Well, the #FIREBRONCO wing of the BYU fanbase finally got what they wanted...I guess. Bronco Mendenhall is off to Virginia to become the new coach of the Cavaliers, which leaves the Cougars to look for a new coach in an especially pivotal time for the football program. BYU has a P5 caliber schedule approaching, some important pieces on the roster, but with the ESPN contract expiring in a few years, the Cougars must nail this hire.
Of course, a BYU coaching search isn't like a typical coaching search. A candidate must not only have a track record of football success, but strong familiarity with BYU as an institution, the ability to recruit Utah and in LDS homes across the country, LDS membership, and the willingness to work with BYU's restrictions, and their price tag. Coaches who are asking $5 million a year need not apply to Provo.
So that isn't a very long list. Who are the names BYU could potentially target?
Kyle Whittingham - Utah head coach
This is far and away the most accomplished name that BYU could target, but also probably the least likely. Whittingham already turned BYU down once before, and his relationship with his alma mater has not always appeared to be the warmest in the world. Plus, since he made over $2.5 million dollars last season, he might already be too expensive for BYU to pry away. Still, given the lack of an obvious successor, BYU would need to at least call Whittingham to gauge his interest and his price, especially after reports of a deteriorating relationship with his boss last offseason. If BYU was somehow able to convince Whitt to flip down south, it would be a massive win, and make the Holy War an even bigger deal for the future.
Ken Niumatalolo - Navy head coach
Coach Ken is the other most obvious candidate, as he's lead Navy to three bowl games in the last three years, plus a Top 25 ranking this season, all while dealing with the most restrictive recruiting environment in the country. His appearance in "Meet the Mormons" will only further endear himself to BYU and the fanbase. The question is, what offense will he run? After BYU has seen their most success with air-raid friendly environments, would they be willing to accept a team switching to the triple-option? Could Niumatalolo switch his offense to something more passing friendly? Would he even want to leave Navy? There's a lot to like about Coach Ken, but there are some questions as well.
Darrell Bevell - Seattle Seahawks OC
Bevell has a Super Bowl ring, built offenses in the NFL that were excellent and running the football, and has been given credit for the selection and development of NFL star Russell Wilson, all of which would play well with the Provo faithful. Of course, he was also tied to what some call the worst call in NFL history, potentially blowing the Super Bowl, so maybe not every Seahawk fan would be broken up if he left. Bevell doesn't have obvious ties to BYU (he's from Arizona, and went to Wisconsin), but he did serve an LDS mission. Bevell also hasn't coached in college since coaching WRs at UConn in 1999. Would he even want to make the adjustment, and if he did, could he be successful recruiting?
Kalani Sitake - Oregon State defensive coordinator
Sitake is young (40), and a rising star in the profession, after his excellent work as the DC at Utah, before leaving to join Gary Andersen's staff at Oregon State last offseason. A BYU grad and former GA, Sitake also has experience coaching running backs and the offensive line. He knows BYU and the recruiting territories very well, but has he done enough to be the head coach in a difficult job? He's certainly an intriguing possibility.
Lance Anderson - Director of Defense, Stanford
Another LDS candidate without obvious BYU ties, Anderson has been one of the best recruiters in Utah and BYU's "footprint" over the last few seasons. An Idaho State graduate, Anderson has helped direct some of the best defenses in the country at Stanford under two of the best coaches, Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw. It's unclear if he'd want to go to BYU, but he might be the person most qualified to recruit talent in this area, with BYU's restrictions.
Robert Anae - BYU offensive coordinator
One of the knocks on Bronco Mendenhall was that he didn't do a great job developing assistant coaches, so there isn't an obvious successor on BYU's staff, but if BYU wanted to keep the party together, Dr. Anae would likely be the first choice. The lifeblood of BYU's "Go Fast, Go Hard" identity, Anae also can boast experience with innovative spread minds at Texas Tech and Arizona. BYU has done a solid job both recruiting and developing offensive skill position talent, especially at WR, over the past few years, but how well Anae could manage a program, staff and more, remains to be seen.