In a surprise announcement on Thursday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers went outside the box and found their coach of the future in Mike Riley. Riley is headed to Nebraska from the Oregon State Beavers, which could impact the future of the BYU Cougars as Bronco Mendenhall might be in their sights.
Bronco Mendenhall played his college ball in Corvallis for the Beavers and was a graduate assistant and defensive line coach from 1989-1990. He moved on to Snow and Northern Arizona for a couple of years before rejoining the Oregon State staff in 1995 as the defensive line coach and then the defensive coordinator in 1996. With strong ties to the OSU program, look for Bronco to receive some consideration.
Beyond his already strong ties to the program, Mendenhall isn't lacking in the overall picture either. Many of his strongest critics are local fans and media, while nationally he is perceived to be a very much underrated coach. Bronco carries a 90-38 record into his 10th straight bowl appearance. With the ninth bowl appearance last year, the Cougars became one of only 12 programs to earn a bowl invitation in each of the last nine consecutive years. It also doesn't hurt that Mendenhall has a reputation for bringing a hard-nosed, top 25 defense wherever he goes.
Oregon State will not have to look far to see how Mendenhall coaches, as they have played BYU three times in the Bronco era. Mendenhall is 2-1 against his alma mater with a 44-20 win in the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl, a 38-28 win in Corvallis in 2011, and a 24-42 loss in Provo in 2012.
Without question, there will be some interest in Mendenhall from Oregon State. The question is whether the interest is mutual. As tweeted by Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune, Bronco needs to coach at a place with "purpose".
Bronco always talks about needing to coach at a place with a "purpose" or a "mission" or a "uniqueness about it." To him, OSU isn't that.— Jay Drew (@drewjay) December 4, 2014
If contacted and interviewed, would Bronco be willing to adjust his definition of purpose in order to coach at a Power 5 school? It isn't likely, but don't be surprised if he at least shows a little interest. After a rough year filled with injuries and disappointment, a vocal portion of the fan base has been calling for his head. Don't think for a second that he hasn't felt the heat as fans and former players frustrations have been directed at both him and his staff. He has seen the attendance fall, for a number of reasons, and heard the booing at his home stadium. This has to bother a coach that takes pride in his team and players. Though this alone won't be enough for him to pack up and leave, it will be in the back of his mind as he takes into account the other aspects, such as assistant coaches looking for opportunities in other places with openings at smaller schools, such as Colorado State.
So if Bronco were to leave, where would that leave BYU? Well, there are a number of ways that the Cougars could go.
The most vocal part of the fan base would look for BYU to be swift in action and to contact current Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. Sitake is another great defensive mind and is a BYU alumnus. He has had the support of former players and fans that would love to see him come home, and back to the proper side of the rivalry. There is some question if Sitake is the defensive genius he has been given credit for, because the defense still appears to be the Kyle Wittingham defense of old. However, who is to say that they aren't one and the same? Others claim that he has never been a head coach and BYU needs experience. Bronco had never been a head coach and ended up doing pretty well for himself. If you are going to give a guy a chance, why not Sitake?
Another option would be to promote from within. Robert Anae has been part of the Mendenhall coaching staff for most of the tenure. He knows the limitations that are put on the program and has a relationship with the current players and administration. His offense has had a tremendous amount of success, even when playing 2-3 players deep. Anae also has relationships with former players as he played for the Cougars. If the Cougars went this route, they would need to pursue a defensive mind as Bronco would no longer be available to help Nick Howell grow into the defensive coordinator that Bronco envisions him to be.
There are a few other names out there that have been thrown around but could be long shots in their own right. Nobody really expects Andy Reid to leave his NFL legacy in order to coach at the college level, let alone BYU. Darrell Bevell is another name that floats around these discussions, but again he is established in the NFL and could be receiving a head coaching job in the NFL in the near future.
So outside of Nick Saban taking the missionary discussions and going from Satan to Saint overnight, who would you look to if Bronco were to leave?