiting becomes even more pronounced.
There is also the fact that Michigan is a VERY different job, culturally, from BYU. There is no "football is fifth" in Ann Arbor, one of the most proud and historic programs in all of college football, and one where competing at a nationally elite level is expected. A coach at BYU enjoys a reprieve from some of the more adversarial media relationships, given that it is a private school and one with lower pressures than a big name Big Ten school, and all of that goes out the window if Bronco went to Michigan. There's going to be a lot more microphones, a lot more FOIA requests, a lot more TV cameras, a whole lot more angry, wealthy boosters, and more. Even if Bronco was the best guy for Michigan on the field, would he be equipped, personality-wise, to handle everything else that comes with it?
Finally, I think it is fair to say that Mendenhall is comfortable with the rather unique mission of BYU. Given the lack of other strong LDS head coaching candidates, Bronco departing now for a big name midwestern job would not only be a questionable move for him, it could dramatically set back BYU's program in a time when they could absolutely least afford it. I have to think that putting the school in a major bind would also weigh on his mind.
So what's the hook for Mendenhall? Why would he even want to leave? Sure, Michigan could almost certainly pay the man a lot more than he's making now....but....
Surprisingly, the individual who believes the coaches are the root of the evil also just happens to be a head coach -- Bronco Mendenhall of Brigham Young.
Mendenhall said the current corruption in college football "absolutely" can be attributed to the huge amount of money made by coaches, especially the SEC, where 10 of 12 earn more than $2 million a year.
"Absolutely," Mendenhall said. "It kind of takes the amateur part out of sports when someone is making [$5] million to coach, doesn't it?
"Coaches aren't anything other than teachers. We're really visible, but I think I've lost track of that in the world of college sports. Monetary value? I'm not sure many teachers are worth $7 million. I had great elementary school teachers, junior high teachers, junior college. The thought that they might make that over a lifetime. But the thought they have any less influence on me than someone who might make $7 million? That's hard for me to grasp.
"I think we have larger issues, societally, as college athletics. Is it amateur sport or is it professional sport? Is it amateur sport, or is it entertainment, and what is the direction we're going to go? Maybe there are coaches that are doing it for the money and prestige and power and recognition. I'm not sure. I think we have a lot to sort out. I would say me included, as where this whole college football fits in moral decency."
Bronco Mendenhall cares not for your filthily lucre, Michigan.
So if you have a guy that at least claims to not be motivated by money or power, and has a strong cultural tie to his current school, and hasn't shown he can bring in the elite talent needed to win at a major program, that's doesn't sound like a great candidate for the Michigan job to me.
Mendenhall is a great coach, but given all of that, I'd be pretty shocked if he left for another big head coaching job *anywhere*, let alone in a foreign land like Michigan. While I admit, as an Ohio State graduate and Columbus native, I wouldn't mind watching Michigan's next coach go 4-8 for a few years, Mendenhall doesn't deserve that fate.
Note: A previous version of this article erroneously claimed Pete Roussel at CoachingSearch.com floated Mendenhall to Michigan. He did not, only saying that Mendenhall is a name that could surprise during the general coaching carousel season. We regret the error.