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Bronco Mendenhall's move to Virginia is surprising only because nothing like this ever happens in Provo.
In the BYU coaching world historically shaped by the likes of LaVell Edwards, hardly anyone ever departs for what they view as a better job in the profession. So no one could claim to have seen Friday's move coming, even if it makes a fair amount of sense when you pick it apart.
It would have been less shocking Friday if Mendenhall had announced his retirement than saying he was becoming Virginia's coach, considering all of his statements over the years about his shelf life on the job. Even so, the similarities of BYU and Virginia, the wearing-down effect of everything that goes into being BYU's head football coach and the uncertainty of the program's independence converge to make this a logical step for Mendenhall, as he approaches age 50.
Personally, I like the move for Mendenhall's career. I'll be fascinated to watch all of this play out in the coming seasons, with Mendenhall applying his approach in a different setting and someone else trying to live up to his performance at BYU.
This is a good match for Mendenhall and Virginia, especially. Among state institutions, UVa is about the closest thing to BYU that you'll find, as an elite academic school that tries to compete at the highest level of athletics in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Virginia obviously wanted someone who could build a successful program with a restricted pool of recruits, as Mendenhall has done at BYU. Yet this will be a new environment for Mendenhall, and that's good. He may even revert to something resembling his real self an actual person, if you can imagine it.
Coaching the Cavaliers, as opposed to the Cougars, is not a religious calling. It's an athletic endeavor. And I would expect Mendenhall to perform well, even amid the tough ACC competition. Virginia is hardly an easy job, though. Mike London went 1-1 against Mendenhall and 14-34 in ACC games in six years, with one bowl appearance.
The expectation of football success is reasonable, which is good, but the reality is that if Mendenhall's purpose is trying to make the College Football Playoff, he had a better chance to get there from Provo. Yet there's no doubt he recognized the limits of BYU's independence, and this is a Power 5 opportunity.
Pick your percentages: I'd say Bronco will transfer about three-quarters of the BYU model to Virginia's program and the other one-fourth will come from how he would operate independently, without feeling like has to conform to what BYU's ownership expected from him in that position. That will be refreshing for me and others, for whom the BYU head coaching version of Bronco Mendenhall was not the guy we knew 25 or so years ago at Oregon State. He'll be quoting Thomas Jefferson now, but at least that's a different voice.
Having played the role he did in Provo, Mendenhall deserves appreciation for his 11 years as BYU's coach. Some of his strategy was silly, sure. Who can forget the needless handoff that almost cost BYU the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl vs. UCLA? Or the unnecessary running play that injured quarterback Taysom Hill against Utah State in 2012? Or the two timeouts in an effort to ice Memphis' extra-point kicker in last December's Miami Beach Bowl?
But fans who wished for somebody new at BYU may look back in 11 years and realize those 99 victories in Mendenhall's tenure were kind of fun. His move certainly creates a new dynamic for the Las Vegas Bowl regardless of whether or not Utah is the opponent as Mendenhall seeks his 100th victory. Before and after that Dec. 19 game, so many questions have to be addressed.
BYU's coaching search is the obvious No. 1 issue, with such a limited pool of candidates. Robert Anae returned to Provo with the motivation of using another stint as offensive coordinator as an audition for the head coaching job. He has done a good job of adapting the offense amid Hill's injuries the past two seasons, but does he truly fit that profile? And how might Mendenhall's move or the hiring of his successor affect Hill, with one year to play somewhere?
Another question is how Mendenhall will assemble a staff. The move not only will roughly triple his salary to $3.25 million annually, but potentially will be life-changing for his assistants, as Oregon State coach Gary Andersen recently observed in reviewing his 2013 jump from Utah State to Wisconsin.
Life-changing is a good label for a coaching transition in any major sport at BYU. Things won't be the same in Provo without Bronco Mendenhall, that's for sure. Hoping they'll be better would be asking a lot.
• Bronco Mendenhall will achieve his dream of coaching at a Power 5 school but it won't be BYU. › A1
• Former and current BYU players lament their coach's departure while wishing him good luck with the Cavaliers. › C2